Saturday, May 29, 2010

Profound Fatigue

For the past many months, at the end of every day, I am fried. Completely and utterly exhausted. I feel silly even writing about this because I know that I have it really easy. I have one, single baby, who sleeps 10 hours a night with only two wakenings and naps during the day. One dishwasher. One washing machine. Hubby who helps out a ton at home. Year long maternity leave. I am super fortunate in many ways so I hope this post does no sound like a complaint. Rather I am interested in figuring out why I am so completely exhausted not only at the end of each day but, to be honest, most of the time.

Let me start with... it's NOT the running. Ok, yes, the running contributes but the running is no more intense than it has been for the ten years so I can't blame the increased exhaustion on it.

What has really changed, of course, is the fact that I am living in a different country, am a mommy, a housewife and am not working outside the home. All this makes me wonder how do the demands of ME being a stay-at-home mom compare to the demands of ME working in my previous job. Note the capital ME... I am in no way trying to generalize and enter the age-old, and in my mind pointless, debate about who works harder, stay at home moms or moms who work outside the home. In all sincerity I take my hat off to both groups of parents, both paths are challenging and exhausting.

In BC (before cocotte) times I worked 45-65 hours per week depending on whether I was travelling for work or staying in the office. While that would be a shockingly high number around here, it is about average for North America... though I am only counting concentrated work hours at my desk, in meetings, visiting customers or on the road travelling. I don't count lunch breaks or even coffee breaks so to put in 45-65 hours means I was at the office/on the road 55-75 hours per week which starts to sound considerable. Especially since I would often leave home at 4 am to catch a flight, work all day, go for a run, catch a flight home and climb into bed at oh... maybe 1.30 am! On top of that I probably did about 10 hours of domestic work per week (we has a messy house and ate a lot of convenience food!).

In contrast, now in taking care of the house & baby I work [aside for the math: groceries: 3.2, cooking: 5.25, laundry: 3, baby food making: 1.5, cleaning: 7, cleaning baby: 2, nursing: 8, feeding baby: 5.25, dressing & changing baby: 3.5] 38.7 hours per week. This of course does not count what I spend most of my time doing which is playing with la cocotte b/c that's not work! Far, far fewer working hours. So why the fatigue?

Here are my theories... although my previous and soon future job is quite intellectually demanding (at least relative to my level of intellect :)) it is less demanding in the sense that it did not require constant vigilance. I have come to realize it is not only sleep deprivation that makes parenting exhausting. It is also the constant vigilance that is required to take care of a being who has no concept of mortality, danger, injury, harm. All day long la cocotte is literally inches from danger and injury and it is my job to keep her from it which means that even going for a poop (me, not her) becomes an excursion requiring strategy and thought. Tiring!

Worrying. I have tried not to be a crazy, neurotic, worrying mom and generally have achieved this goal. I am actually a pretty chill mom. But it is impossible and probably careless to completely avoid worry. Here, in the past week alone, are some of the worries I have had: she's-eating-too-much-sugar, she's-eating-too-little-in-general, omigod-where-is-that-sock-she-was-sucking-on-did-she-actually-swallow-it?, why-isn't-the-bruise-on-her-face-healing?, why-is-her-poop-yellow, will-i-find-an-amazing-daycare?, will-i-find-a-daycare-period, she's-sleeping-too-little, she's-sleeping-too-much, we-re-spoiling-her, we-re-not-paying-enough-attention-to-her. Wow, did I say I am a chill mom? Hmmm... I guess we can add lack of self-awareness to my long list of flaws. Anyway, worrying=exhausting!

Uninterrupted sleep. I know I am super fortunate that she only wakes up two and sometimes only one time per night. However I think I actually wake up about 20 minutes before her 4am feeding in anticipation of it and it usually takes me about 20 minutes to get back to sleep afterwards. Since I usually go to bed at 10 pm, this means I get one 6 hour block of sleep and 1.5 hour block of sleep which I guess is not actually that much. Yesterday as an experiment I went to bed immediately after la cocotte (8.45 pm) and did not get up early to run and yes, that made a HUGE difference.

I continue to wonder what my life will look like as a mom who works outside the home. I truly can't imagine being any more exhausted than I currently am at about 8 pm each evening so something will have to give. Ultimately I guess someone else will be doing the cocotte watching during the day. We'll definitely eat more convenience foods than we are now. I plan on cutting my running down to 5 times a week with 70-80 km total (no marathons after Montreal for me for awhile!).  I know it can be done because I know a lot of women who do it and do it with more than one child. I am just having trouble seeing it.


  1. First, make sure there's no medical reason for the fatigue.

    I, of course, have nothing to say about parenting, except that the amount of effort put into a first child is about 50 times the effort put into the 7th (spoken as a 6th-10th child, depending on accounting method).

  2. no medical reason, got that checked out in a series of post-partum tests when I was losing my hair by the handful.

    but 6th-10th child? what now? that's worth a post all on its own. Are you referring to half sibs?

  3. Yeah, half-sibs, stillbirths, etc.

    About the suggestion to just run somewhere new without a watch - that's kinda what I was doing!

  4. Yeah. Glad it's not a medical problem. Lyme disease is also always good to check for (though uncommon in Italy) along with thyroid, electrolytes (including calcium) and hemoglobin/hematocrit.

    But if it's just real fatigue, I think it is actually healthy, though annoying. I am always more tired when I work at home than when I am at work. I don't notice the fatigue as much when I am out working. I think you are probably just more in tune with your body right now. There are a lot of things adding together which make you tired, which you have named, but I would also add breastfeeding and running. One SHOULD be tired when they train so much. I think that now that you're not working you are just more aware of your increased need for sleep. And sleep is always more interrupted than we preceive due to that first time mom hypervigilance.

    What was your previous/future job by the way?

  5. It IS exhausting, especially being overseas and not having the support network one might have back home. For me it's normal to do this motherhood thing on my own, but when I'm home I notice people relying on friends/relatives to do even the simplest things like meet them for coffee so they can have even just an hour of adult conversation. It makes a huge difference.

    I too had that exhaustion but I found out at the beginning of this second pregnancy that I had hypothyroidism (probably started by the first pregnancy but never left) and since starting the meds I feel much better though I find afternoons especially tiring, thinking of how to entertain a 2 year old for hours on end and what not. (As an aside, my hypothyroidism started out as being only sub-clinical but even that was enough to make me feel unusually tired.)

  6. brianne - that's a good point. the whole living in a foreign country thing was one of my theories as well which I forgot to include. Although it is exciting and enriching to be here, even the simplest things become more mentally taxing due to the language barriers and cultural differences.

    slg - for sure sleeping with one ear open so to speak keeps me from achieving the deep sleep of BC times and yes, generally being home alone alot makes me more aware of what's going on with my body. my job was/will be again in software development.

  7. for what it is worth, breastfeeding did get a lot of energy out of me. Until I weaned Malo a few weeks ago, I just did not seem to get enough fuel in my body to feed him, run (even though I run less than I used to and defintiely less than you do AND Malo has been sleeping 12hrs non stop since he was 6 weeks old) and still felt - and looked! - tired... And I agree with you that looking after a baby full time IS muich more tiring, mentally speaking at least - than going to work! I don't have a solution, not even a piece of advice to give, except for the obvious I guess: a healthy diet (which I am sure you do), and maybe to learn how to be a bit more laid-back about your training, and why not, skip a few sessions when you do feel too fatigued, see if it helps... tough to do, but may benefit your running and performance in the long run (pun intended).

    Hope you will feel better soon anyway!