The 3 kinds of mommy exhaustion

Type 1:

General mommy fatigue (the kind you can live with if you have to)

It’s an expression I used daily PB (pre-baby): ‘I’m exhausted.’ I used it after a long work day, a tough gym session, a late night. But I had no idea what it meant. Because child-induced fatigue is not the lethargy of the progeny-free.

As you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a parent – or about to become one. In which case, you know what I’m talking about. But for those who don’t (sorry to scare you), general mommy exhaustion is a lot like torture: unrelenting, insensitive to the day of the week and likely to make your body ache.

The weird thing is that you’re able to work through it. Yup, you can do a day’s work, do a Pilates class, ‘cook’ a meal and go to Clamber Club with your toddler, through a mist of weariness so thick and heavy it should come with a gas mask. My body’s simply learned to work with less sleep, interrupted sleep, poor sleep.

Tips to survive it: Suck it up. Out-source the baby one night a week. Exercise even when you’re worn out. Go to bed earlier. Buy a good coffee machine.

Credit: Pinterest

Type 2:

Situational mommy weariness (the kind that comes and – thankfully – goes)

This particular brand of exhaustion is traditionally accompanied by a valid reason – teething, a growth spurt, illness, a mammoth work deadline, late-night drilling by the selfish plonkers who are renovating next door, or girls’ night dinner that turned into a multiple-bottles-of-wine bitch-fest and ended at 2am.

It’s the kind that, were it your regular state, you’d be unable to survive. But in small doses, your mind and body snap into ‘fight’ mode and you muddle through.

In my case, I repeat ‘I’ll sleep on the weekend’ until I stop rocking myself manically in a corner – completely forgetting that my littlie doesn’t yet know her Sundays from her Tuesdays and will wake me at 5am to play on ‘her’ iPad.

Tips to survive it: Remember that everything passes – eventually. Learn to say ‘No’. Only accept invitations to things you really want to go to. Shop online.

Type 3:

Medical exhaustion (the kind that leads to, or results from, depression)

This one is a biggie, and I know because I’ve had it. It’s the kind that either prefaces or accompanies the medical condition called postnatal depression, and it feels like volunteering to be wrapped in wet plaster and chucked into Zoo Lake. You can’t sleep; you can’t stay awake. You weep or disconnect, and you can’t control either your anxiety or your conviction that the world has ended.

This is the kind of exhaustion that only therapy, medication and/or the care of a good doctor can fix. In some cases, sleep therapy is prescribed, necessitating admission to a hospital. But, at its core, PND has little to do with the quantity of sleep you’ve had, and more to do with your hormones and psychological state.

Unfortunately, it also comes at a time when your resources (physical and emotional) are depleted, you’re being pulled in all directions – including towards and away from the beautiful, terrifying, dependent creature you produced – and everyone is telling you how lucky you are. So you’re guiltily exhausted. Lovely.

Tips to survive it: Call your GP. Now. Understand that you’re 100% normal in feeling this way, but it is going to get worse before it gets better. Be aware that PND does not go away on its own. Delegate. Or just let others take over. Breathe.

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Tiffany Markman in 2012.

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Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a copywriter, speaker, trainer and mom. She was South Africa’s Freelance Copywriter of the Year in 2020 and one of the world’s ‘Top 50 Female Content Marketers’ in 2021, but she's still working on securing an award for her Mommying. She likes her coffee strong and black, her paragraphing short and tight, and her apostrophes in all the right places. Visit her website.

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29 Responses

  1. Tiffany, thanks for taking your article to a higher level — I started off by chuckling as I read, and then I started identifying seriously, as I also had PNDA (add in A for Anxiety). Thank goodness, I got the right medical treatment and am now almost done, with a child of 2.5 years old. Well-written piece!

    1. I'm so glad you're doing better. PND(A) is no joke. As a matter of interest, has your experience last time affected your thinking re baba #2? (I ask because it has affected mine…)

    2. Thanks for the reply 🙂 Yep, I think it'd be different if there is a next time for me. Meds, sleep, help. But maybe in two or three or seven years I'll be ready to have that conversation… 😉

    1. You're so right. I thought all those mommies were making it sound worse than it was. I also thought I knew what 'tired' was. Ya, whatever. No long work day can ever be more exhausting than a long baby night *after* a long work day 😉

    1. Thank you. I had fun writing it – although I was typing thru a fog (work function the night before and baba with a cold). Amazing what you can write on 4 hrs of sleep.

  2. This article definately speaks to every mother out there. I have a 6 year old and 4month old. It is super hard begin a mum, wife, career women, EVERYTHING! But you are absolutely right, we survive some how! And best part, ask any mum they would not change anything!

    1. Haha – suck it up!!! Most of the time i feel like my pnd has returned before this 2nd baby is even here!?! Need pills now! Lol

  3. Ladies, irony of ironies, this has been a day from hell. Work drama. Personal issues. Poor sleep for the last week. And yet, your comments cheered me up. Thanks so much. TM x

  4. sleep ? what is that? Try travelling with little ones and time zone changes!! Having just returned from an overseas trip – no sleep or even a catnap because two little ones took up 4 seats and hubby and I were each perched on the edge of one …they slept but still adjusting to time zone changes so yes in the last 3 days I have had a total of 10 hrs sleep! Exhausted doesn't even begin to describe how I feel…… hopefully some catch up at the weekend BUT then they will be back to 5.30am wake ups, swim class, catching up on just about everything you leave behind when you go on holiday so it feels like another holiday is needed!! !! the joys of parenting BUT life would definitely be empty without them and so as parents we adapt , adjust , juggle our time and get on with life…its amazing how resilient we can be!

  5. Parenthood certainly is amazing…we travelled with our kids 7 and 2 from perth to vancouver last year….and yep the kids had a great flight and sleep…and parents are 24/7 on call….however family holidays are the best….

  6. Very excellent suggestions! Follow them for whatever your state of exhaustion is. Especially the last one, although a funny image, is well worth thinking about. Many many young Moms think they have to battle this alone!

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