The Mighty Logo

Your Feelings of Exhaustion Are Valid Even if You Don't Have Kids

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

“You don’t know real exhaustion until you have kids.”

Prior to becoming a parent, that phrase made me cringe. If I didn’t know “real exhaustion,” what on earth had I been enduring for the past few years of my life? It felt pretty damn real to me. I was also terrified. I had always planned on having kids, but would I ever truly be capable of being a parent if I already felt exhausted? It took actually becoming a mom and settling into motherhood to realize that I didn’t need to be a parent to be tired, or even exhausted.

Now of course, being a parent or caregiver is exhausting. I’m not disputing that. After all, nothing can truly prepare you for those sleepless nights, constant feedings and diaper changes. While there are a range of experiences, there is no denying that parenthood is exhausting. What I’m saying is that you can experience true and complete exhaustion while not having children.

Prior to becoming pregnant, I had struggled with generalized anxiety and an eating disorder. The level of exhaustion I felt both while engaging with my disorder, as well as when I was fighting for my recovery was profound. From combating restriction and exercise urges, to doing deep work in therapy, I found myself drained. All the while, I was teaching and trying to appear “normal” to the outside world. It was exhausting!

When I found out I was pregnant, my first thought was, “I won’t be able to handle the exhaustion.” After all, I already felt tired. Throughout my pregnancy I was so fearful of the exhaustion that was coming. Don’t get me wrong, I was so excited for my baby to be born; I was just afraid that I would not be able to handle the exhaustion.

My daughter was born a little over two weeks early, and while sitting in the car on the way home, I remember feeling both immense amounts of love and fear. While the first few weeks of my daughter’s life were a blur of feedings and diapers, there were also profound moments of joy. These, of course, did not take away from the exhaustion, but they sure helped. I was also fortunate to have the support of my husband as well as my therapist. Yes — times were challenging, but I felt capable. All of that fear I felt disappeared. Then, I had this realization. Yes — I was tired, but it was different. It was not like all of a sudden, a light switched on and I entered the newest level of exhaustion. It didn’t work that way. I was just tired.

Now that my daughter is 11 months old, I am getting a little more sleep than I was in the early days. Still, I recognize that this can change, especially as I head back to work and endure other challenges in life. Exhaustion is truly wearing on the mind and body, and we should offer ourselves compassion, no matter what our life circumstances are.

Just remember…
You can have kids and be tired.
You can have no kids and be tired.

You can struggle with your mental health and be tired.
You can have no mental health difficulties and be tired.

You can be employed and be tired.
You can be unemployed and be tired.

I can keep going. The point is, no matter what anyone else is dealing with, your feelings of exhaustion are valid and most importantly, you always deserve to rest.

Getty image by simplehappyart

Originally published: July 7, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home