Dear Middle of the Night Baby,
I really wish you were asleep right now.
You’ve woken up at the worst time, sweet baby: 3:30 AM.
This means if it takes an hour and a half to get you back to sleep, it’s 5 AM, and I’m faced with a quandary: do I go back to sleep, thus guaranteeing me only an hour or two, or do I stay awake, knowing that then I would have started my day at 3:30 AM?
This is a serious question, baby.
As I cradle you in my arms, you smell so good. Your sweet head smells like pure love; you curl into me like I am the only thing you want in the world. We fit, baby.
You talk and burble at me. If this were the afternoon, I’d do nothing but smile. I might dance you across the room. Instead, I hold you tighter and sway gently. I check your diaper and the clock.
They say I should be thankful for this. Thankful for you, to start. Thankful for your smallness and your cuddles and the smell of your head. Thankful for your babyhood. How’s the old saw go? “I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.” I should thank God for you, even in the difficult parts.
And I do.
This is what they don’t understand: I can be grateful for you and still wish you were asleep. I can love you and still want to be snug in my bed. I’ll be tired tomorrow. I’ll need coffee. But I’ll still rock you. I can be simultaneously annoyed with you and love you to the moon and back.
This is the bedrock of motherhood.
Infertile women would walk through hell to pace the halls with a wakeful baby. I know that. The thought of their empty arms makes me feel guilty as I rock you. I feel a little less desperate, a little more loving, when I think of what people would give for this experience. You are mine, and I love you.
I am so tired, baby.
You begin to cry. People don’t understand how much it physically hurts me to hear you cry. That’s another part of our special tie, a tie that will fade as you grow. But right now, every cell in my body screams to do something, anything, to make you stop. I bounce you up and down. I hum into your ear. I try a pacifier. I check your diaper again.
You are just overtired, darling. So am I.
I hold you up on my shoulder. You cry into my ear. There is something about being a mother that tunes your ears, that adjusts them to a baby’s cry. Your cry hurts me all over, but it’s not shrill in my ears. I am lucky in that.
I wish you would go to sleep, baby.
I don’t know how to help you, and that helplessness is frustrating in itself. I know I will be tired tomorrow; I know you’re tired right now; and now I can’t help you. I love you in this stew of helplessness.
Then you stop. By some alchemy of bouncing and humming, or by the alignments of the planets, you stop crying.
You are still awake. I am still awake. But you have stopped crying, and relief washes over me. I have stopped your crying. I am a good mother. There’s nothing wrong with you.
I love you in this relief, my darling. And in this relief, I sink into the rocking chair. I put you on my chest, your head only a little bit below mine. I lean over and kiss you.
We are alone together, you and I.
The nightlight glows a warm yellow; the house settles around us, all the night noises spreading out from this chair, this moment. You coo softly. You are still awake. I will be exhausted in the morning. But for now, we’re here together, Middle of the Night Baby.
And I love you.More On