I feel as if I’ve been keeping a deep, dark secret.
Unlike most mothers, who claim solidarity in their lonely nighttime sojourns with hungry and fussy babies, I am among the select few mothers who have never had to face the brutality of nighttime feedings alone.
Since the advent of our parenting adventure six years and four children ago, my husband has always, always, woken up at night whenever a baby has broken the silence of the night with the shrill cry of hunger.
I honestly cannot remember if we discussed how we would handle the inevitable night shift of parenting before we got married. And, looking back, I’m not sure either of us could have predicted just how frequently we’d become acquainted with the darker side — and that’s probably a good thing. I can only imagine that we would have run away screaming had we realized what we were in for.
But somehow or other, with the birth of our first daughter, my husband and I settled into our own nighttime groove — it always begins with those first cries, some immediate in their urgency and others a whimper that will quickly grow. Next comes the waiting game — will the little one go back to sleep if we wait a few seconds? (Hint: the answer is never yes). And finally, the surrender — I will stir first and upon hearing me, my husband will immediately jump out of bed.
The truth is, he doesn’t usually hear the baby at night like I do (I’ve heard it’s a common disorder among fathers), but as soon as I get up, he does too. And believe me, I’ve perfected my slow roll-out-of-bed move so as to ensure that he will be the one to reach the baby first.
And that’s what he does. While I plod over to our scuffed-up leather rocking recliner that should have been retired years ago but is absolutely too perfect for nursing babies in, secure the nursing pillow on my lap, and arrange a warm blanket around me to settle in for a 40-minute breastfeeding session, he deals with the diaper.
Big or small, wet or poopy, my husband mans the diaper-changing, swaddles the baby like the pro he has become, and then swiftly completes the hand-off to me as he stumbles back into bed and falls asleep instantly. It’s such a small gesture, but for me, it has made all the difference. I dread getting up with the baby at night, but somehow, knowing that my husband is willing to get up with me makes it bearable.
Over the years, I’ve wrestled with my mom/wife guilt about my husband’s willingness to get up at night with the baby. After all, I have to get up anyway to feed the baby, what’s another 60 seconds of diaper changing? There’s no reason for us both to get up!
I’ve even felt, ridiculously so, somewhat guilty about the fact that he gets up. Like I’m not a “real” mother who can laugh and complain at parties about how her husband snoozes right through a midnight scream-fest. Sleep like a baby? the other moms joke. More like sleep like a man!
So I’m not sure if I’m just incredibly lucky, if we should change our thinking so parenting — day or night — is not set on “default” to the mother, or some kind of combination of both, but I will say this …
I no longer feel guilty about my husband getting up at night with our baby, too. Because even though it’s probably silly and it’s only for a few minutes, with every diaper he changes and every swaddle he perfects, I feel like he is saying, we’re in this together.
Motherhood has felt, in some ways, like the most natural thing I’ve ever done, and in other ways, like the most inane existence one could dream up — and I admit that I don’t always embrace the martyred ideal of motherhood. I like the fact that my husband understands some of the sacrifices it has required on my part and I feel, in some small way, that his sacrifice of stumbling awake with me is a gift to our marriage — a way to tell me I’m not in this alone — that we’re partners in every sense of the word.
So here’s to the couples who have found the rhythms that work for them and the small sacrifices that make both relationships and parenthood possible …
… and allow me to raise my bedside breastfeeding glass of water (fetched by my husband, of course) to the men who stand — or sleep — by our sides.