When I was pregnant, I wrote about waking to baby kicks just before dawn, trying to enjoy them despite discomfort and losing sleep. I had made the choice to embrace the disruption. It’s different when your baby’s on the outside—you can’t sit quietly and wait for the kick storm to pass. In the weeks following Sal’s birth, my husband and I had to learn how to handle our son’s waking through the night and early morning.
I didn’t have the best methodology about our night feedings. Without going into a ton of detail, one feeding would take about an hour and a half, due to feeding, burping, putting back to sleep, pumping, storing, washing something if I had to, and then going back to bed. There’s nothing beautiful about waking throughout the night and dragging yourself from task to task, with all the lights dimmed, trying to move as quietly as you can throughout the house– knowing that the more you do and the less you sleep, the more painful the next few hours are going to be. Thinking about the following day would take my breath away with anxiety. Some nights I had all the patience in the world for the little hungry baby, other nights I would be in tears because getting 45 minutes of sleep between feedings just catches up with you.
Admittedly, I had meltdowns, and wished I could have kept my composure.
I felt selfish the times I cried with furious exhaustion at Sal’s night waking. Those emotions didn’t help to strengthen any mother-to-baby bond that we were trying to form, for one. One of the first things doctors and midwives tell you about post-partum life and turmoil is that babies can sense or feel your feelings, and they’ll share those feelings with you.
Sometimes Sal would cry when I was upset. Sometimes he would just look at me, unblinking. I don’t know which was worse.
This anger, I would tell myself, is foolish. Nothing is a baby’s fault. If there was ever a way to witness absolute innocence and naivety, it’s to hold an infant. It was never Sal’s fault that we couldn’t make feedings work in a way that was simple. My husband and I would jokingly say, at the end of our ropes, “he doesn’t know nuffin’ at all”.
Others have said to me, knowingly, that the time flies by when you have a baby. In those early weeks, I felt like the time couldn’t go by fast enough. I wanted to cherish those days, but I had never gotten a chance to recover from birth (I don’t think any mother does) and I wasn’t really sleeping—therefore, I wasn’t embracing any of it. Sal didn’t start interacting with me until he was two months old. Our only real means of communication was when he was crying. When there’s no emotional payoff, you can very quickly feel like you’re failing.
Remembering those nights, I think of Sal’s illuminated face in the quiet darkness, looking up at the world of shadows surrounding him. I knew that he could only really see me if I was 15 inches or closer to his face, and that my smell was a much better identifier for him than sight. Half the time I didn’t have my glasses on yet when I would look down on him in the bassinet, trying to read his face. Any noise he made would wake me and I would hover over him, trying to decide if I should pick him up and feed him, or if he was just stirring and would drift back to sleep on his own. Or I’d be trying to figure out if I could go back to sleep. At times, his eyes could have been open, and he could have been looking right at me. We couldn’t really see one another.
Watercolor, Micron Pen; Sketchbook, 2016
Peeking over at him in the darkness got me feeling like his face was my little moon, controlling my movements and energy for weeks at a time. Every time we meet another mother, of any age, their first question is always “how’s he sleeping?” I’m always afraid, in my superstition, to admit my sheer joy that he doesn’t wake up for night feedings anymore. I really want to say how I’m actually proud of myself that we survived that sleep-deprived phase and can share laughs together during the day. Instead I usually say something like “we’re in a phase that has left us both more restful”.