It’s 10.40pm. Or it might be 10.45, 10.30 or even 11pm. It’s around that time though, I am certain of it. So certain I don’t even need to glance at my watch, for it is the same every single night. The whimpering that begins from upstairs. Both Jon and I look at each other as it starts, we almost sit there with baited breath waiting for it to get louder. And louder still. The cries from our baby boy upstairs, signalling that it is time for me to go to bed. Whatever I am doing at that moment, most likely working, but more often than not watching TV, or even perhaps having a bath, it’s time to stop and go to bed. My couple of hours to myself in the evening are over.
I walk into the room and straight away he sees me. The crying gets louder for a moment, as he waits for me to get to him. I cuddle him first, but that won’t stop him crying, not when he is this wound up. I give him milk and instantly he stops. After a while I pull him off, he wouldn’t ever stop of his own accord, not like he does during the day. And I wait. I feel my body tense up, it’s not with fear, but it’s also not with anticipation either. It’s nerves. It’s willing. I will him with all my might to settle. And sometimes he does. Very rarely he will have some milk and go to sleep, albeit only for a couple of hours until it starts again. Constant on and off throughout the night. Broken. Broken sleep and broken routines. But more regularly at the moment, he starts to cry again. Or worse he just wakes up. He is wide awake. Smiling. Pulling my hair. Babbling away. Tapping me. Its cute at first but after a few hours it gets draining. It’s awful to say it but I find those times quite claustrophobic. I feel over stimulated, it’s almost too much touch.
And that’s where my night begins. Some nights recently it has been worse than others. I can go to bed at 11pm and not fall asleep until at least 1am. Just lying there in a cycle of telling myself I will not feed him again as this bad habit is getting worse, of resisting even though I know he won’t settle without. Resisting for sometimes up to an hour, and then giving in, knowing that if I give him some more milk he will fall asleep and I’ll get a break. Some nights I am stronger than others, but I always end up caving. I have no willpower, I am just too tired. When eventually we do sleep, it won’t be for a long time. I don’t even bother looking at the time now as it is on and off all night long. I often wonder if I am ever actually fully asleep? More just dozing, never getting to sleep long enough for me to get into a deep sleep cycle.
I’d be lying if I said I am coping with this lack of sleep. Most nights though I’m strong. Some nights I just think ‘Get on with it Katie, it’s not that bad’. I can deal more with the on and off dozing throughout the night, as bad as it is he just sleepily feeds. It’s the waiting to go to sleep that gets to me. When all I want to do is go to sleep, to close my eyes and to switch off – to not think about work, to not think about being a parent, to rest my tired body and my exhausted mind. Those are the nights I find the hardest. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I am ashamed to say I shout. I shout and swear and take it out on whoever happens to be nearby. Which of course is usually Jon. On a couple of occasions over the last nine months I’ve sobbed. I’ve sobbed and said ‘I can’t take this anymore.’ But of course I can. Cause that’s what we do.
Yet in all this, for all the tiredness, there’s a part of me that loves it. These are the glory days. I don’t love the tiredness, I don’t love the exhaustion. But I love the closeness. I love having my boy next to me. And that’s the problem. It’s my fault. Yes he isn’t as good a sleeper as the girls were, that much I know for certain. But I have created these habits. I’m the one who let him in our bed when he should have persevered putting him in his crib next to me. I’m the one who once he grew out of that a few months ago, didn’t even bother to put another cot up. I just let him sleep there permanently. Having been the strictest non co-sleeper with Mads and only letting LL do it a little bit, I’ve even surprised myself. But I know why. I know why I’m like this.
I am certain that there is something to be said about the power of reflection. As time goes past the memories get hazier. But I imagine the girls when they were babies. I can picture their faces but I can’t remember what it felt like to feel their warm little bodies next to mine. I can’t truly recall the feeling of heat radiating off them and the way it felt to wrap my arms around them. I of course remember what their hair was like but I can’t remember truly what it felt like to stroke their heads. I’d give anything to go back and lie with them in the night as babies. I would give absolutely anything to rock them to sleep, to feed them, and sit there stroking their hair. I often wonder why I was so quick to put them in their cots after their night time feed? I wish I could go back and hold them that little bit longer.
There is something about the beauty of the past, whether it was yesterday or many yesterdays ago, that fuels us to drink more out of the present.
And while it’s tough at the moment, while I don’t need anyone else to tell me I’ve created bad habits as I am experienced enough in my parenting journey to know I’ve done just that and then some, I know that soon I won’t be this tired. It won’t always be this way. It’s not going to be long until his room will be ready, his cot will be up, and this stage will be over. I am dreading it, I know it’s not going to be easy breaking this routine we have created, but it won’t be forever. This phase will end. He might not ever be a good sleeper, but it’s not always going to be this bad. And I already miss it. I can already feel tears springing to my eyes when I think about it. These last nine months have been exhausting, there have been night times where it’s been so hard, where I’ve thought to myself ‘I can’t cope with this’. But while I may begrudge it at the time, I will never look back and regret it. That much I know is true.
I hate feeling tired, I hate feeling exhausted, but there’s something about the vulnerability of feeling like this that demands the most beautiful moments of motherhood. Because at the moment this is how it is. He needs me, simple as that. I am the only one who can fix it. And so I lie there in the night- I stroke his head, I lie him on my chest like he’s a tiny newborn and not a wriggly nine month old, I’m hyper alert and ready to deliver the kind of care that will sear memories of precious maternal moments for me. He won’t remember this.
But I will. One day I’ll look back on these days and I’ll smile. I’ll wish for them back. I’ll wistfully remember the way he nestled into me and how just being next to me calmed him down. So I just get on with it…
Cause that’s just what we do.