Cries. The sound pierces through my deep sleep, telling my brain to wake up. I linger in the in between for a moment, half asleep, not sure where I am, what’s happening, what time it is. Another cry. Like a diver fighting for breath I struggle towards the surface.
Slowly, almost painfully, I open my eyes. Dim room, my husband’s head turned away from me, still sleeping. I’m tangled in the comforter and I don’t want to move. More cries. I wrangle my heavy limbs and turn around enough to see the clock: 2:20 a.m. I take a deep breath. Like ripping off a bandaid, I pull the warm covers off quickly and get it over with.
I stand up and start to walk out of the room. Still half-asleep, I stumble into the doorjamb. That wakes me up a bit more. I cross the hall and open her door. She’s standing in the crib, hands on the bar, crying. When she sees me, she lifts her head and looks at me and quiets down. I pick her up and soothe her for a moment, then lay her back down.
“Time to go back to sleep, sweetie. Night night.”
I sit in the chair in her room and wait for her to fall back asleep, knowing that if I try to leave too soon she’ll wake up again and we’ll have to start all over. I hear her roll over and snuggle up with her blanket. In the almost dark, lit by only a small nightlight, I can’t see details. She’s a lump in the crib. If I watch closely enough, I can see her little foot kick out as she gets into a comfortable position.
“Ba ga ba ba.” Her little voice calls out. I wish she was sleeping, but her voice is so beautiful that I smile in spite of myself. She turns her head to the other side and sighs. Soon her breathing becomes more regular. She’s falling asleep.
Part of me feels like a failure when she wakes like this in the middle of the night. I’ve bought into the cult of “sleeping through the night” and, as much as I try to resist, I can’t help judging her and myself by it. Nights when she does sleep the whole night through are so wonderful – I wake up feeling like a normal person. Those nights lull me into a false sense of accomplishment, as though her ability to sleep uninterrupted somehow means I’m a good parent. When she wakes the next night, I feel shattered.
I remind myself of why I’m in here instead of warm in bed, listening to her cry herself to sleep. I believe it’s important to respond to her, to show her that asking for help is ok and that she can trust me to be there when she needs me. I know what it feels like to have trouble falling asleep, to be so tired that it almost hurts that you’re still awake. I know that little babies need comfort and security. And really, on a normal night when she’s not teething or sick, all she needs is just a little reassurance that mama is still there. All she needs is a hug and a kiss and my warm presence. Is that so hard to give?
I wait a few more minutes. Her breathing is slow and regular and she hasn’t moved since her last settling some time ago. It’s safe to leave. I quietly stand up and inch out of the room, carefully closing the door behind me. I tiptoe back to my bed and climb in. My spot is still warm. David rolls over and cuddles up with me, not really waking at all. Tomorrow he’ll ask if she slept through the night. “No, but she went back down easy,” I’ll say. And, I should add, I got to give her a hug in the middle of the night. Aren’t I a lucky mama?