I hear him on the monitor, and through the hall. He's grunting and whining, and I know what's to come. I tell myself I can lie in bed for five more minutes, and let him fuss, but his fuss turns into a wail, and I pry myself out of bed.
I come into his room bearing a glass of water - I always get thirsty when I nurse. I make the conscious decision to leave my i-phone behind, as looking at it only awakens me further and makes it harder to fall back to sleep after I am done, should I be given that luxury.
I keep the lights off, and rely on the light coming from the hallway shining underneath the door. I take him from his crib, change his diaper, and resist the urge to kiss him on the cheek. I am regimented, and he needs to learn this is nighttime - no interaction, no lights, no stimuli. Still he is cute. But I am also annoyed, and exhausted. Please let him seep until 7 after this, I say to myself.
And so our nursing dance begins. He latches immediately, and I turn on some baby lullabies - always the same songs. I relax in the chair and rock gently. His eyes start to close as he eats, and so do mine, but I know I won't fall asleep in the chair. The fear of dropping him overwhelms my fatigue, and so I think.
I think about how many hours of sleep I have gotten thus far (about three), and how many more hours I need to feel somewhat normal the following day (about three more). I think about the day to come, and how I'll be flying solo, with my husband back at work. I think about school pickups and how I will organize my feeding schedule around them. I think about Braden and Casey's karate classes and how I feel guilty that they have been missing so much. I realize they will only miss more, because there is no practical way for me to take them in the near future.
I think about Braden's school search for next year, and I wonder how we will ever make a decision. I think about Casey's peanut allergy, and how I need to follow up with Johns Hopkins to see if I can get him enrolled in a clinical trial. I think about my 6-week postpartum OB appointment next week, and what will happen if my bleeding still hasn't stopped. I think about the 13 pounds I have left to lose and how I will ever do it. I make a mental note to research gyms with childcare.
It's time to switch sides. I hold Colin up and attempt to burp him, but nothing comes out, so I sit him upright for a minute or two. Our faces are just inches apart, and his eyes are closed. The sight of him almost takes my breath away. He is so small, so peaceful, so perfect. I realize that I can't remember what my other two children looked like when they were this exact age, though I know I stared at their faces in this very way. This realization scares me, as it dawns on me that someday I may not remember this picture, this moment.
I put my forehead against his and feel his sweet breath on my face. I wonder what happens when we die and if, like many have claimed, you see flashbacks of your life like a slideshow. I feel my baby's breath on my face and know for sure that this moment - this scene - would be in that reel.
We move on to the other side, and my thoughts go from introspective to practical. I think about sleep training and how I will ever get Colin to fall asleep on his own without rocking him. I wonder when he will ever sleep through the night - the entire night. Though I know it will eventually happen, I feel a sense of desperation as I don't know when. I begin fantasizing about a weekend trip my husband and I can take - just the two of us - once this eventually happens.
I think about the medication I am taking and how I can't wait to get off of it eventually - to be normal again. I wonder what normal is and what it will look like. I think about how long my body has been devoted to another human being - off and on for the past five and a half years. I think about how time consuming breastfeeding is. I consider trying to breastfeed for the full 12 months regardless. I glance at my baby eating, caress his head, and think: I will try.
Colin drifts off to sleep and stops sucking. I gently pull him off, and place him on my chest. I rock him, feel his body against mine, and breathe a deep sigh, thinking - This is what life is all about.
I get up to place him in his crib, walking carefully, as I have learned where exactly not to step so the floor won't creak. I put him down softly, and keep my hand on his stomach, saying shhhhhhhh. I pray to anyone who will listen for him to PLEASE stay asleep. I tiptoe out with anxiety, awaiting a cry that will mean I will have to go back in and sooth him for who knows how long.
I make it to my bed, and then I hear it. I mutter several expletives out loud and wake up my husband. I head back to his room.
This too shall pass, I tell myself. The thought brings me immediately relief, followed quickly by a bittersweet sadness. Because even through my sleep deprivation, sore breasts, and general overall anxiety about losing control of my nights (and my life), I kind of don't want this to end. And I kind of can't imagine never doing it again.
Such is the curse of motherhood. You count down the minutes until bedtime, and at the same time lament how quickly time is going by. Living in the moment is hard, and sometimes the moments aren't ones you necessarily want to live in. But no matter how hard, there is always a resistance to letting the moment go.
Even the exhausting, late night ones.