I’m lucky. I have two boys who sleep incredibly well.
When Big Brother was a baby, it took us until he was 7 weeks old to get him trained into sleeping through the night. He’d have his last feed at about 9:00pm, and then sleep through until 6:00am. It worked well. I’d get up for work, feed him, put him back to bed, and then get ready and go, leaving my stay-at-home husband to look after Big Brother when he next awoke.
When Baby came along we tried to do the same thing, but to no avail. It took until he was 10 weeks old, and his schedule is quite different. He has his last feed at 5:30pm, has a bath and goes to bed, and sleeps through until 4:00am.
(Please don’t send hate mail!)
Baby sleeps incredibly well, so it seems like there’s no reason that I shouldn’t sleep well, too. But in reality, I have a 4-year-old, a husband, housework to do, writing commitments to live up to, and everything that goes along with all of those things. I generally get to bed at about 10:00pm. Often, it’s closer to midnight. And I’m really not a morning person. When Baby starts calling for a feed at 4:00am, I’m not ready to get up and start the day.
He starts by whimpering. He does this in his sleep. After a few minutes, he wakes himself up and moves on to calling. This is where he gives short, sharp yells designed to bring me rushing to his side. I have approximately 3 minutes to comply. Then he moves on to the ear-splitting, full-throated, I’m-starving-and-I’m-not-afraid-to-tell-the-neighbours cry that he can sustain indefinitely.
This should be incentive enough to get me out of bed at the calling stage, if not when he’s still whimpering. But every morning, I like there thinking, “I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.” And as we move into winter and the temperature at night plummets, that mantra is louder and louder in my head.
It feels like forever ago that he was born. It was 1:00am on February 3rd, when I was 38 weeks. He was delivered by emergency caesarean after my mild-and-manageable pre-eclempsia turned into life-threatening eclempsia at 9:00pm the night before. They shot me up with magnesium sulfate (Worst. Experience. Ever.), waited for my spasms to stop, then gave me an epidural and cut me open. It wasn’t something I was really prepared for.
But if I wasn’t prepared, Baby was even less so. He stopped breathing in the operating theatre. Twice. They resuscitated him quickly. Twice. And then they rushed him off to ICU.
I saw him for less than a second as the midwives and hospital staff raced him past me. My husband looked at me questioningly, and I said, “Go with him. Don’t let him out of your sight.” Then my family was gone, and I was lying in the operating theatre alone. Sure, the surgeon was still stitching me up, and the anesthesiologist was checking intermittently to make sure that I wasn’t feeling pain, and there were at least half a dozen other medical people in the room, but they were irrelevant. Never had a felt more alone than when I watched my newborn hustled out of the room away from me.
When the surgeon had done her job, I was wheeled into a recovery room. They needed to monitor my blood pressure, and make sure there were no continuing effects from the eclempsia. The midwife asked if there was anything I wanted, and there was. “I just want my baby.”
According to my husband, I repeated that sentence to anyone who would listen. I don’t remember. I was too filled with drugs and grief. But I do remember crying hysterically at about 3:00am, when I found myself awake and alone in a hospital room, a searing pain in my stomach where I was used to feeling my baby kicking. One of the midwives sat with me for nearly an hour. She was sympathetic and understanding. And she gave me this picture:
I hugged that photo to my chest for the rest of the night.
It was ten hours after he was born that I finally got to hold Baby, and those 5 minutes rank right up there as some of the best of my life. Then he was taken away again, and moved from ICU to a nursery. I was still in recovery, and had to wait to get clearance before I could have him with me. That took another 6 hours.
If you’re thinking, “It was only sixteen hours,” then I can only imagine that you’ve never had your newborn taken away by strangers, and wondered if he was going to be alright.
My story is not unique. There are a lot of people who’ve gone through worse. I can’t even imagine how terrible it would be to have your newborn in ICU for days, or weeks, or months. I don’t even want to imagine the trauma of having a stillbirth, or being one of the many young, unwed mothers of the fifties and sixties who had their baby forcibly removed from them and handed over for adoption. But I can tell you that when Baby was put into my arms after 16 hours of waiting, and hoping and crying, I didn’t ever want to be away from him again. I promised myself that I’d do anything to look after him.
But, do you know what? Four months later, it’s not the promise I made that drags me out of a nice warm bed at 4:00 in the morning, and propels me down a freezing cold corridor into Baby’s room. It’s not the fear that something’s wrong, or the desperate urge to have him in my arms again. No, it’s something much simpler.
It’s the hope that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be lucky enough to be rewarded with one of these: