I lay drowsy in the dark room, a dim light from the hall and a low hum of activity cluttered the space just outside my awareness. Beside me a new little critter stirred in her clear acrylic bassinet.
Before she could stir, she was in my arms, rooting and grunting and pink and warm and sweet. I lay back against the worthless institutional pillow and fed my baby, wondering if she had woken first, or if I had.
I’ve nursed three babies through numberless nighttime feedings, and I still don’t know the answer.
Last week, one of my babies, a tall, sinewy child with the swagger and B.O. attendant with middle school, stood over my bed in the dark. Before I knew he was there, I was awake and aware of his presence. Before he spoke, I lifted my head and asked: What’s wrong?
He had a bad dream. And questions about his new school. And thoughts about gravity that he needed to share, exactly right then. And, really, he just wanted a snuggle.
I never say no to a snuggle.
As I listened to his breathing slow and his words begin to slur in that liquerish thickness of sleep, I wondered again: who wakes whom?
My husband thunders on in his heavy sleep, and did when they were infants, through every squirm and peep and holler. But I could shoot out of bed, ready to call EMSA or Hazmat, fully alert and already solving whatever problems arose, when those nighttime interruptions came. As if my skills at understanding, empathizing and solving were heightened through the haze of barely achieved R.E.M.
Sometimes, when I wake at night and nary a child needs me, I still lie awake and root around, poking the shadowed corners of my mind. Sometimes, this is when I discover the real worry that had been niggling at me throughout a busy day, the not-fully-formed thought I had been chasing. I realize, suddenly: Oh! That’s why she was scared. Oh! That’s what he was so mad about! Oh! She meant to say …. and I didn’t understand.
It’s funny. Nightly nursing was a terribly inconvenient thing, and it was hard, and we were so sleep deprived. I mean. So sleep deprived. But, I will never regret waking with them. In fact, I cherish those moments when our waking overlaps, when their need for me summons me out of sleep, before they even know it themselves, a soundless cry only my body can hear:
someone needs you.
And I rise and I comfort and I solve and I lie awake quietly listening to peace, watching eyelashes brush against cheeks, a broad forehead filled with dreams and secrets.