I never imagined in a million years that I might like, even look forward to, waking up at 3am night after night.
Now, I can feel those parent eyes rolling. And yes, I am TOTALLY too tired
some most nights to think of anything other than “MUST CHANGE BABY. MUST FEED BABY. BABY MUST SLEEP. WHY NOT SLEEPING. PLEASE SLEEPING NOW. NO WORDS, ONLY TIRED. MY GOD PLEASE SLEEP, CHILD. HAVE I DIED. IS THIS HELL. WHY IS ONE OF HER EYES STILL KIND OF OPEN. SLEEP, MY SLEEP, WHY HAVE YOU FORESAKEN ME. WILL I EVER SLEEP AGAIN IN THIS LIFE.”
A nurse told us recently to remember that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Indeed.
But who is that lady who did the Ted talk about success and how grit is the only personality trait successful people have that others don’t? (Googling that broad stroke… oh here it is!) Certainly 3am is the grittiest of gritty times for a new parent facing the traditional throws of parenting an infant. Particularly the throwing-up-collicky-tendanitus-inducing scream fests of 3am nights when you are the only ones awake in the entire world.
I remember sleepless nights before baby – the kind of nights where your own personal Cheshire Cat crawls into the shadows of your bedroom and reminds you of the argument you had with a friend, or the work you didn’t get done at the office, or simply sings the same line of “Zombie” over and over and over and over again.
Parenting an infant at 3am is similar, I’m finding. The mad, mad monkey mind is still there. But there are real sounds on loop. Screaming, possibly. Or sounds of a colossal, diaper situation in the making. Or the creak of the floor boards over and over and over as you wonder whether the rocking is working.
And the fear. The fear is the toughest part. You worry you will fall asleep rocking her and she will fall out of your arms to the floor. You worry that you will fall asleep rocking her with her face nestled into your elbow just so, and she will suffocate. You worry that you are already angry with her and you are in a new loop of anger and calming yourself and taking out your Facebook feed to try to stay awake.
The longer you are up with the crying and the looping, the deeper the fears go. You are afraid you won’t be a good parent. You are afraid you shouldn’t be a parent. You are afraid you can’t do it. You are so tired you have to put her down, and she is crying and you can’t figure it out so you are crying and then you realize you were never strong enough for this to begin with, and maybe it really IS you – YOU are creating an environment that makes her too uncomfortable to sleep or too sad or too angry or too afraid. Oh my god is she afraid to go to sleep? Oh my god, am I scaring her with all the rocking and the creaking floorboards and MY CRYING. Oh my god.
My monkey mind runs in all kinds of directions. And when I look at her crying face, especially in those first days when she cried her first tears (babies don’t make tears in their first days, apparently), when I see her balled up fists and she looks at me right in the eyes, huffs whimpering breaths and screams, I am totally broken. Broken. Heart shattered into a million pieces.
In the morning, when the sun comes up, I call my mom. Or I call my friend. I definitely wake up my husband, kiss him, and hand her over.
Ironically, the thing that is getting me through these 3am nights, is this – the other 3am nights.
You’re never quite sure which nights will be the good ones, but they come.
On these nights, I hear her in her bassinet on the side of the bed. She kicks her legs up, her toes pointing out through her sleep sack, her arms free and waving. She coos, or grunts. She does her Dab arms.
I stand up, put on my robe. I scoop her into my arms. She is warm. She smells like baby, a smell that is sweet, milky, salty. Her eyes are barely starting to open, and she wriggles into my arms, stretching like a cat, back bending. Her lips are pursed, her eyes shut. Then she opens them and stares right at me. She stretches her long neck, looks around the room and then back at me.
She cries when I change her diaper, but I don’t mind because I know her bottle is coming. I count out the scoops of formula for her, “One scoop. Two scoops. Three scoops. Four. Those are numbers,” I tell her. When the bottle hits her mouth, she finds an instant calm, eyes glued to my face.
I’m not sure what baby thing she is doing then, but I think she is simply learning me. And I am learning her. We watch each other. She eats.
The light in her nursery is dim, on a fader thanks to her Daddy, who designed the whole room to feel cozy and quiet and dreamy. There are stars on the ceiling, vines trailing up the wallpaper. And there, in the rocker, my daughter and I see each other.
Last night she laughed while she was eating. She looked up at me, my big grin stuck on my face, and she laughed.
My perspective on parenting has gradually shifted, a shift that was kicked off by my friend Jen, who said, “Someone told me before I had my first kid to remember that, if everything works out well, you will spend more time with this baby as an adult than you will spend with them as a child.”
I keep returning to that when I look at my girl. Here is this person who, if all goes well, will be this amazing adult in the world. And these are the days she needs someone to help her, to get her up and going as she makes her first go at being alive. Her dad and I, we are those two people, the only two who have this special honor of being here with this person at 3am, helping her make it over each tiny hurdle, helping her meet these first challenges. When this wondrous human being looks back at her life, 40 or 50 or 60 years from now, we will be the lucky two who got to move through her first days with her. We are the lucky ones who get to sit with her in the quiet of these few precious and passing nights.
At 3am, on the good nights, I see her eyes sparkle, her mouth gurgling at the bottle while she laughs at me mid-meal. On the best nights, I recognize how sacred and special these 3am moments are. She may not ever know the trails my monkey mind raced down some wee hours. She may not know how precious and quickly these nights passed, or how brilliantly magical the best ones were. But I will tell her. I will tell her. Because I was there.