Her distinct cry forces me awake, interrupting a dream. I spend a few moments in bed, adjusting to the change from dream-world to reality, and hoping - though I know it won't happen - that she'll cease crying on her own. Her wails increase in volume, often changing to an insistent "Mah-Mahn!" Barely a part of the waking world, I shuffle out of bed and up the stairs, holding onto the railing to compensate for my unreliable coordination during these late-night visits.
I am resentful and frustrated. I trudge up the stairs promising that something will change. If it's been less than three hours since our last wake-up, I am even more annoyed. I recite mantras in my head: she is too old for this, she doesn't really need me, nothing bad will happen if I just leave her to cry. But still those cries affect my whole body; my nervous system twitches with each wail and longs to relieve her of distress.
I open the door to her dark room, making calm, shushing sounds. She stops crying immediately. I walk to the crib and reach into the darkness; my eyes still adjusting, I can't yet see her. Sometimes, she is still lying down, and I have to feel around the crib to find her folded up body. Other times, she is sitting, arms reached up, waiting for the mother she know will embrace her. I lift her heavy (when did she get so heavy?), warm body from the crib, wrapping my hands around her bottom, secure in its fleece footed pajamas.
I squeeze her tight, hoping that this time - this one time - my hug will be all she needs. But after a quick hug, she points to the chair and begins to shuffle her body down into my arms. She wants to nurse, to rock, to do what we've been doing several times a night since the day she was born. I sigh, frustrated but resigned, and carry this warm, demanding lump over to our cozy green glider.
I open my pajamas and she finds my breast in the dark, operating on some innate sense. Once she attaches, her whole body relaxes, seemingly falling back asleep within seconds. My resentment and frustrations leave as well. She is so content, warm, snuggly, sweet. This is my baby, my last baby, and these quiet times are our own time together. I want to sleep, I want her to not need me, but for a few minutes, I'm at peace with this ritual. She stirs as my milk lets down, gulping down what she needs as my body hovers in a sleepy haze, barely awake, almost dreaming again. After only a minute or two, her gulps slow down, her sucking lessens, and she begins to doze. Some nights, I gently separate her mouth from me, other nights she pulls off on her own. Surprisingly, she thrusts her body into a full lay-out, switching from warm and soft to rigid in one large stretch.
I heave my sleepy self and her stretched out, rigid body out of the glider and shuffle over to the crib. I lay her body down and gaze a moment, now able to make out the soft curve of her cheek, the gentle rise and fall of her chest. I rub my hand over her fuzzy, round belly and walk out. Now more awake, I walk into the kitchen for water (I am always thirsty) and into the bathroom. I return to my bed, pleased that my time awake was so short, but frustrated again that I was awake at 1am, 4am, 6am. D. stirs a little, rolls over. I take a few minutes to get comfortable again, making promises that tomorrow I'll figure out how to stop this constant waking. But I fall asleep quickly, heavily. In the morning, we'll be busy, awake, loud. For now, though, the house is silent, and for a few hours, we all will rest.
This was the scene in our house every night from late April to January 3. Eight months of two to four (sometimes more) wake-ups each night. As Amelia grew from 8 months old to almost 17 months, I awoke with her each time to shuffle upstairs, full of both love and frustration, to nurse. She wouldn't tolerate any other visitors, anything other than nursing. Three days ago, I went through the painful but necessary steps of sleep training. We had tried before, but this time it worked. The first night of tears was terrible, but she understood the new routine by night two, and last night she slept, with few cries and no visits from me, from 7:30pm - 8:30am.
This is success. This means our family will sleep. We need to sleep. I may be able to spend a night away soon. We are moving on from a difficult two years. But I am mourning a bit. I knew I would. As painful as those nights (and mornings) were, they were my last nursing nights with my last baby.
Good night, sweet Baby Amelia. Sleep well.