Sacha is 15 months old, and since his very first month in this life, he has been sleeping next to me in my big bed. He was very tiny and he didn’t know many things at all, but he knew one thing: Me. The smell of me, the warmth of me, the milk that came from me. He knew that if he kept himself very, very close to my body all night and every night until forever, he would stay safe, and nourished, he would sleep deeply and he would grow.
Like the primeval human family sleeping inside a cave to keep away the predators and the storms, we’d huddle together, sleep and dream together, intertwined. You cannot feel nature more strongly than in those moments of deep instinct, lifted directly from our very distant past.
But 15 long months have passed. My baby has grown, and grown big. Also, grown restless.
This baby, who no longer feeds directly from my body, still likes to sleep next to me but has never stopped waking up like a newborn. He wakes up three or four times before we have even gone to bed. We go up the stairs, down the stairs, back up the stairs; I rock, I hush, I walk, I feed, I hold my breath, I try to leave the room silently like I am floating on air, without my foot touching that creaky floorboard, without the sound of my breathing jostling him back out of sleep. Nothing works in the evenings. I am always alert, waiting. I cannot start anything and I cannot finish anything because Sacha wakes up again, and again, and again.
Later, he wakes up at least another three times during the night. Mostly he wants milk, together with that he wants company, reassurance, sometimes he also wants simply to be awake and play. He loves throwing himself down on the plump pillows and the goose down duvet. It must feel like a cloud to him, a fluffy cloud in heaven. He loves to push himself next to me, on my pillow, bit by bit until my head is no longer on there. More room for him. He likes to spin in one direction, then another, then another, a tiny compass in my bed, pointing the way to a very great tiredness in the morning. He likes to push his little head deep into the duvet and lift his tiny bottom up towards the ceiling. Like some comical baby-yogi, stood like that in the Downward Dog position, he sometimes falls asleep. He likes to point at things, call them each by their own name in his secret baby language, he likes to tug at the curtains, he likes to sway over the edge of the bed like some drunken sailor about to get sober in the cold sea, he likes to drink so much milk that his belly is full and his nappy is full and I have to change him in the cold air of the middle of the winter’s night and then – oh then he is definitely completely awake.And before I have had the chance to even close my eyelids for long enough to forget my name, he is awake again.
After the six or seven wake ups in the night, he is now awake for the day, laughing, waiting. What are you doing mummy? If I jump on you like this, will you open your eyes? If I press my warm wet mouth onto your face, will you open your eyes? If I pull your eye lids? If I tug at your hair? And so, laughing with love and crying with tiredness, I start another day. Sleep, who needs sleep? I am so drunk on this love that for a while – for a long while – I convince myself that you don’t need sleep, if you are happy, you don’t need rest, you can just function on love, love and determination, love and maternal instincts. Forget sleep, sleep is for the weak, we can do without.
And yet… 15 months is a long time and eventually, my body – my weak and fallible human body – can take no more. Also, I have another child. A child who is not given everything that she deserves and needs when I am too tired during the day, when I struggle to keep my eyes open in the afternoon, when I snap at her because exhaustion has eaten away the last crumbs of my patience.
So over the last week, my husband and I have been trying to change the universe. Well, our universe. Spurred on by the hope of getting the Big Bed back to its rightful owner(s), my husband tries his best baby whisperer magic. Tuned into his calm and decisive energy, our baby decided that he can, in fact, sleep in his own cot, why not? Daddy gives a lovely ‘rubbie’ back, daddy gives a lovely shh-shhhhh lullaby, sleep is beautiful, sleep is good.
And how about mummy? When it was mummy’s turn, we learnt that universe doesn’t change over night. Not even our universe. Our baby cried, our baby struggled. As I tried to put him into his cot, our baby clung to me, his hands so strong in their despair, holding onto my dress, grabbing around my neck, not letting go, the shrieks getting worse by the second. As I lowered him carefully into the cot, and kissed his hair already wet from the sweat of struggle, his limbs thrashed against the bars, the soft sheet underneath him bunched up and crumpled. As soon as I lay him down, he turned over, he grabbed the bars, he hoisted himself up, he got up on his feet, he grabbed me through the bars, he sobbed. I put him down again, gently, he got up again.
It didn’t matter that my thoughts sent him love, that in my mind I was telling him that he is my world, my sunshine, he cried and cried and cried and eventually I cried with him. I was there by his side, never leaving him alone for a second, but it was not enough. He wanted to be in my arms, next to my body, and nothing else would do. I put him down, he got up. We danced like this for a long time. Both of us in tears, exhausted. I felt like a king who wants to do something good for his people, but first he must take them to war. The king knows that he is going to build roads, hospitals, and that he will reduce tax and increase help for the poor. But the people, the people only know that first they must go to war, with all its pain and struggle. I am that king. The king who must inflict pain now for a better tomorrow.
It has been a tough night and my baby is now sleeping peacefully in his cot, tired and calm at last. As I am getting ready for rest too, I look at the emptiness of my bed and then I look longingly at the small shape behind the wooden bars, under the blanket with the blue dinosaur. I will miss him so much tonight. For so long we have been each other’s anchor during the night time hours. I know that this too shall pass, and we will all be better for it: more rested, more able to enjoy our waking hours together. My husband and I will have a chance to remember what it was that we were to each other, before the babies came along. It will be good and it will be worth it. A new order in our universe will be established, and everyone will flourish from it.
But for now, I am sad.
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