Friends and family come over every few days since I’ve given birth less than a month ago. It’s nice to have them here, especially when they come bearing food. As I grind freshly roasted coffee beans, I enjoy hearing them tell me how I look wonderful—healthy and happy—so soon after the birth. The scent of fresh baking chocolate chip cookies fills our apartment (OK, I cheated—I’m using frozen cookie dough I prepared a while back) as I try to portray the perfect Stepford wife and mother.
As the sun goes down and our guests leave, we get ready for bed. Despite having plans to go to sleep early, our daughter reminds us that she’s calling the shots. There’s been many a late night where I find myself sitting in bed, breastfeeding and trying to get my daughter to sleep at hours I didn’t know existed. My husband snores beside us as I try not to wake him, so at least one of us can get a decent night’s sleep. I send a text message to a friend who’s also on maternity leave. As she doesn’t text back, I hope her baby is letting her sleep.
Exhaustion and frustration kick in. The next day, I wash my face and make more coffee. I call my friends, only to be bombarded with “Chicken Soup for the Soul” clichés: There is nothing as rewarding as motherhood. There is a special bond formed between mother and baby when she breastfeeds. The days (and nights) are long but the years are short. I’ve heard them all by now. I know my friends mean well and as mothers themselves, they probably know what I’m going through.
Still, sometimes I find it very difficult to talk to them. Some of them keep telling me how my one child is easy compared to their two or three. Another friend always knows how to turn the conversation to her problems. There are times I just want to talk without having anyone offer advice, opinions or judgement.
They say it’s important to talk to your baby, so as I try to stay awake during these late-night feedings, I talk to my newborn daughter. I share my hopes, fears, and frustrations; I tell her how tired I am and that most of the time I’m not sure what I’m doing.
I look deep into her eyes and she seems to look back with awe and fascination. She doesn’t answer but I can’t help but wonder if nevertheless she does understand me. If she could talk, what would she say? And then I start to wonder if by sharing all of this with her, I’m burdening her. If people can believe that water is influenced by words, I’m sure that there’s some new age theory regarding how my negative thoughts and emotions are influencing my breastmilk. Is this why she won’t sleep? Am I sowing the seeds for her future therapy sessions—how my mom messed me up before I could tell her to be quiet?
I don’t believe in cooing and baby talk but should I be discussing colors, shapes, and animals, instead? Should I be singing children’s songs in a high-pitched voice? I can’t remember any lullabies or children’s songs (unless you count “Soft Kitty”) and even if I did, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I bastardize songs by the Beatles, Queen and Madness; at least I try to pick out those with a positive message. Singing helps. She smiles.
Don’t bombard me with facts about how infants at this age can’t control their muscles and what I’m interpreting as a smile is just an involuntary spasm. Her eyes glisten and eventually, after I’ve exhausted my repertoire and re-sung some favorites multiple times, her eye lids begin to droop. I start to feel good with myself as I glimpse at my watch and see that it’s almost 2:30 a.m. I know she’ll be up in less than three hours, but I put my own frustration on hold so that I can savor every moment of sleep before our next feeding.