I glance at my watch, but the motion is meaningless as my mind doesn’t even bother to register what time it is. Time has lost most of its meaning since I became a mom four weeks (or is it five already?) ago. My obsessive nature is a real stickler for schedules and promptness. Is. Was. I feel out of control as my days are dictated by my baby, and are about as random as rolling dice.
During my pregnancy, it seemed like many of my friends who were already mothers were advocates for Tracy Hogg’s book, “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.” The book describes how newborns tend to sleep about 16 hours a day and the importance of an EASY (Eat, Activity, baby sleeps while you have “me time”) cycle. She made it sound so simple and the control freak in me loved the fact that it would enable me to keep a schedule (of sorts).
Friends boasted of their toddlers who slept through the night and still napped in the afternoons. Before my daughter was born, I had this utopian vision where I’d wake up, bond with my baby as she breastfed for 20 minutes, play with her for a short while, and then put her to nap while I would have a bit of time to myself before the next breastfeed-play-nap cycle began. My perfect baby would sleep as I worked out, waking up only after I finished my workout. Later in the day, I’d have time to sew as she slept soundly. In this vision, I never even bothered to consider how I would do the mundane tasks such as laundry, cleaning, and cooking.
Reality is far from what I’ve imagined. Breastfeeding usually takes us about an hour or longer. At first, I tried to be productive during this time, answering emails on my phone’s annoyingly tiny keyboard. Distracted, it once took me a few minutes before I realized that my daughter wasn’t latched on properly and was giving me a hickey next to my nipple, which explained her frustration.
After feeding, I read to her. I know we’re through when she’s restlessly pecking at me, signaling hunger again. Unwilling to be pacified, her frustration grows and I finally give in to another feeding, despite having skipped the sleep element of the cycle. By the time she finally does nap, I realize I still haven’t brushed my teeth or had breakfast, so I put her in her crib, close the bedroom door (because we’ve been warned about not leaving her and the cat together without supervision), and get ready for the new day.
It’s already early afternoon.
As I start doing something, anything, her anti-productivity barometer kicks in to disrupt the task and she starts crying for food. I choke back tears, feeling like a failure that can’t even stick to a simple schedule. Minutes last for hours while breastfeeding, but by late afternoon, time has flown by so quickly, I haven’t even had time to put a load of laundry into the machine. My to-do list dauntingly grows from day to day.
My husband tells me how lucky I am to spend all this time with her and I feel guilty, as I should be cherishing it more. I try to remember this as my daughter and I spend our days together. Inhaling deeply, I put my cell phone aside and stop looking at my watch as I look down into her big beautiful eyes, full of wonder. I listen to the milk gurgling as she suckles. When I’m alone with her, I remind myself to be in the moment and appreciate it just as it is.
I refrain from making specific plans. For the time being, we’re living on her schedule. I remind myself how lucky I am to have this time to spend with my daughter. I’ll eventually go back to the work force—my life will once again revolve around a schedule—and resign to leaving her in someone else’s care. Until then, I’m working on living in the moment and surrendering my desire for control. It’s not easy.
As for the mothers who boast of toddlers who sleep through the night—I realize that any peace they have is often a fluke, or a phase. They wish their kids would still nap in the afternoons. I understand their desire for things to look like everything is under control even when they are exhausted, physically, and mentally drained.
I, too, wish I could sleep through the night. It’ll eventually happen—and then she’ll start driving and dating and I won’t be able to sleep again.