My 5-month-old daughter has recently decided that she’ll only nurse in bed. The big bed, the one that she shares with her father and me at night. If you’d asked me a few months ago whether it was possible for a 5-month-old to make such decisions, I would have laughed. A few weeks into motherhood, I was the type of mother who brashly vacuumed around my sleeping baby. I’d declare that a child with particular preferences probably had parents who overindulged her.
But then the 4-month-sleep regression hit; my pudgy girl, once a champion sleeper who could drift off to dreams anywhere, began to succumb to a peculiar, shallower sleep. She woke every 90 minutes at night. She stirred when the cat groomed himself across the room. Once we napped in the kitchen, on the sofa, in the bathroom in her Rock’n’Play. Now desperate for daytime sleep, I set her down in our darkened bedroom, pulling the black-out curtains shut.
She slept better during the day, and so slept better at night. And yet soon, despite improved sleep, she no longer wanted to nurse anywhere and everywhere, either. At 4.5 months old, she was now awake, aware of the wonders of the world around her. The pattern on the table cloth. The computer where mommy’s hands flew over the keyboard. The mug of coffee perched on the counter. The light outside our kitchen window. I’d started to put her in the cradle hold and she’d thrash around, hungering for the activity of the world around her instead. If I could get her to latch, she’d eat happily. But getting there was a struggle.
So I started to lie down beside her in bed. And she ate easily, happily, until she drifted off to an equally easy and happy sleep.
At first I struggled with this new normal. Once, I’d been able to feed her while I wrote, or chatted on the internet, or watched television. Once, we’d been masters of the football hold, the cross cradle hold, of nursing in her sling. I asked my friends; one told me to be grateful, that her son went through a stage when he’d only nurse naked, standing up in front of a fan.
There are some days when I mourn those lost minutes, the words that will go unwritten, the Netflix that will go unwatched. There are some days when I lie down beside her and start counting down the minutes when I can do laundry, shower, and write. I wait until her tongue begins to flutter, press my index finger to her lip, and slip away. Sometimes she lets me go. But sometimes she wants more.
Some days I struggle, but some days I don’t.
There are days when she sleeps easily, when the light in my bedroom falls in dappled gold across the rumpled comforter, when the birds outside sing softly, when the traffic rumbles by. Her tiny hand rests on my collarbone. Her pudgy feet press against my thighs. She fits against my body perfectly. I remember how, just a year ago, she lived inside it. And now she’s outside, sleeping softly in the bed where she was born.
I remember that this, too, shall pass. One day she won’t want to nurse to sleep with mommy. One day she’ll sleep in her own bed. One day she won’t need naps at all. Someday, her feet will be long and flat and hard from summers gone barefoot. One day, she’ll wear chipped polish on those no-longer-tiny nails. One day she’ll have a ponytail instead of soft feathers of baby hair. Someday, she’ll nap in a dorm bed after staying up too late studying, or drinking, and someday she’ll forget to call me back when I call her, too busy with the hustle and bustle of her own life.
And so I stay beside her, smelling the still-soft spot on her skull, listening to her gentle baby breaths. I forget about the novels that go unwritten. I tell myself to never mind the dishes, dirty in the sink. This moment is fleeting, but so terribly precious. Those days, when she reaches out for me in her sleep, I’m right there, ready to reach back.
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