On the afternoon of May 26th, a Tuesday, I gave birth to a little girl we call Charlotte. Her arrival was fast and without complication, and I’ll write more about it another time. Right now, though, let’s talk about the nights.
There is a bustle, a gently authoritative busy-ness following the birth of a baby. The midwives tend to me, to the baby. There are first pees to be had, and careful first showers. There is cleanup to be done, and first kisses from big brothers. The midwives leave, and we eat dinner, me in bed with the baby, the others gathered around the dinner table. The sun begins to set, grandparents leave, and then: there we are. A family made new, alone. Because there is nothing else to be done, we muddle through a modified bedtime routine.
Aedan falls asleep easily enough in his own room, in his own bed, while Colm, Charlotte and I settle down for the night in the big family bed. The littlest ones are fast asleep. P is on guard to bring me water and pain killers and to take the baby when I have to pee. I should sleep. I know I should sleep, but instead I shift uncomfortably, rearrange the pillows behind me a thousand times, try in the rosy glow of lamplight to teach a new, floppy human how to breastfeed. I doze a little, but mostly I watch the window for first light. It will be better in the day, and it is.
On Wednesday night, as the sun sets, I begin to feel anxious. While everyone sleeps around me, I lay on my side, vigilant, curled around Charlotte’s tiny body, watching her chest rise and fall. I drift off and then wake with a start, momentarily terrified that she’s stopped breathing or that I’ve somehow suffocated her. She is my third baby, and we’ve co-slept with all of them. I know how to do this, but still these fears choke me. She’s ok, I tell myself. You’re ok, they’re ok. This will pass. The boys begin to stir as the sun rises, and I breath a sigh of relief.
On Thursday night, I struggle to get Charlotte latched properly, but it hurts. I cringe each time she draws my nipple against her hard palate, my toes curling. I’m exhausted and sore and P wakes to find me curled at the foot of the bed, sobbing. He rubs my back while I try to calm down. While everyone sleeps around me, I sit up uncomfortably in bed and Google tongue-tie and lip-tie. I worry over why my milk hasn’t come in yet. I wonder about lactation consultants and formula supplements and jaundice. I worry that I haven’t pooped yet. Each time she wakes to nurse, I eat a piece of milk chocolate and refresh my Facebook feed on my phone, trying to distract myself from the pain.
I hear the robins begin to sing, it must be close to 4 am, and the relief begins to creep in. Aedan has stumbled into our bed, and I look over at the bodies of my three sleeping boys, a tangle of bare-skinned limbs and bedsheets and soft snores and sighs. I fall asleep then, and wake with the morning light filling the room, a balm on my cracked nipples and aching soul.
Why is it that everything seems so much better in the light of day? I finally poop. Charlotte gets a clean bill of health from the midwife, we work on her latch, I remember the tube of Lansinoh in the medicine cabinet, I realize my milk has come in, just without the usual fanfare. I sleep, finally. I remind myself that the nights may be hard, but they always come to an end.
We are so incredibly vulnerable in the dark of night. We are tired; everything looks different, sounds different. What is manageable in the day looms monstrous at night. Some nights feel completely hopeless to me, I feel like I am alone in the world, in my little pool of lamplight. But the birds always begin to sing just before dawn: they know, and they remind me. There is hope; the dark passes, soon I can put out my little lamp in favour of the day.
The night will pass, this season will pass, these sore nipples will pass. It will be okay.