Yesterday I got my toddler to sleep in her bed at naptime without nursing her. This has never happened before.
She’s a focused, peaceful, no-fuss kind of person. As toddlers go, she asks for relatively little during the day. She’s content to explore, forage, rejoice in her brothers’ good fortune, and create her own purposeful work. She keeps me in her line of sight, and all is calm. (With her, anyway. My three boys are another story.)
But at night, she asks for all of me. And I oblige, partly because I feel such gratitude for the flexibility she graces us with each day. But mostly because she is wee, I am tired, and we have a rhythm.
I’ve felt a gentle pull the last few months to change it. Because co-sleeping is beautiful, but nighttime nursing is a little wearing. And my husband is sleeping a room away, and I think it would be nice to be nearer.
But after all the nights my husband was gone during all the years he traveled for work, my little ones and I have perfected our bedtime routine and my husband and I have forgotten ours.
He’s home now. The long-hoped-for local position at his company became available a few months ago, and after four and a half years of going the extra mile (quite literally), he earned it. Sleeping a room instead of a state away feels like heaven.
But I am bonding with someone all night, and he is not. Hence the pull.
But this means more work for me. To create two new nighttime rhythms.
The one with my husband feels elusive. His frozen shoulder pain dictates his sleeping position. He likes a fan blowing on him at night, and I don’t. And the farther out of earshot my children are, the harder it is for me to relax. When I hear them breathe, I rest easier. So when I am in the master bedroom with my husband, I lie awake long after he’s fallen asleep. And when I’ve finally calmed my mind, relaxed my body, and given myself permission to turn down the volume on my internal baby monitor, a child cries out my name, and I know I would have gotten more sleep if I’d stayed in her room to begin with.
Are nights for rest or relationships? With my toddler I can do both simultaneously, automatically. But when I sneak away from my child’s room and lie near my husband, I can do neither. Because he’s already sleeping without me.
I want to jostle him awake, and let him know I’m there.
He claims I have no time for him. I might just as easily claim he has no time for me. But where is the purpose in playing that game? So night after night, I fight the urge to fall asleep with my child, even though that’s what works. I rouse myself if I’ve drifted off, disentangle my body from hers with my fingers crossed that she won’t wake.
I have time for him! I’ll prove it! I walk in the master bedroom and lie down next to him, hoping he’ll sense me and roll over to acknowledge me. But his breathing is heavy and slow. He’s in another world. And I think of how hard he works and how tired he must be, how selfish of me it would be to put my arms around him now. I cannot steal a moment of his sleep.
In my child’s room, guilt robs me of sleep. In my husband’s room, loneliness does. I don’t know why a person can be so close and feel so far. Like the date night that comes after weeks of fighting for time to talk, only to find ourselves alone together with nothing to say.
So I sit in the hallway, bedless in a house full of beds, and write. I hear the rustle of blankets or the gentle bonk of a knee against a wall as my boys shift in their sleep. I don’t have to look to intuitively sense and mirror the steady rise and fall of my toddler’s chest in the next room. But when I listen for something—anything—coming from the master bedroom, I hear nothing.
Travel and babies and more babies and more travel have weaned us off of each other. Can we learn to synch again? I know we can, and know we will. But not tonight.
There’s been a brief window with each of my children that opens when I’ve weaned one a few months after getting pregnant with the next one. They slowly learn to sleep on their own. My husband and I find ourselves in bed together at the same time more and more frequently, and after a while, a new rhythm is forged. Our rhythm. And it’s nice and I sleep and we connect.
Then the baby is born, my husband says goodbye since there’s no sense in both of us being sleep deprived, and I’m up in the nursery all night every night again.
See you in two years.
Then it’s time for the toddler rhythm.
I’m not pregnant this time. It feels...unfamiliar.
When my daughter learns something, she learns quickly and well. Getting her to sleep last night without nursing was not difficult. She had only one nighttime waking and let me cuddle her back to sleep instead of nursing. This seamless transition was almost two years in the making, of course, but that’s why it was seamless. To disassociate nursing from sleep, I knew I needed to wait for her development until she could see there are other ways of being close besides nursing. I won’t make milk forever, you know. And she’ll need more than that.
And now I feel double loneliness.
I watched a film once of midwives reflecting on the births of their own children. One woman said, “You can cut the umbilical cord physically, but emotionally you never really do.”
It’s funny, this attachment to our babies. So strong, so instinctive, so imperative to their survival. But the ultimate goal as a parent is for your child to leave, to learn to do without you.
A marriage, on the other hand, is born with no instinct, no shared DNA. But its ultimate goal is unity. Some people think it’s impossible. It can often feel that way.
I write and think and work a lot on growing things. Growing plants and growing children and growing learning and growing courage. Child-raising is gardening. I’m steeped in that world, and getting wiser with experience.
Marriage is welding. I don’t know much about that trade. The potential damage of that much heat scares me, and the precision required is not in my skill set. The vision it takes to forge something new and solid out of two strong, separate things? I don’t think that big.
But as I write this, I realize that God does.