Growing up is about making decisions and, worse than learning to live with them, actually taking responsibility for them. It means facing the stark reflection that says, ‘you chose this’, even if you chose it just by delaying action or chose it for complex reasons or chose it although you were really in two minds about the whole thing.
After 18 months of not sleeping at night, waking up multiple times to comfort Ziya or breastfeed her and put her back to sleep, I’m finally starting to feel like I’ve had enough. I look at mothers whose babies sleep through the night with more awe than envy, and I’m beginning to feel frayed at the edges in a way not good for my marriage, my baby or my health.
But I’ve felt kind of powerless about what to do. I’ve gotten all kinds of advice: try to tire her out, don’t give her oats for dinner, just let her bawl etc. etc. Firstly, there is no chance that old people like Stone and I can tire out this child, she’s like an electron, zapping up and down in a way that’s tiring just to watch. Tonight we tried to give her something besides oats. ‘Don’t want it,’ she said, ‘Oatsies’. So, we gave her oats. And, letting her bawl in the one room we all share is just going to make me both tired and stressed, and I don’t need to look any more rumpled when I walk into work in the morning.
My friend Nic suggested the obvious. Stop breast feeding in the night, then she won’t get up for the comfort and the taste and smell of sleeping attached to you. Yeah, I responded vaguely, I could do that. Well, if you don’t do it, that’s your decision and clearly you want to get up all the time in the night, she shot back. But was I really making a decision or delaying one?
I didn’t say it then, but as much as having Zi sleeping on top or or attached to me feels onerous, it’s also something I am going to deeply miss once it’s gone. Something about her waking up for me feels like being needed, like being all somebody wants in the world. The doctor says she wakes up to spend time with me and I, in turn, let myself be woken up because I want to spend time with her. It’s like the nights are our main time together given the hours I work during the week. So, while I think I’m delaying the decision to end these ‘unnecessary’ night feeds, really I’m making decisions based on those things I prioritise. I clearly prioritize hugging up my baby more than sleep.
Yet, I’m in two minds. What if I’m creating bad patterns? What if my husband had enough ages ago? What if my priorities are wrong and I need to just make the choice that, supposedly, ends this exhaustion here? What if once I do it, I realise I should have done this months ago and not be a sucker for her tears? I don’t know what to do. Even when you are delaying, you are making decisions. What’s hard is that, although you might be deciding for one reason or another, it’s the consequences you ultimately have to take responsibility for. I’m not deciding to keep getting up all night. I’m deciding that I want to be there to snuggle up with Zi and breastfeed a little longer. In the end though, the lack of sleep is something I can either choose to continue or change regardless of what it takes.
What’s overwhelming about this is that I’m just talking about decisions regarding sleep of all things, not even world peace or economic restructuring or dismantling patriarchy. Yet, expand that lesson by a thousand in the waking hours of mundane motherhood, and this suddenly feels like proper adulthood where you are now in charge of your life and the lives of others, and you hold about six different perspectives on something, but in the end, you are annoyingly empowered to set your boundaries and rights in relation to everyone, including your baby.
I guess Nic was right. I can’t continue to earnestly wish the universe would just fix it for me. I can’t wait around endlessly for Ziya to magically sleep through the night like those other babies. I can’t just let her bawl in the crib because Stone rightly thinks this habit needs to stop. I can’t even give her brandy like they used to in the old days.
Well, I could do all of those things, but I’d just be making a decision to delay deciding or I’d be doing what was decided for me. So, the question is now, what should I do?
As always when we are responsible for our realities as well as our postponements and priorities, it’s time to recognise that whatever happens, I decide.