I wake up to the sound of a stirring baby. My daughter Luna's grunting ever so slightly, minutes away from an inevitable cry. As I roll over to check the clock on my phone, I see that it's 1:00 a.m. I know what will sooth her, so I unclasp my nursing bra and bring her closer to me despite the fact that we only properly went to bed an hour or two before. She falls asleep 15 or 20 minutes later, pressed up against my chest.
I wake up again. It's 3:00 a.m. and my 4-month-old is about to scream. I can feel it. I take out a boob, and feed her some more.
At 5 or 6 a.m., I awake once again to her tear-soaked face. It takes her a little longer to fall back asleep this time, but she usually does. For another two or three hours, anyway. If we're lucky.
At almost 20 weeks, a baby should be able to sleep through the night, apparently. "You must be feeling better these days," my midwife muses over the phone. "Luna's probably getting six to eight hours of rest a night, right?"
Parents.com tells me that at 4 months, a baby can go eight hours at night without a feeding." But at 4 months, my partner, my daughter, and I are all lucky if we get more than 180 minutes at any one point.
I'm exhausted, of course. I haven't slept through the night since before Luna was born, when chronic third trimester pain resulted in some pretty serious insomnia. And yet, I can't bring myself to try to wean her off these late-night feeds. I can't bring myself to let her cry for what I know will be hours at a time.
There are a whole bunch of reasons Luna might be waking up so often. During a recent check-up at our local baby clinic, a pediatrician suspected she was showing early signs of teething. She's been dribbling like a leaky faucet, soaking through bibs and onesies and bodysuits in the space of a couple of minutes. She's also trying to eat everything: My entire hand, her entire fist, her great-grandma's collar on a button-down shirt. Sometimes she seems downright uncomfortable as well. She's temporarily calmed by some teething gel, but only temporarily.
Honestly, I kind of enjoy being my daughter's source of comfort. I enjoy being so needed.
There's also a big chance that Luna is simply comfort feeding. Maybe she doesn't need more milk — but she certainly wants it. "Babies are like adults," another midwife tells me. "They don't want to feel alone." Perhaps Luna just wants to be reminded that I'm nearby.
Regardless of the reason, something about being in close proximity to my chest clearly soothes my baby. I know logically that she doesn't have to feed at night anymore. I also know that my partner and I would be a whole lot more well-rested — and subsequently happier, more productive, and less prone to impromptu irritability — if we could get Luna to sleep through the night. But honestly, I kind of enjoy being my daughter's source of comfort. I enjoy being so needed, even if she cannot yet conceptualize those feelings as love.
The thing is, it took me a while to truly bond with my baby. Two and a half days of hellish labor left me feeling physically and emotionally drained. Once the baby arrived, she wouldn't latch onto my breasts. She only weighed a little over 5 pounds, she wasn't very strong, and one of my nipples is inverted. Combined, these things all resulted in disaster.
My baby reminds me that I'm not failing at motherhood; that I have the power to be there for her in a time of need.
Before her birth, I didn't fully understand just how few emotions newborns can actually show. They can act on basic instinct, sure: They feel hunger, pain, and discomfort. They cry when those feelings get to be too much. But affection? Not so much. They cannot yet smile, they certainly cannot laugh, and I'm not sure they have even the slightest sense of what's going on around them.
These days, however, Luna can smile at me. A couple of days ago, she even revealed her first giggle. When she cries in the night and I pick her up, I know a big smile isn't far behind. She interacts in such a way that makes me feel loved and wanted. She reminds me that I'm not failing at motherhood; that I have the power to be there for her in a time of need — regardless of what the reason for her needing me at night might actually be.
Someday, I know things will have to change. When she's no longer sleeping in the same room as us, or on the same bed as us, going to her so frequently will likely become frustrating. I know we will probably try some variation of the cry it out method, which one study has proven to be perfectly safe for infants. She'll eventually learn to self-soothe. Maybe a newfound sense of independence will allow her to sleep through the night, even if it takes several days of intense, heartbreaking wailing.
That said, the wailing is another reason why I'm reluctant to wean Luna just yet. A 2012 study by the University of Oxford revealed that our brains are essentially hard-wired to react strongly to the sound of a crying baby, "making us more attentive and priming our bodies to help whenever we hear it," as reported by The Guardian. Researchers found that by activating sub-cortical areas of the brain, which are "among the brain's most primitive parts and are important in controlling behaviors such as the fight-or-flight response and other responses that keep us alive in dangerous situations," our instinct is to turn to care-giving. There seem to be plenty of evolutionary reasons why a baby's cry is often categorized as one of the worst sounds in the world, but it's clear that it makes plenty of adults want to take care of this sad, fragile thing.
The sound of Luna crying is undoubtedly one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever heard, particularly when I cannot identify the reason behind it and subsequently can't make it stop. In the middle of the night, however, I usually can make it stop. All it takes is the undoing of my bra and inching her closer to my body — something that I personally don't believe will result in any kind of permanent attachment issues. At least not yet, when she's only 4 months old.
I'm happy to be this needed. I'm happy to be this wanted.
I guess I want my baby to take her time. I don't doubt that she'll sleep through the night someday, whether it's of her own volition or due to the success of sleep training. But in the interim, I guess I'm happy to be this needed. I'm happy to be this wanted. She won't feel like that forever. If there's anything parents of older children keep reiterating to me, it's that I "better enjoy this period while it lasts, because it'll be gone in the blink of an eye" or whatever.
So that's what I'm going to do, for now. I'm going to enjoy the interdependency — the unconditional love. Even if it means I look and feel like something out of The Walking Dead throughout the day.