At first her cries are far away. I’m asleep, warm and still. I want to ignore the noise so far away from me, hoping it can’t reach me where I am. Her cries get louder and closer. I know I have to wake up, but the bed clings to me and my body feels paralyzed. I want to drift back to sleep but I force myself to slip out from under the covers and feel the cold air. I reach for her in the crib. She’s hungry. She’s always hungry at night now that I’ve started work, and she refuses to drink from a bottle.
My thoughts are fuzzy as I hold her. She nestles against me and drinks big gulps. I yawn and fight the urge to fall forward and back into sleep. I try and focus on holding her while sitting upright on the edge of the bed.
“I love you more than the cool spring rain,” I whisper as I look out the window. Yellow streetlights dimly illuminate the neighboring houses and ghostly white clouds streak across the night sky.
“I love you more than the bright tulips and the sweet-smelling hyacinths,” I say. “I love you more than the green buds on the trees.” It’s a game I’ve started playing to stay awake. Tonight the theme is spring.
She was born a stranger with purple wrinkly hands on a hot, August night. It’s hard to believe now, on this cool March evening, that I haven’t always known her. I know her rosy cheeks and the way her nose turns up a little at the end. I know that she loves growling noises and playing peekaboo. Her favorite toy is a rubber teether called Knobby Q that my husband Tom got from the grocery store.
Although tired, I hold her with ease, unlike our first meeting when I didn’t know what to do with my hands. She nurses until she’s asleep, her breathing deep and slow. I kiss her forehead and feel her warmth, a contrast with the cool night. My brain is foggy so I only let myself hold her for a second before I lower her back in her crib. She immediately flips to her stomach with a grunt and I brace myself for her cries, but she falls silent. My side of the bed is now cold and I slip under the covers and move toward Tom’s warmth. I try to keep my eyes open for as long as possible, a trick that helps me fall back asleep faster. Soon my eyes are heavy with long, slow blinks, and I can feel myself drifting away. My mind relaxes and my body is still.
No, no, no. I panic.
Tom lets out a deep groan.
Her cries are getting louder. Although it doesn’t take Tom long to reach her, I’m mad at him for every wail. He is waking her up and it will be my job to soothe her. I hear him shushing and rocking her, but it does nothing. He moves out of our bedroom and down the hall into the nursery that we still barely use. She screams more as he changes her diaper and I bury my head into my pillow.
She’s quiet again when he’s back in the room and I let myself relax. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for sleep again.
“I think she needs to eat,” Tom says.
“She just ate,” I snap. The thought of getting out from underneath my covers again seems impossible.
“Well, she’s sucking my arm.”
I fling the covers off. “Give her to me.”
She doesn’t want to eat and only wants me to hold her. She drifts off almost immediately, her breathing once again deep and slow. I hold her for a little while, my mind clearer now. I try to muster all the love I have for her, but I just want to be alone in my bed. Tom is already asleep and I shoot invisible bullets at him with my eyes. In less than two hours I will need to be awake for the day. My alarm will go off, and although it’ll seem unthinkable, I’ll have to get out of bed. Anxiety fills my chest and I glare at my sleeping husband and daughter. I need to sleep and dream and be still. I look back out the window at the dark, silent houses that look so inviting and wish I was in one of them. There, sleep would be quiet and peaceful and nothing would disturb me. I’d wake after the birds started their morning songs and the sun was bright in the sky. I’d be the perfect mother who never yelled or cried.
I look at the little form in my lap and know that years from now things will be different, and I won’t always wake to her in the darkness, but it doesn’t feel real. Tonight, the night is endless. I look to the warm glow of the streetlights for company—my daughter’s skin pale in comparison, and wish for sleep.