Friends, I have a bit of a different kind of post for you today! I wrote this essay last spring with the intention of submitting it somewhere, but after sitting on it for a long time, I like the idea of sharing it instead with you: the people who are already in my corner and following along with my journey. Even though it speaks to a season that I’ve now passed, I hope you enjoy it!
A white noise machine
The first time I learned that parenting wasn’t always going to go as planned was the very night we brought our son, Charlie, home.
The plan: recreate the hospital environment, complete with a cranked up thermostat, our bassinet, and the same pink and blue striped swaddle he had slept so snugly in during his first 48 hours of life—we had stuffed it in our bag to bring home with us along with the tiny nose bulb and a soft hairbrush and um…ice packs.
An hour later, after our teeny newborn had busted his arms out of the swaddle countless times and cried and fussed for longer than our newly sleep-deprived selves could bear, we switched out the stiff hospital swaddle for one of the silky soft muslin ones I had received at my baby shower, folded up the bassinet, laid Charlie down in the Rock and Play with the vibration on, and turned white noise on a loop on my husband’s iPhone. Charlie was sound asleep, peaceful and angelic as could be, within minutes.
Okay, not exactly what we had planned, but no big deal. He was asleep and safe and happy. And that meant we could rest a little bit too.
Just like they instructed me during my breastfeeding class, our pacifier, with the cute lilac hippo attached to it, stayed put in its plastic packaging for the first month of Charlie’s life. It taunted me a little as I carried my wailing baby around the house again and again, humming, singing, bouncing, shushing.
You literally just ate, I thought. Your stomach is the size of a ping-pong ball and you nursed for a full episode of Fixer Upper. You cannot possibly be hungry again.
My husband insisted we wouldn’t need the pacifier. He had had great luck popping his thumb into Charlie’s mouth to suck on. But, he was going back to work in a few days, and the last thing I wanted after 10 nursing sessions a day was yet another reason for Charlie to be attached to one of my body parts.
The details are foggy, but we did eventually cave…after what felt like an entire day of merciless crying. And it was amazing. And we bought another one, this one with a penguin attached, within five minutes.
A babywearing wrap
When I read in What to Expect: The First Year that a two-month-old should be sleeping for 15 to 17 hours a day, I about lost my marbles. My very precious, but very awake, baby boy looked up at me with his big blue eyes as if to say, I’m just not tired, mama.
Don’t get me wrong—for how young he was, he was a champ overnight, waking up just once or twice to nurse before falling back asleep. But during the day? Not so much. There were some days when that boy wouldn’t so much as close his eyes between morning and night, no matter what I did or didn’t do.
It wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if the end of my maternity leave wasn’t fast approaching…and my plan for the first year of Charlie’s life wasn’t to “work during naptime” for 20 hours a week.
So much had changed in those two months since I had become a mom. I went from being known for my long hair and wearing it down almost every day of my whole life, to only taking down my topknot to squeeze in a quick shower a few times a week. Cooking with my husband was no longer the leisurely post-work activity we had once enjoyed—if it wasn’t for our sweet friends and our handy dandy meal train, we would’ve singlehandedly kept our local Papa John’s in business. I had always prided myself in my clean house and general put-together-ness, and now, when I walked into my living room in the morning, the strange sensation of not knowing where I was swept over me. Maybe if Charlie slept a little during the day, I’d be able to chase down some of those dust bunnies…maybe.
Enter the wrap. It was soft and surprisingly simple, and boy, was I thrilled to find that Charlie loved it as much as I did.
I decided to start experimenting a little bit. When he was particularly fussy (which I took as possibly tired), I popped him into the wrap, rigged his pacifier snugly inside, and did all three “soothing” actions the wrap website suggested at once.
And then…he’d fall asleep. Finally.
I stacked a bunch of my husband’s old accounting textbooks on the kitchen counter, kicked the memory foam rug pad into position in front of it, and opened my laptop. Charlie didn’t move a muscle. And so there I stood, still as I could be, reaching for strands of my old life through my computer, while my setting looked anything but.
A swing with a funny name that looks like a puppy, rocks two different directions, spins a mobile, and has three songs to choose from
“Seriously, you can’t keep going like this.”
I sat on my friend’s floor while Charlie rolled around on the rug nearby. She is what I’d consider a veteran at all this—my age, a mama of three boys, and relaxed as could be as she sat cross-legged on her couch, her own steaming cup of coffee with almond milk (she was fresh off of Whole 30) in hand. Her two older boys were at school and her youngest was upstairs napping. It had been an hour since I had arrived and we hadn’t heard a peep from him. I had just confessed that this type of long and leisurely naptime had happened exactly once in my house—when my baby was a week old. Four months ago.
“Can I give you some advice?”
I didn’t take parenting advice from just anyone. But whatever she was doing, I was willing to do.
“First, you need a bedtime routine. Nothing crazy—just some routine that lets him know it’s time to sleep. Routines are even more important than schedules to babies.”
Noted. Come up with a bedtime routine.
“And second, all my kids learned how to nap in that swing,” she pointed to the massive contraption nestled into the corner of her living room. “They don’t need it forever, but it’s worth it while they do like it. When my first was born, I used one at a friend’s house and we had three whole hours of uninterrupted conversation.”
I don’t even think I had pulled out of her driveway before that same swing, albeit in a different animal motif, was on its way to my house too.
The first chapter of four different books
The soft glow of the clock, almost covered by my sleeping husband’s head, says it’s 3:27 A.M.
Hi, sweet baby, I whispered, scooping Charlie up. Call it sleep regression, teething, or a combination of the two, but he had recently started waking up a few times at night for the first time in awhile. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but at the same time, once I had him in my arms, I found myself feeling something else…gratitude.
Mamas of older children and people much wiser than me have told me time and time again that babies don’t keep. I had been a mama for seven months, and already, I knew this to be true. I knew it when I looked at my baby scooting across the floor on his belly and felt a pang in my heart that felt something like pride and joy and heartache all rolled into one. Wasn’t I just cheering him on to lift his little head up off of my chest?
And what about all of the things he was yet to do? Crawl, walk, run, go to school, ace a test, score a goal, do something kind for someone else? Find his passions, follow his heart, and begin to grasp just how much Jesus loves him? And how much I love him?
I had downloaded a sample chapter of yet another book on my Kindle app before going to bed in preparation for this middle-of-the-night wakeup call. Many nights, most nights even, I click open the app as soon as Charlie is nestled in my arms. But tonight, all I can do is hold my precious baby and try to memorize everything about the ways he looks and feels and steals my heart…even when he isn’t sleeping.