I lay in my hospital bed shortly after giving birth for the fourth time. A spot I know too well. I hold the new baby next to me, listening to her soft breathing while I kiss her wrinkly little razor-sharp fingers, inhaling the unmistakable aroma of a newborn. I struggle to find the right position that doesn’t rupture my still-aching lower body and tired brain. “Are you comfortable?” a nurse asks, after taking my temperature for the millionth time. “I think so.” I lie.
Three-and-a-half years later, and she is lying next to me. Again. Her tiny cold foot finds itself pressed against my cheek. How a small person can contort themselves into taking over a king-size bed is a mystery I may never figure out. She never wants to sleep all night, alone or with her brother. Because she is my fourth child, I bounce between the following thoughts: she won’t do this forever; I will miss this when she is older and Mamma desperately needs a good night sleep. I am too tired to enforce it, so each night we repeat the same sequence. She cries. I wake up, glance at my husband’s loud snores and go to her room. Her arms are up as I enter the room, oddly victorious. “Let’s go to our bed,” she mumbles and puts her thumb in her mouth, falling back to sleep on my shoulder. I spin another round of wondering if we will ever be the kind of family with normal sleeping arrangements. I mutter all the judgment words used to describe children sleeping with their parents. I plop her down in the bed. Directly between my husband and I. Cuddling next to her, inhaling the lavender bath wash fresh on her hair, I kiss her squishy soft little cheek and whisper that I love her.
So often, we end up scattered, like our various throw pillows, with at least one child awkwardly lying near my feet, wondering what is going on beyond our closed eyes to get us here. I once woke up to an odd pinching, the feeling of a child’s toenail anchoring itself into my leg. One night, minutes before my alarm goes off, I was awakened by the sound of her sucking her thumb in unison to her snoring in harmony with my husband. In this nighttime world, where we arrange and rearrange ourselves by the moonlight peeking through the window, I can exist between sleep and awake only to have a child’s leg or an anxious thought pierce another effort of a full night’s sleep. I can slide her over, position her to take up as little space as possible while still pondering all the ways in which I am failing her as a mother.
In a time that exists somewhere between when I bring her to bed and when she wakes me up, pleading for cereal and to go to school, I am perfectly aligned with the direction of the bed and her curled right under my chin, and we are breathing in sync. The air outside is unsettled as thunder rumbles a soft roar in the distance and the rain taps melodically against the window. I pull her even closer in a soft embrace, imagining the rain is feeding her growth like the outdoor garden we just planted. If I can just hold her long enough, I can stop it, or slow it down, or just enjoy it. My back is always sore from the many nights of sleeping wherever would calm a crying child. But yet, in this moment, the soft tap of rain is echoing her breathing. Her hair tickles my nose as it gently sways from the ceiling fan and her little golden curls move in a slow bounce, a contrast to the way they bounce about due to her awake constant motion. In this passing moment of a thunderstorm causing us to sleep too late, I am the most comfortable that I have been in a while.
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