The piercing scream of a crying baby jolted me awake. Or perhaps I was already awake, and the cry had simply plucked me out of my delirious daze. It had been so long since I had had any real sleep, it was hard to tell.
Oh right, the crying baby. My crying baby.
Ryan laid curled up on the sofa across the room. “I should let him sleep,” I thought. With all the strength I could muster, I awkwardly swung my legs over the side of the hospital bed, touching my feet to the cold floor. I allowed myself the tiniest moment of rest before I hurled myself up to standing and hobbled over to the bassinet.
How can such a small thing make such a big noise?
I swooped up my newborn son in my arms and sat us down on the yoga ball, desperately bouncing and shushing, in a futile attempt to calm him down. The crying persisted, and — whether real or imagined — it seemed to intensify.
I was exhausted. I was in pain. I felt like an imposter. I felt like I didn’t know myself anymore.
And I broke down and cried.
This was my reality for the first few weeks of my son’s life. I will be the first one to admit that I really did not enjoy the newborn phase. Artie didn’t do anything but sleep, cry, eat and poop.
Meanwhile, I was recovering from a third degree tear. I was sleep-deprived. I hated my body. And I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.
Other moms seem to adore their little new additions, loving every precious moment of being a mother.
But I think the key word is: seem.
Because I was also guilty of carefully curating the photos and videos I posted online. The peaceful baby. The happy family.
But the reality was a lot of exhausting days and even more exhausting nights. Frustration and desperation. And many tears — from both baby and mom.
People would assure me: It gets better! It’s just a phase!
And you know what? They were right.
Just this past week, I finally thought to myself: “I think we’re in the fun phase now.”
It started one evening when I got home late. Ryan and Artie were already asleep, and I was just about to curl up in bed when I noticed Artie tossing in his sleep. I turned on my cell phone flashlight to get a better look and rubbed his chest to calm him down. This was a risky move, of course, as I was in danger of waking him up, which would inevitably bring on his middle-of-the-night, blood-curdling cry.
And as I feared, his eyes popped open. I grimaced and braced myself for the oncoming wail. But to my amazement, it never came. Instead, Artie focused on my face, flashed a wide, gum-filled grin and let out a loud, happy coo.
I couldn’t help but tear up and smile back.
This week, the laughs and coos have outnumbered the cries. Artie stares at my face and seems to really recognize who I am. And after weeks of sticking my tongue out at him to make him laugh, he has started mimicking me, sticking his tongue out right back at me.
It’s all just so cute. And happy. And fun.
And I think I enjoy and appreciate this phase so much more because of how incredibly difficult those first few weeks were.
In one of my favorite books, The Little Prince, there is a chapter where the pilot and the little prince trudge through the desert to find water. They finally make it to a well and use all their strength to pull up the bucket and quench their thirst:
I raised the bucket to his lips. He drank, his eyes closed. It was as sweet as some special festival treat. This water was indeed a different thing from ordinary nourishment. Its sweetness was born of the walk under the stars, the song of the pulley, the effort of my arms. It was good for the heart, like a present.
The point of this part of the story is that we can appreciate so much more the things that we toil for.
I’m bringing all this up because I think I’m about to hit a pretty difficult phase of my sabbatical. I’m going to have to make some tough decisions. I’m going to need to do a lot of research and weigh options. Likely, I’m going to have to cut this sabbatical short — or at least put it on hold — even before I’ve accomplished what I set out to. Ultimately, I’m going to have to make the transition back to work and adjust to a lifestyle and schedule I haven’t had in a while.
But I will try to keep two things in mind:
- It’s just a phase, it will get better.
- The cries I have to weather first will make the smiles all that much more rewarding.