Recognizing the Small Victories
Rochester NY USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 5, September-October 2006, pp. 212-213
I wake to the familiar crying of my infant son -- nature's alarm clock. Awake again. Didn't I just nurse him back to sleep? I am stunned to notice that the clock reads 5:45 am. Another night that began with promise is behind me, and my hope faded into frustration hours ago. Now I have to prepare for the first day of my second week back to work. A human was never intended to survive 11 weeks with just four hours of nightly sleep. When will my son's sleep cycle lengthen? I am sure I am the very first woman to ever face this struggle. My mind echoes the comments of critics who told me long before I had my baby that formula-fed babies sleep better because it takes longer to digest the formula. I begrudge the fact that I made a different choice, but quickly push such thoughts aside. I am making the best choice, I keep reminding myself. It is by sheer grace I pray I will make it through this day. I don't think I'll ever catch on.
I stumble through the morning routine of getting myself and my son ready with nursing him as the last step before we head to daycare for a grueling nine-hour absence from each other.
Arriving at work, I discover the laundry list of projects I can only dream of completing before my day is over. I expend so much energy for so little return on investment. My short maternity leave was sometimes lonely and challenging, but even without a paycheck it was far more rewarding working on motherhood than at my job. I miss my baby so much it hurts, and I bemoan the fact that I am at work for the simple economics of the situation. There must be a better way. I daydream of solutions, each as unlikely as the next. I resolve to count my blessings instead of complain about the challenges before me.
By the time my mid-morning pumping session rolls around, I've checked off several projects and gain better control over time management. I prepare myself mentally: I'll be satisfied if I can pump my usual four ounces. I am pleasantly surprised to extract a full eight ounces. Whose breasts am I pumping, I wonder? I've never pumped more than four ounces in a single sitting before. I congratulate myself on this overwhelming success and set a new standard to which all future pumping sessions will be compared. Maybe I can do this after all.
I check out at five for the daily commute that will end in a second beginning to my day as a full-time wife and mother. Having so little energy left for my husband and son, I cling to the small victories wrought by my day to pull me through. In 18 minutes flat I manage to prepare an exquisite, healthy dinner while my husband retrieves our son from daycare. They greet me at the door in a good mood and I reconnect with my baby at the breast. We enjoy several minutes of peace and family bonding over dinner before the evening routine begins. I think I'm getting used to this.
Playtime, bathtime, and bedtime are all accomplished in a daze as my energy wanes. I'm hopeful that tonight's the night my son finally sleeps longer than one-and-a-half hours at a stretch. The thought of everyone sleeping more than me is all consuming because it's hard to feel committed to nursing in the wee hours of the morning. I keep a daily log of nighttime sleep patterns to try to glean any sense of consistency and pending improvement in the situation. I don't think I will be able to function if I have to endure just one more day of sleeplessness.
I go to bed, hardly aware of the man next to me for whom I used to have so much time. I want to be intimate but my energy has long since evaporated. I hope he understands I still love him even if I don't remember his name right now for lack of sleep. Soon we will be past this stage and my role as mother won't overshadow my role as wife. I look forward to achieving this balance with just a little more practice. I drift off.
Half asleep, I hear my son urgently beckon me to his side, and I shuffle out of bed to meet his needs. The experience is repeated frequently throughout the night, and I realize tonight is not the night that sleep will dominate our schedules. I accept the situation and cling to the hope of a future improvement. It is, after all, premature to expect that a three-month-old can control his own sleep behavior.
Another night is gone. My morning shower washes away the troubles of yesterday as my mind wanders to the sweet sound of my son suckling at my breast. I realize that the counting of sleepless nights is incomparable to the unconditional love I feel. I am ready to find the small victories in today's experiences to fill my cup so I can make it through another day because I have a finite time to enjoy new parenthood and my small tender baby before life sweeps today into remote history. I smile at the discovery that I am not the first woman to experience this. Rather, I am one of many women to experience this for the first time. I find comfort in knowing I am not alone and that I can survive if millions of women before me have successfully breastfed. There is nothing more rewarding than being a breastfeeding mother. There is nothing more precious than my breastfed baby. Somewhere from deep within, my spirit is renewed. I've finally got this under control. I'm gonna make it.