I made a bit of a blunder last night.
There are always moments in my life I wish I could return to and say something different.
Where I stand as a mother, most of those moments have to do with my missing daughter.
I was at a party last night, an engagement party for my sister who will be married in June. It was all the neighborhood moms and dads from my childhood gathered together. Maeve was there with me, smiling and cooing though it was many hours past her usual bedtime. Somehow the conversation led to pregnancy and I commented on how I had enjoyed a "symptom-free" pregnancy with Maeve, even after having had desperately revolting nausea for five months with Fiona.
Well, said one of the mothers, I suppose when it's your fourth time around maybe your body just knows how to do it better.
Fifth, I wanted to say, fifth. I have given birth to five whole babies, all perfectly grown and carved and gorgeous. I was equally pregnant with all five. Pregnancy is, of course, the only domain in which I can claim all my children as equals. It breaks me to deny her in this realm.
But I didn't correct her, not there.
I could be returning to this moment, and there are many like that in my life. I will go home and ruminate over what I could have said or should have done. I will replay scenarios, and imagine myself a bolder, more articulate version of the actual me. Thoughtful, inoffensive words will roll off my tongue, gently setting the record straight with no feelings of discomfort experienced from either party. A far cry from the reality of the situations in which I do speak up, blushing and worrying feverishly about whether or not I've made the other person feel like a blister on a big toe somewhere.
No, last night I just said something stupid, and my feelings weren't hurt, and I worry that I could have left some feelings bruised. Now, or for the future. I was sitting with some of the moms from my childhood, all grandmothers now, my sister and her husband, expecting their first baby in May, and my brother in law, who became a father last June. The conversation had turned to babies and sleep and the lack thereof. I commented on how my children were "notoriously awful" sleepers but that it was completely my fault, due to my total and absolute devotion to their demands in the wee hours, whatever they may be.
I've just never made any attempts whatsoever to help them to sleep better, I said. When they wake up, I just run to them and hold them... because, I don't know, I love them.
Immediately, I tried to pull the foot out of my mouth.
I don't mean to say that if people don't go to their babies in the night that they don't love them, I tried, and continued on from there. But it's one of those things where I feared the damage had been done. Had my statement been blunt enough to imply judgment of those who chose to let their babies cry in favor of everyone eventually getting a good night's sleep? From here, would it be possible to backpedal fast enough to help them to realize that I almost sometimes admire and envy people who can tolerate their baby's discomfort (at a certain age) so that everyone can eventually get a good night's sleep?
Because let me tell you, in my house it takes a good number of years for everyone to get a good night's sleep, and sometimes I wonder if that's for the best.
But last night I just shut my mouth, and said no more. And then all the way home I worried that my brother in law would think I disapproved of them letting their baby fuss, or that my sister, a year from now, would hear my words echoing in her head, wondering if she was making the wrong choice by letting her daughter cry a little.
And really, the reason why I didn't backpedal, is that the true reason why I have no backbone when it comes to sleep training is that I have no eldest daughter sleeping down the hall. I'm funny about my babies now. Even while my skin is crawling to go downstairs to the quiet peace of my evenings with children in bed, I have to hold that sweet baby in my arms until she's blissfully asleep. I have to let myself smell her beauty and brush her eyelashes against my cheek and pat her hair with my lips while she sleeps in my arms a little. I know she's only going to be little for a little longer, and I also still remember, deeply and viscerally, what it feels like to have arms that only ache to have a baby to hold. I don't imagine that feeling will leave me any time soon, and somehow the knowing that someone is there to need me just as strongly as I need her keeps me running hour after hour, night after night, with no end in sight.
So, no. I do not judge you. I truly, firmly believe that each family, mother, and baby has a right to work out a system that brings each party the maximum amount of contentment. My situation dictates that I should therefore hold the baby as often as possible, as long as possible. And I do.
This is the long answer. It's not because I love them, it's because I'm still healing my broken heart.
Which is awkward to say at a party, without people blushing and looking down.