May 12, 2007

Elegy to a feeding

The crackle of the baby monitor jolts me out of a dream. The room is silent. I wonder if I dreamed the whole thing. A moment later, I hear the next in a series of staccato pleas that intensify as I throw off the down comforter and roll my legs toward the floor.

As I climb out of bed, I treat myself to a quick swig of water and a glance at the alarm clock. 3:00. Or maybe 3:15. But certainly no later than 3:30.

I perform a quick calculation on my way across the hall. Her last feeding was around 11:00. She fell asleep around midnight. Four hours between feedings. Three hours of sleep. Perfectly reasonable, for a newborn.

I start talking to her before I even get into the nursery. "It's OK, Evie," I tell her. "Mommy's here."

I approach the crib and look down at her. Her blue eyes are huge and capture a sparkle from the sparse luminescence of the night-light. She sways from side to side, her arms and legs immobilized by the velcro-reinforced swaddling blanket. Her cries are getting louder and closer together until the moment I pick her up, when she stops crying and instead pants with excitement.

Still half asleep, I sink into the glider chair with Evie on my arm. She begins to eat, and I feel the tension and frustration dissipating from her tiny body. She looks up into my eyes as she gulps and swallows, occasionally pausing as if to savor the milk. Her eyes, wide open and alert a moment ago, lose their focus and nearly disappear beneath heavy lids. My baby has been drugged.

I think back to the baby books and websites I have studied. Don't make late-night feedings fun. Don't turn up the lights or play with your child. Keep talking to a minimum and play soft music instead. Teach her that night time is sleepy time.

It's too dark to read the labels on the remote control, but I've memorized the locations of the buttons I need. I start the CD. The soft melodies of The Innocence Mission fill the room. In addition to lending a sweet, contemplative air, the music helps me stay awake, giving me words on which to focus my sleepy thoughts. Once I tried to read books or magazines during the night feedings. It never felt right.

After about five tracks, Evie is completely relaxed. No longer hungry or lonely, she has slowed her eating and retreated to a state between waking and sleep. At this point, I check her diaper. If it needs a change, I can do so without upsetting her. If not, I wake her up enough to eat a little more.

When she's finished, I hold her upright, nuzzling her face against my neck, and rub her back gently to coax out a burp. It seldom works, but I often draw out this moment, kissing the top of her head and savoring her warmth against my skin.

I stand up, gently rocking her as she drifts into a progressively deeper sleep. Even in the dim light, I can make out the rapid eye movements of baby dreams. Her mouth switches from a slow sucking motion (is she dreaming about eating?) to a crooked but unmistakeable smile. Even though it's just a sleep smile, it melts my heart just the same.

When her movements begin to slow down, I know she is falling into a deeper sleep. Her breathing gets louder and deeper, with the occasional snort breaking through. Her body startles and tenses as if she's falling, then relaxes even more deeply than before.

Carefully, I lay her down in the crib. I place her close to the bumper, hoping that the soft pastel-animal-adorned fabric will make her feel just a little bit cozier in the enormous open space of her bed. I leave my hand pressed against her body, pausing to see if she awakens. When she doesn't, I lift my hand very slowly, then give her one last look and tiptoe out of the room. The music has stopped by now, and the house is silent.

I check the alarm clock as I pull back the down comforter. It's nearly 5. I can't see the dawn yet, but it must be close, because the birds outside are beginning to stir.

I curl up into my little bit of residual warmth and roll closer to Sam, hoping to share in his warmth. He awakens, just a little bit.

"Your daughter is fed, change, and cuddled back to sleep," I tell him.

"Excellent," he replies, drifting back into his slumber.

I look over at the silent baby monitor to make sure it is on. It will wake me up again within the next 3 hours. But right now, it's my turn to sleep.


Thursday, May 9, I woke up in a state of alarm. Evie had slept right through the 3 a.m. feeding. It was 5:00, the birds were chattering, and she was still asleep.

I crept into the nursery and checked her for signs of life. After confirming she was OK, I wondered how this miracle had come about.

The next two nights, she repeated this feat, sleeping 5 or 6 hours each night.

I'm afraid to assume that the 3 a.m. feeding is a thing of the past, but just in case it is, I wanted to capture it here, while it's still so fresh in my (slightly less sleep-deprived) mind.

Happy Mother's Day!

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