I hold my breath, waiting for another cry to pierce the midnight air. Ten, twenty seconds pass. Maybe I imagined it. Then a wail goes up like a fire engine and I push myself up and swing my legs over the side, toes groping the floor beside the bed for the shoes I must wear at all times, even for quick walks across the room. The lingering scars and injuries from his increasingly distant pregnancy and birth are daily reminders of the price his entrance extracted.
His cries halt the moment I crack the door and are replaced with urgent grunts and snuffles; I lift him from his crib, 24 pounds of warm, wriggling baby pinching at strained back muscles, and I know I would pay it again, a hundredfold.
He wakes relatively infrequently now at nearly 9 months old, and I don’t begrudge him these occasional nocturnal intrusions. The earplugs I’ve forgotten how to sleep without mean that Daddy hears him first, most nights. I mix a quick bottle using tap water from the bathroom sink and the can of formula we stash below it, shaking my head at the younger version of myself whose every mothering instinct would recoil from all of the above: formula, tap water, bottle.
We settle into the battered glider I bought off of Craigslist for his big sister’s nursery years ago, and we rock as he sucks greedily at his midnight snack. He looks up at me laughing, hitting my chest and swiping for pieces of hair loosened from my bedraggled ponytail. I shift my weight in the rocker, hips pinching from the too-snug grip of the chair arms. In the aftermath of his difficult pregnancy and birth and a stretch of time in the hospital for RSV last winter, I found myself heavier than I had ever been in my life. The weight is coming off slowly, incrementally. I calculate the rate and realize he might be potty training by the time my body returns to a more recognizable state, but then, I’ll be 40, so is it even reasonable to expect a return to familiar territory? Is he really our last baby, NFP being what it is? I’ve felt sure of it before, but the months and years have a way of smoothing things over – or fogging the short term memory up.
He laughs and swats his bottle away, ready to make flirty eye contact and pinch my face with his fat baby hands. It’s 2 in the morning and he wants to chat, and I can’t find it in me to resent it, to worry over the lost hours of sleep and the specter of the next day. The hardest baby I ever met is snoring lightly in the room down the hall, all 8 and a half increasingly gangly years of him stretched out on a top bunk littered with nerf darts and lego creations. I pull this latest edition closer, understanding now that I’ll blink and he’ll be starting kindergarten. The days are long, so long. Some of them longer than others. The first years of motherhood stretched out eternally, a string of endless days of filling and wiping and washing and zipping. These middle years have begun to speed up, almost imperceptibly at first, almost as if I’d selected 1.5x speed on a podcast or voice message without realizing it, looking up in surprise when the episode, the month, the year is over.
The last month of his pregnancy was riddled with doctor’s appointments and ultrasounds and hours ticked by on the monitor strip, watching his heart rate dance up and down, wondering and worrying. His birth was peaceful and easy, until it wasn’t. My c-section scar healed “beautifully,” the doctor said, but the scarred fascia and muscle beneath is still bunched up painfully. My brute of a 5-year-old slams his head into my waist at precisely the right level to leave me breathless with pain at least once a day. My feet ache from plantar fasciitis and my forearms tingle with residual carpal tunnel.
I throw away all my old jeans, even the pairs I scorned in the months after the previous baby’s birth, vowing I’d “never get that big” again. I laugh and remind myself that this season, too, with all its physical discomfort and disarray, will one day be a wistful memory triggered by pictures of my younger self, and I will come across them stop and marvel that I was once so young, so unwrinkled, so beautiful.
It is morning now and the baby is on the floor, slapping the ground and giggling, now falling with a resounding thump as his 110% percentile head bounces on the carpet. He starts to cry but stops as soon as I scoop him up, shifting him to my left hip and fixing a second coffee with my free hand. He rests his slightly sticky cheek against mine for a moment and I squeeze him closer. I don’t love him more than I loved the first five babies, but I like him more. I know now how fleeting babyhood is, how soon I’ll be wrinkling my nose and collecting his wet swimsuits and dirty socks from the bathroom floor. By the time he is eating as much as his brothers do, my hips will probably fit in jeans again.
Another sibling sidles up to us, reaches for the him, pleading that he is needed for an important game they’ve concocted in the back yard with the neighbor kids. I surrender him with a cautionary admonition to “hold him with an arm around the waist and under his booty, not by the neck.” His underaged minder staggers off under the weight of him, carrying him away into the orbit of sibling love that only tangentially involves me, and mostly at meal times.
And I smile, glad we had one more.
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