The Pangs of Motherhood

Last night, for the first time, I put Owen to sleep without nursing him.  He had been doing this thing where he’d nurse to sleep quickly and easily, but then wouldn’t let me go.  If I tried to take back my breast, he’d lunge for me, wide-mouthed, and wake himself up.  Nursing to sleep was no longer working, so instead I sang him to sleep the same way I did with Enzo, with Eli, with Abbey and the other babies I watched as a nanny. He cried, but not a hysterical cry.  So I let him cry out his fears and frustrations about growing up while I rocked him in my arms.  And I sang him the same song I’ve always sung to babies, the same song I’ve always sung to him, and he settled down to sleep.  It made me sad. It felt like, for the first time, we were two separate people. Once he was asleep, I comforted myself by reading a book Cole had given me. The narrator, describing his mother, says her love “existed only to give itself, an eternal fountain,” and I felt, even if I was sad, that I was in good company with all the mothers of the world.

He slept well, too.  When I went into bed myself, the streetlight outside our window had flicked off (it’s on the fritz), and so I felt for Owen to check his breathing.  At first my hand touched only a cool flatness, which, after a moment of panic, I realized was his mattress.  I reached farther, and encountered baby skin.  Gently, because I didn’t want to wake him by accidentally patting his face, I felt around for his belly.  And there it was, the breath.  I had put him to sleep without nursing and he still lived.  (Not, of course, that I thought he wouldn’t, but the absurd thought crossed my mind how horrible it would be if he died in his sleep the one night I didn’t nurse him.  As though it wouldn’t have been just as devastating any other night.  The thought is so terrible I hardly dare type those words..)

I hadn’t thought about it before, about how, after this, there’d be no going back.  I thought, ‘We’ll try, this.  If it doesn’t work, we’ll try nursing again.’  But now that it’s done, it’s done.  I’m not saying that he won’t ever nurse to sleep again, because he might.  If he’s sick, or in distress, or in a strange place, if he needs that extra level of comfort.  But nothing can change the fact that there is a new distance between us.  It’s a very small distance.  Physically, he has moved only a few inches, from being latched onto a breast to laying on them like pillows, but it is *a* distance.  He has begun (or I have just now acknowledged that he has begun) to move away from me.  To need me less.  He’s growing up.  It is beautiful and heart-wrenching and I want to honor the feeling.

For his nap today, I sang him to sleep again.  I want to be consistent, so he doesn’t get confused.  There were no tears, not one sad face.  He smiled at me, and babbled.  He’d lie his head down and pick it up and talk to some more, hug his pig and lie down again.  In the same amount of time that it used to take me to nurse him, he was out.  And I laid him down in his baby bed and tip-toed away.

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One thought on “The Pangs of Motherhood

  1. Oh Cati, all good mothers feel this, but so very few of us can express it as beautifully as you did. I am so grateful that you are putting down the words.

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