I lie on the low bed in the darkness, and my baby curls against me, resting her head on my soft chest and stomach (the stomach I resent when I try to dress for adult life but which functions so perfectly as a cozy baby pillow). Our breaths are the only sound, her faster, shallower breaths a counterpoint to my deep and steady rhythm. I slow the pace of my breathing to guide her into sounder sleep, hoping her body will follow mine. She is warm and solid next to me, tangible physicality grounding me in embodied reality and relationship. There are books I wanted to read, projects I wanted to work on, chores I ought to take care of, but I stretch out this moment much longer than necessary. There is such immense privilege in being the one whose presence can calm her fears and dry her tears; there is such wonder in being able to soothe and comfort another when I cannot do so for myself. I recall her newborn months, when I sat in the hospital rocking her, deep into the darkest depression I have yet experienced, and yet somehow able to calm and comfort her anyways.
Maybe none of us can completely accomplish that for ourselves; maybe consolation and peace are gifts we can give to others better than we can create them for ourselves, and which we must in turn receive from others if we are to experience them fully. My baby cries out for me to come to her and restore her to peace, to console her in the loneliness of the night; we grow, and become independent, and pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency and strength, and we stifle our own cries in the darkness. Maybe we have cried too many times into an unresponsive void, and have decided we don’t want to risk adding the pain of rejection and worthlessness to the burden we already bear. We forsake the openness and vulnerability of our infancy, protecting our hearts – and closing the door to the fullness of comfort and peace that only comes through the love and presence of another.
I come to my babies in the night, though I may be exhausted or frustrated, because I know the pain of crying when no one hears, and I don’t want that pain to be theirs. I lift them in my arms, my little ones wakeful and sad for reasons beyond their ability to explain. And in the teary eyes wiped on my shoulder, the little head laid against my chest, the arms wrapped around my neck, I receive gifts just as powerful as any I give: love, meaning, and worth. They remind me of my own need for love and connection even as they show my my own power as a giver of that love and connection. However weary I may be, all the sleepless nights, all the hours pacing and rocking and snuggling, all the worry and time and energy spent, are nothing compared to what I have received simply be being their mother.