As I lowered my daughter into her cot this weekend I felt that familiar pang that comes with saying goodbye. I was kissing goodnight to the baby months for what felt like the last time. That sleep-starved haze in which the days and nights were blurry at the edges, that period of life with a small person who was finding their way in the world while I was also finding my way on an earth that seemed to have slipped off its axis – I was leaving it behind. My heart ached with a sense of loss while my mind almost turned happy somersaults. My heart was heavy with the feeling that my baby was growing up, while my mind was not-so quietly delighted by the same prospect. This, I realised, was the motherhood paradox.
We had finally dropped Jasmin’s cot mattress to its lowest setting. With her ever-increasing agility, we were worried she might try to pull herself up on the railings and fall over the edge in the process. It saddened me to think that with this agility came a decreased dependence on me. She would never need me to pick her up or turn her over of lift her from one place to the other in the same way that she had done as a baby. I had felt the same nostalgia when we lowered my son Milin’s mattress, and it was a similar feeling that accompanied moving both of them from their Moses baskets to their cots. Yet this move, the last before my son and daughter are big enough for beds, has left me in a new kind of turmoil. It is a turmoil I think I will always associate with the end of the baby months.
This weekend, as Jasmin slept lower to the floor than she ever had before, I couldn’t leave her room. I watched her while she lay still with her hands tightly clasped around her comforter. In her brother’s old white sleeping bag, she was in her usual almost-on-her-tummy position. I knew I wouldn’t feel her rest her head on my shoulder until around 6am when she woke me up tomorrow. It was hours away. She has taken to sleeping through the night.
What was slowly sinking in, while I sat a while in her darkened room, was what it meant to never get the baby years back. We don’t plan on having any more children, we feel our family of four is complete (and we are knackered and broke). My days of holding Milin and Jasmin in my arms while the rest of the world sleeps, night after night, are done. My days of holding them while they are so tiny, while they need no-one else, while they are so helpless and dependent – those days too are done.
My days of breathing in their newborn skin, my days of changing nappies on a child who cannot roll, my days of breastfeeding – these days are done. In a day not so far away, Jasmin will pull herself up to walk. She will start talking. She will keep growing up, quickly.
Now I understand the mothers who told me how fast the days and weeks and early months would go. You were right, if you told me that, they did whizz by too quick. Every night that felt it would never end, every day that felt time had slowed down further, together they sped by and suddenly my children have grown.
Yet while I feel an almost grief over the passing of the baby months, I also feel a sense of relief that is close to joy. Those nights which I spent too tired to get out of bed to feed my baby – those nights are done. Those days that I spent knowing a kind of loneliness only a mother could feel – those days are done.
In some ways, I’m glad I will never again know the terror that comes with facing a day with a breastfeeding newborn and an 18-month-old toddler. I’m glad I will never again feel the solitude that comes with talking to your children all day but having no-one talk to have a conversation with. I’m glad I will never again experience the melancholy that washes over you when you’ve had only two hours of broken sleep and you must get through the whole day before somehow getting through the night again.
The paradox is that while I feel immeasurable sadness at never getting the baby months back, I also feel glad to emerge from a life which I didn’t always feel was mine. It had been taken over completely while I was floundering to keep up. This is the paradox. I loved every second of the baby months, I’m heartbroken they are over, but I’m also relieved to have made it through them. What will come next? You don’t need to tell me the years will continue to go to fast. I’ve learnt that for myself.