The Softness of Broken Nights

I wake up in the quiet bedroom. Hal is about to wake up, I feel it. Quiet, quiet, quiet – and then I hear it, a little cry. Our magic time together has begun. Out of the Moses basket, hold him close and go down to the sitting room. God bless Jason – he has everything ready for me! One soft lamp lit in the corner, water on the coffee table, all the right cushions in just the right places. Hal and I take our place in the middle of the sofa (so far the only place we can breastfeed – variation and dexterity are still to come!). I wedge him in place with cushions – that firm little orange one in the shape of an owl is perfect for bridging the V-shaped pillow – undo some buttons and begin. After a few false starts, we get it right, the milk comes down, the glug-glug-glug subsides and all I can feel is tiny Hal, snuggled in close to me…and my shoulders. I consciously drop them – ah! – and lean my head back.

I think I’m supposed to be thinking about something “important” but I can’t for the life of me remember what. whatever it is, Im not going to let it in. Not now. Now is a special time for me and Hal, so calm after the busy day. We had baby clinic, and I love our health visitor, so wise, so supportive. At lunchtime some friends came round (they havent had a baby yet ), then a walk round our streets, so new to me after years of only walking to the Tube. All those people, all day long, so kind but so interfering, always interrupting. Now, in my dim, quiet sitting room, no one but me and Hal. I looked forward to this, you know, this quiet time, I looked forward to it when an old lady came up to coo over Hal and give me some advice. She reminded me of someone I used to work with, someone who always talked about her pet chinchillas, you have to keep their coats dry, buy bags of chinchilla dust from pet shops, you know. And…never mind. Quiet time. I looked forward to it when I was trying to vacuum and the noise made Hal cry – you deserve mummy all to yourself and some peace and quiet, treasure! I looked forward to it when we were having a feed and Daddy came in three times to ask where things were in the kitchen.

Tell a childless person that you like getting up in the night with a baby and you will be stared at with incomprehension. I was that childless person once. A friend had a baby when we were all still at uni. I’m ashamed to say we drifted apart because I couldn’t understand her world at all. I understand now, if that’s worth anything, now that I have a baby of my own to tune into – and more in tune I am because of it! A thought of “I hope she’s all right,” creeps into my head, but only with a kind of artificial guilt because I know from others that she is, now a mother of three with a successful career and an accurate radar for other people’s pregnancies. I remember a party we went to, she and I and others, a long time ago, Bad Taste (the theme in vogue), incidental cane furniture, her glasses, Jane’s shoulders, vodka with things in it, that unhelpful cabbie afterwards; why am I thinking about cab drivers when I’m breastfeeding my baby? Ah yes, I know. I will try harder to understand about other people’s lives now. I will. After all, I need them to understand about mine!

Away from the light, I look across into a dark corner, feel the night. In the daytime, that corner has books, a speaker, a bracket for a lantern, what if it were lit, that lantern, maybe it is, I can’t tell, there is some light shining on it, the moon or something else? Maybe some of our light, mine and Hal’s…only we don’t need light, we feel close and we smell the same, looking isn’t important yet. Are we better in the dark, can we feel and smell the better for it? Is that why night time means this much to me?

Change sides. I think I’d like to go back to bed. I’m a bit cold now, my feet are, anyway. I should have put on some socks. I try tucking up one foot under my other leg to keep it warm. This makes Hal pop off but, to my delight, he finds my breast again and carries on feeding. I am so impressed with this that I wake up a bit, plan how I will tell Daddy about it in the morning. He’ll be pleased for me in his encouraging way, although he is less interested in the minutiae now he knows I’m getting the hang of this. I hope I’m getting the hang of this. Hal’s gone to sleep with his mouth full and I’m worried he’s going to wake up again. Holding him close, I stand up carefully, the cushions fall to the floor and I step over them carefully and we make our way upstairs. Down Hal goes, into his basket. Will he stay asleep? He’s had two sides, well nearly, a side and a bit, was that like last night? I get my sewing and sit on the stairs. I started sewing a big drawstring bag a few nights ago. It’s to keep nappies in. It’s very easy, just straight lines, and it’s useful but mindless. Just the thing to do at the top of the stairs for five minutes while I wait to see how settled my little boy is. I’ll finish this seam then I’ll get into bed, back stitch like Miss Hunter taught me when I was seven, along the mad red fabric Jason and I bought in Walthamstow years ago.

The Moses basket is in the way and I have to crawl up from the foot of the bed. My side of the bed is cold now but I need to get warm. My human hot water bottle, dear Jase, over on his side. I put my arm round him and cuddle up to his back. Things are different now, closeness comes in a new way, this moment is precious. I believe him when he tells me he cuddles me when he gets into bed with me. I go first (“up you go, sleeping minutes girl,”) and he follows at midnight or so. You’re lovely, you are. We have this wonderful baby. There he is, in his basket. I don’t know how to thank you. I press a kiss on the back of your neck. In between my two amazing, magical boys, sleep finally comes to me.

The Softness of Broken Nights


Woking, United Kingdom

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

I have written this with a view to submitting it for consideration to Musings on Mothering a book that is going to be published next year to raise funds for the excellent breastfeeding organisation, La Leche League GB. The aim of the book is to celebrate and also to normalise breastfeeding.

I hope that this piece, if it is accepted, helps to slim down the obsession this country seems to have with babies sleeping though the night. I know that not everyone shares my attitude to getting up at night…but I have met a lot of breastfeeding mothers who do.

Even if it not accepted, I am very glad to have honoured and recorded something of a very special time of my life.

All the best to you all, however you feed your babies!

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