Thursday, October 21, 2010

Holding Still

Recently, I’ve started holding my son for at least one of his naps. It started as an attempt to get him to sleep longer. Cedar had started waking up from his naps after as little as fifteen minutes, and then he wouldn’t go back down. After this happened enough times, I decided that it was worth it to me to just hold him, even if that  meant I couldn’t bustle about and attend to all the chores on my list.  Restful daytime naps are crucial for babies (and moms), especially since they affect how well babies sleep at night.

Holding Cedar in my arms, I can usually get at least an hour out of him since babies sleep best in warm, womb-like, contained spaces. Often, he’ll still wake up after the first thirty-minute sleep cycle, but after he opens his eyes and sees that I’m still with him, I can quickly jiggle him back to sleep. First, I’ll swaddle him, then bounce him on the ball, and once he is asleep, sink slowly back into our big, soft orange recliner, his head nestled in the crook of my left arm. I’ve learned to get everything ready before I start this routine—I make a cup of tea, get a snack, my journal, book, phone, a glass of water, my date book, and anything else I might want, and place these all on the table next to the chair. Sometimes Cedar will sleep for as long as two hours in my arms, and for these formally unheard of napping marathons, I am ready.

When he was a newborn, I spent a lot of time wearing Cedar in a wrap as he slept. But I also heeded the advice from others that if I wanted my baby to learn to nap by himself, I should practice putting him down. In fact, it could come as a relief to do so, since a newborn is otherwise glued to your breast practically every waking moment. Because of this, there was a part of me that’d come to associate now holding my baby as he slept as somehow “a step backwards” from the original goal of getting him used to sleeping alone. But, thankfully, this was only a small part of me, and the greater part of me has been able to remember this ritual for how precious it is.

One of my Facebook friends, someone I barely know, wrote to me after I gave birth that she has often wished she could hold her grown son again, just once, as a baby. Even though many have remarked on how quickly this time goes, her comment stuck with me-- her desire to remember her son as the newborn that he once was—that all of us once were. Now, each day, I am reminded to pause again, even in the midst of my exhaustion, to pause and stare at my son’s face as he breathes, and to take deep breaths myself as I center myself in one place.

I also love how our new napping ritual creates the space for me to journal more or read. These are activities that I used to do all the time, that felt as essential to me as food and water, but that mostly eluded me in the months following giving birth. Now, Cedar’s weight in my arms is like my anchor.  If I wasn’t holding him while he napped, I’d still be flitting around doing dishes or answering emails for half an hour, and before I’d know it, he’d be awake again. But while holding Cedar, I must give up the desire to be “productive,” and instead, take this time to nurture myself. Now, when it often seems like I have given up so much of my former life and routines, I have reclaimed this one sweet, reflective pocket of time. This time that is essential. This time that holds me still.

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