Middle Ground

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The guest room never gets completely dark, even when all the lamps are turned off at bedtime. Light from the poles outside filters in through the sheer curtains so that the yellow-painted walls are glowing white. While lying in its bed, I can discern the outline of the large twig wreath hanging on a wall, the maple dresser and mirror, and the closet doors. And then, closer to me, the tip of Nora’s nose, and her forehead, and her hands with her fingers splayed on the bedsheet.

I began sleep-training Nora when she was one year old, against Danith’s and his mom’s wishes. Determined, I squatted outside her bedroom door, with the baby monitor beside me, blocking my ears to her screams and timing the length of her crying. Sleep-training a baby can illicit heated arguments; normally, a person is either for it or against it. Believing that sleep impacted Nora developmentally, I wanted her to get enough of it, to do it on a regular schedule, and to do it independently. I spoke with friends and sought the internet for the best way to train her, and after poring over the different methods, I gleaned from most of them one commonality: be consistent. Basically, this means that if I choose not to go into Nora’s room on day one after she has been crying for ten minutes, then I should choose not to go into her room on day two after she has been crying for ten minutes. Veering from consistency would most undoubtedly confuse her, causing even more frustration and tears. As I listened to her angry cries, my internal struggles forced me to question myself: was Nora wailing because she was sick, did Danith not think I loved her as much as he did, and would she wonder if I had abandoned her? Ultimately, I answered “no” to those questions. After a few nights of setting her in her crib, shutting off the lights and closing the door behind me, and not going back in even if she teared up, Nora began sleeping soundly through the night. Then, a couple of months later, we experienced a setback. Re-training ensued, and resulted in multiple cycles of success and regression. When she began talking, she yelled, “Momma, get baby out!” My heart steeled itself against her pleas. Quality sleep was necessary not just for her, but for me, and for Danith and his mom, even if they insisted that it was not. I had witnessed Nora’s ability to sleep deeply and without interruptions, in her own bed and without my help, so I knew it was possible. I could not allow my heart to soften and undo the achievement that she and I had made together.

Nora doesn’t sleep with us (and sometimes just me) regularly. On the nights she deserts her bed and surfaces at ours, she would say, “Baby want to sleep with momma.” When she is in bed with me, she oftentimes pushes her feet into my stomach or, if I am turned away from her, my back. And sometimes, she squirms around until she lies perpendicularly to me, her doughy legs crossing my thighs. It is not unusual that I lie awake when I am with her, such as I am tonight, watching her and listening to her breathing, the sound of which is reminiscent of snoring. I flatten the palm of my hand on hers. Her fingers are fleshy and warm, their mere diminutive size as evidence for how real she is. My heart hurts a tinge at the thought that these fingers will one day have calluses, and measure longer than mine. Tonight, I straighten her body and pull her into me, burrowing my arm under her neck and running it down along her torso and legs. With my nose in her hair, I think about Daffy and Kiri.

I remember securing Daffy, and then later Kiri, in the crook of my arm. I remember that short span of time on the hospital bed, when my mind wandered from reality. My baby was sleeping beside me, so nothing was amiss. I remember another moment, too, the moment when I lost my breath, felt cold, and wished that my last breath had been my final, for I was so, so afraid of what was about to come. In that moment I was seized by the inevitable: the weight of my baby would remain only as a memory. I hear and read it frequently: things happen for a reason, things will work out in the end. I hold contempt for such phrases, and sometimes I even become verbally defiant when someone says them to me. No, I don’t think so. If things had worked out in the end, I would have all of my children. But, lately, I am second-guessing myself.

Nora loves me with a devotion that was foreign to me as a child. “Even after you scold her, she wants to be consoled only by you,” Danith’s mom had pointed out about Nora. It is true. Nora’s father and grandmother coddle her in a way that I don’t. I am the one to leave her to her tantrum, to deny her one more minute of television before dinner, and to insist that she picks up her shoes when I instruct her to. Still, even after I reprimand her for throwing her spoon across the table and after she apologizes, she wants me — me only — to hold her. How does she know that my love for her does not ebb? I doubt that I am any more magnanimous than any parent who simply cherishes her child. I was the adult in our home who left her to cry on those sleep-training nights. She must have some recollection of that time. So, why does she make me, with my many imperfections, feel worthy of her love? Her devotion softens me and confuses me. Lately, such as tonight, I’ve taken to sliding out of my bed, creeping into her room, lifting her from her toddler bed while she is in her slumber, and carrying her to the guest room, where I set her on the bed and then crawl into it to lie beside her.

Guilt nags at me. I was so ardent about sleep-training Nora, and now I am potentially undoing the challenge she had triumphantly overcome. But I remember that short span of time with Daffy, and then later Kiri, in the hospital. I would have given anything not to part with my baby then. And now I don’t have to. Here is my opportunity to hold my baby the way I had wanted to. Could there be a middle ground for my dilemma? I consider those infuriating phrases. Could there be some truth to them? A couple of people have said to me that things have worked out for me in the end. Have they? Believing those well-meaning people would mean that Daffy and Kiri were merely stepping stones to Nora. The idea of this riddles me with further guilt. They are not opening acts for anyone, including Nora. But without them, Nora would not be here. Daffy and Kiri occupy my heart the same way that Nora does, deeply and without interruptions. The only difference is that they will never again occupy my arms. I remain certain of this: If everything had worked out in the end, I would have all of my children. But I am certain of the following, too. If not for Daffy and Kiri, lying beside Nora tonight would not be possible.