10 July 2013
New mothers are well aquainted with sleep deprivation and dark hours before dawn.
The dark circles under their eyes are a badge they wear that shouts: I am the mother of a newborn.
In the middle of the night, while the world sleeps, there is a stillness and a calm that only the new mother and the shiftworker experience.
Sometimes as you sit nursing your baby in the embracing dark, there comes a sense that these midnight moments are infinitely precious.
It's just you and the little person who clings to you and depends on you for everything.
You are cocooned in the darkness together; this is a moment frozen in time.
(But mostly you sit there shaking yourself awake, your body craving sleep; you can only dream of a day when you will once again get a full night's sleep, unbroken by the cry of a child)
It's been five years since I sat in the lamp-lit dark and nursed a baby.
The midnight hours pass unseen and unmarked by me.
Unbroken sleep is now the norm.
But every once in a while there comes a night when sleep is once again broken. When a precious child once again clings to you and depends on you for everything in the midnight hour.
You are woken by coughing, crying.
Your body may cling to sleep but your heart is awake in an instant.
In the hushed darkness of the night there is only you and your child.
Five days she's been sick with the endless flu.
Her coughing twists your heart; as you feel her feverish cheeks, hear her moans and see her tears, you wish with all your heart you had magic powers to flick away this nasty lingering flu.
"Mummy," she whispers, "I am so sorry for waking you..."
You smooth her hair and cuddle her close and whisper back, "No it's OK, I don't mind, honest."
And it's true. You really, really don't mind.
For just a moment, in the midnight hour, it's just you and her as it once was.
Tomorrow night she'll be better (please let her be better!) but come morning, dark circles are once again your badge of motherhood.
The dark hours before dawn belong to you again for this one night. Mothers and shiftworkers.