It's 1 am and the baby is screaming, hitting me and scratching at my chest. I've already nursed him back to sleep twice, each time him clinging to me as I try to lay him back in his bed, releasing a primal screech each time I lay him down. I'm happy to try again but not when he's hitting me, I won’t reward his being rough.
I lay him down and try to rub his back as he thrashes around in his bed. I pick him up and try to rock him, snuggling with his favorite blanket and he pushes away from me, arching his back, wailing in the darkness of the night. I stand up and sway, back and forth, “shooshing,” but his low crying continues.
I have no idea how long we’ve been at it, in our middle of the night dance. I’m exhausted and long to return to the comfort of my own bed, desperately trying to will the flailing baby in my arms to wear himself out and just go back to sleep.
As I sit back down to try nursing again, my husband comes in and relieves me. He wanders out of the nursery with our exhausted, angry son who instantly starts to settle. I sit in the comfy rocking chair in his room which I’ve used to comfort each of my children and remind myself of the cliché “this too shall pass.”
And at 1 am, thinking of my boy growing and becoming more independent is a glorious thought but by morning, the thought has soured.
Because while I while know that this stage of night-waking and screaming in frustration will one day be over, I also know that every other stage of my children's development will someday come to an end, too, as they continue to grow, change and ascend to new heights.
With the passing of my son's night-waking and screaming to nurse will come the passing of nursing altogether. The regular snuggles and closeness we share throughout the day will come to an end. My son will someday no longer rely so heavily on all I have to give. Eventually the screaming will pass but so too will the feeling of my last baby snuggled, comforted in my arms.
He will grow just as his brother and sisters have. His little toddle that right now always heads directly for me as he flops with a delighted squeal into my arms will soon be him running the other direction. He will venture further and further away from me and into his new, big world that no longer revolves around my love and protection.
His cries that right now let me know that he is hungry or tired or hurt will someday be replaced with words that will tell me these things. And I'll rejoice in reaching the stage where the frustration is gone. But I’m also keenly aware the someday he will use his words to spew hatred that will cut me like a knife when he screams “you're the meanest mommy ever!” just as his sisters have.
The endless diaper changes will eventually come to an end along with the wrestling, screaming and frustration for both of us. I'll gladly sell off the cloth diaper stash I've so carefully created just for him over his short little life. But I'll also be giving away the sweetest laugh when I kiss his tiny little tummy and as we play peek-a-boo with his onesie over his face.
I know that this too shall pass. All the hard times of infancy do eventually end and the craziness of life will return to a somewhat more normal place. But I also know that with these hard times, the good times will be gone, too. All the magical moments of infancy, of watching a human grow and change so rapidly, of being my child's everything will pass along with the hard times and so, despite the exhaustion, frustration and struggles, I clutch onto these tiny little baby days.
Because he is my last baby and so, for me, every moment counts. Every second is the last time I will have a baby this small. Every moment could be the last time he does something. And while I will rejoice in the next step of his milestones as he grows, I will mourn the loss of others alongside them. Because there is nothing in this world as bittersweet as “this too shall pass.”