A sliver of sunlight sneaks its way under the bedroom door, waking her. Beside her, a tiny, warm body stirs. She’d done it again. What all the judgmental experts say not to do; what the dogmatic breastfeeding activists say to do. She’s torn—she desperately needs sleep, but her heart breaks at the thought of letting her baby cry. She’s not sure how to fix it; it doesn’t matter anyway—she doesn’t have time to think about this issue. They’re up and at ‘em. And today will be a long one, just like the day before.
At noon, her mother arrives bearing lunch. “I never let you ‘cry it out,’” she says, her mouth turning into a grimace.
While her baby naps, she mindlessly scrolls through social media. Contradictory facts—or are they opinions?—are at war:
Train your baby to self-soothe. Babies can’t self-soothe! A baby needs to sleep in his own space. A baby needs to sleep near his mother! After six months, a baby doesn’t need to eat in the middle of the night. If a baby is hungry, nurse him!
Her Instagram timer goes off just as an email comes in. Her boss is asking for that presentation again. When will it be ready?
Guilt gnaws at her; anger chews alongside it. She wants a career. But she also wants to spend every moment snuggling her baby. She can’t have both, she knows.
When she trudges her way to the shower, she looks at her body. Not bad. But not great. She’s supposed to love these rolls, right? Or is she supposed to tone them?
“You really should sleep train,” her co-worker types to her over Slack. “Everybody does it.” The same co-worker brags, “I breastfed all of my kids until they were two. If you work hard enough, you can do it.”
“Where’s that presentation? It’s been seven months. Your brain is still foggy, eh?” Her boss’s email reads.
“Baby,” says her husband, coming up behind her. “I want you.” She tries not to recoil. It’s not that she doesn’t want him, it’s just… well, she doesn’t even know. She wants to be held and hold but wants to be completely left alone. She’s sweating and cold. She wonders why her hormones aren’t regulated yet.
Now, the sun has set. And after rocking him for forty minutes, her baby has finally fallen asleep in her arms. She lays him down in his crib like a stick of dynamite. When she crawls into her own bed next to her husband, he’s scrolling through work emails on his work phone. He sighs. But she sighs louder.
“I don’t know what I want, or what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be. I can’t be everything to everybody,” she says, a cartoon-sized tear plopping onto her pillow. “It’s so hard being a woman.”
He wipes it away. “It’s hard being a human.”
She grits her teeth. Men! But then she finally listens. To all his roles. To all his expectations. To all his feelings he never gets to feel.
“It’s hard being human,” she muses. “But it’s easier for some than others.”
He shrugs. “Easier is not the same as easy.”
She shrugs back. This time, a sliver of moonlight slices through a crack in the blinds. Her baby cries. It will be a long night, she thinks, just like the night before.
On Her Deathbed
Beeping from the heart monitor remains steady. She’s awake, mentally alert. She can see the faces of her loved ones surrounding her. She can feel the tears plop from their eyes onto her blanketed legs. Her children. Her grandchildren. Her sisters. Her husband. They all look upon her—their hands sending warmth to her hands, her arms.
It’s almost time now.
Knowing this day was coming, she’s been saying her goodbyes for days. She’s nearing the end.
They know she loves them. And she knows they love her. She’s told them a million times over the years.
She had always pictured this moment—on her deathbed. Her vision had come true: old, frail, at the end of having lived a long, joyous life. And she had been right.
It didn’t come as a shock to her, because she was often right, although her husband and sisters didn’t like to admit it much. It was true nonetheless.
When she was younger, a young mother, she would often stop her mind from wandering down a path of comparison by asking, “On your deathbed, will you look back and regret this choice or rejoice in this choice?” She knew she’d regret wasting time on the news. Wasting time scrolling. Wasting time flipping channels. She knew she’d regret wasting energy on being angry with others, wasting energy trying to please others. And she was right. She was also right that spending her days doing nothing but watching her young children play was not a waste of time. That she wouldn’t regret it on her deathbed.
“I’ll look back and be glad I stayed up all night rocking him to sleep. I’ll probably miss this time,” her younger self had thought.
Now, as she struggled to breathe, she mustered the strength to laugh. I was right, she thought. I’d give anything to go back to those simple days of holding my babies… playing with my kids.
Sure, she gave up a lucrative career. She missed the opportunity to make loads of money. And she never accomplished those career goals. Never won any awards. Her title remained the same for so long: Stay At Home Mom. She never got much praise from the outside world.
Instead, she spent her days singing silly songs and blowing raspberries. Her hair was never very glamorous, and she was only able to squeeze in a few minutes for herself at the end of a long, tiring day.
But it was worth it.
Because on her deathbed, she didn’t regret a single moment. She wouldn’t have traded a kiss on her baby’s cheek for a big fat check. Money was meaningless. She wouldn’t have traded a day of doing nothing but watching her children play for an arbitrary writing award. It would have only collected dust.
She didn’t need the world to love her. She just wanted her family to.
And as she looked around the bright white, sterile hospital room, just as she was starting to drift away, she knew she’d accomplished the most important dreams she’d ever had.