4:45 AM. Baby is crying. You get up to nurse him. Or your husband gets up and brings him to you. Sometimes after nursing you can get him back to sleep for another hour, sometimes you can’t, so you wake up and watch him blearily from the bed or couch for 45 minutes while he plays on the floor, occasionally coming over asking to be picked up. You get up around 6 and you get him breakfast, usually a banana and toast. He cries from the moment he’s in his seat to the moment banana lands on his tray, so you rush. You get yourself something to eat and sit down, aware that he could decide he’s done and want to be released at any moment. While happily eating, he gives you extremely charming grins and you smile back, in love. You sneak away very quickly to pour coffee that you may or may not get to drink. After breakfast, you change a diaper and get him dressed, or your husband does. Then you try to get dressed yourself. You put on make-up while he cries at your feet and, then gives up and eats the toilet paper, which you grab away from him, at which point he grabs the toilet brush.
Around 8, your husband takes him to daycare and you finish getting ready and cleaning up the house, sweeping, emptying trash, running a load of laundry and/or doing dishes, or at 8:20 your mother-in-law comes and you rush around for ten minutes doing some of the above. Then you pack your bags to head to work, aware that you will almost definitely forget something.
Work and school. You give it your all, feeling that you can’t give anyone a reason to say you’re not able to do it, unwilling to provide fodder for those professors who believe that graduate students should not also be mothers, shudder. You can’t give them fodder, both for your own wellbeing, but also for the cause in general, for the other mother students. Women should be able to enter the academy at any point they choose, as should men. They should also be able to be mothers. And if those things happen to coincide, they should be supported, not cold-shouldered, frowned upon or seen as vulnerable victims in a game of “Can you handle it?” So you give it your all, not to say your all is something stellar every day, sometimes it’s the bare minimum. But it’s that and you can go home knowing you’re pulling it off, you’re moving forward on this difficult path. And you’ll be back the next day.
At 4 or 5:30, you pick your baby up, you nurse him and then you take the dog and the baby in a stroller for a walk. If you’re cooking, you start dinner when you get back and hope your husband will get home soon because the baby is trying to crawl up your body, then falling to the floor and sobbing and you feel awful. But sometimes, he is occupied with empyting the snacks from the snack cabinet or banging pots and pans and no matter how big a mess it makes, it’s better than him crying and grabbing at you like a drowning man. If your husband’s cooking, you play with the baby, read to him or if it’s warm, take him into the yard.
During dinner, the baby will always be done before you and need to be released. Sometimes he will tolerate your continuing to eat and sometimes he will not and you will need to hold him, then your husband will offer to hold him, sometimes that will be okay, other times, he’ll be very unhappy and need to be spirited off to the bath. You’ll have a few minutes to eat and chew slowly in silence, maybe glancing at the paper or your phone. If he’s been happy while you finish eating, you’ll take him for the bath while your husband cleans up dinner. You’ll give him a “bonus” bottle after he’s in his pajamas and then take him up to his nursery to nurse to sleep. He falls asleep easily more than half the time, but sometimes it takes a long time to get there. A half hour later or so, you come downstairs. It’s 8:00 or 8:15. You’re exhausted.
You might fold laundry or relax and watch a show, but often you have emails to read and respond to or articles and books to read for work/school. If you have reading, you’ll do as much as you can and then make a deal with yourself that you’ll finish in the morning somehow after the early nursing, assuming, hopefully that he’ll fall back asleep around 5:00 and give you an hour. But if he doesn’t, you’ll have to give him to your husband well before he’d normally get up and he probably went to bed later than you, so you feel a little bad, but it’s a team effort and everyone has to take a hit sometimes, right?
And then sometimes in the car, in transit from place to place, or before bed, you’ll think about your friends and wonder how they’re doing, maybe you’ll text one or write an email, though knowing if they respond, you may not be able to respond for a couple days and at that point you might forget because you’re checking four email accounts, trying to write a paper and reading a book, your brain is taxed and you’re sleep-deprived. So if you do write, and then you don’t respond, you’ll feel guilty. You could try calling on the weekend, but that’s your quality family time and sometimes you also just need some rest and alone time. Or you have too much school work and need to spend most of one weekend day just working.
On Sunday, working in the upstairs bedroom, you hear your baby crying downstairs and you feel a pang. It’s easier if your husband takes him somewhere else and you don’t feel that pull and regret. But you have so much work to do and so much to stay on top of, there’s not much time for regret. So you don’t develop a complex, but wonder vaguely if one day in the future, you will feel genuine regret, or if it will all seem pretty okay and if, once babyhood and toddlerhood are past, there is a little more sleep and life is less of a hamster wheel, but you don’t dare to let yourself hope. And then sometimes you think about your friends who have three children and you want to build a statue of them, or schedule to send them flowers every day for a year because you consider them pillars of strength.
This is life behind the mom curtain. Those who live here will probably understand. For those who don’t, know that we’re there, we know you’re there on the other side. But we have to get through this and the necessities are so much there’s often not time for anything beyond them. But we’ll get there, given the sacrifices we’re making, there’s no way we’re letting ourselves not achieve the goal. Three more years to PhD. See ya on the other side….