And then, just like that, she wakes up screaming. Wailing, pitiful cries. Sobbing the way I do when I'm overtaken by the belief that I’m all alone in the world, when I huddle on the sofa late at night, inconsolable. Her crying takes on a rhythm, hitches the breath in her throat.
We lie in the darkness in the next room over, waiting to see if she'll settle. If we’re still, maybe she will be, too. Please, girl, find your pacifier. Lay your head back down. Breathe, girl. Breathe.
I can picture her little arms pressing her body up, back arched, neck tense.
Go to sleep, little one.
As if it weren't enough to hear the wailing, the lights on the monitor flash from green — Take note, I imagine it saying, your baby is stirring — into red: High alert! Your baby is screaming! My heart beats wildly with all the stimulation. There's no way I can fall back asleep now.
Unable to handle it, I roll myself out of bed and go in. Her crying subsides almost immediately, diminished to sniffling, though she’s still pushing up. I reach over the edge of the crib and feel for her pacifier in the dark. I find it wedged between her neck and the mattress and offer it to her mouth. She suckles it. I rest my hand on her head, her wisps of hair silky under my touch, and I press down gently against all the resistance, trying to persuade her to sink back onto the mattress and into sleep.
At six months, this is only her third night out of our room. None of us know the routine yet. The books tell us to be consistent, to do our calming work quickly and avoid picking her up. My breast would calm her in an instant, I know, but I am determined in my attempt to convince her she doesn’t need us.
Wondering if my scent will soothe her, I pull the nursing pads out of my bra and set one in the far corner of her crib. I put the other in her hand. She grasps it, pulls it to her, buries her face in it. Which makes me nervous, worried that she'll smother herself, so I take it away and stack it on the other in the corner and offer her my hand instead. She holds one finger.
With my eyes closed, head resting on the crib railing, I whisper-sing all the verses of Amazing Grace, even the third verse, the one I had forgotten existed until we sang it from the hymnal in church a few weeks ago. The Lord has promised good to me. Slowly, her fingers relax around mine. When she has been still for a few minutes, I carefully withdraw my hand and step out, making my way back to bed. I lie awake for a long while, certain I can hear her whimpering again. Now I am the one straining, my ear trying to put a pattern to the night’s sounds. But the monitor is dark; the crying, phantom. I coast into sleep.
It’s not long until another wail shoots out of the monitor and sends the lights flashing. I fly awake, groan, and will her to fall back asleep. The crying continues.
Again I hoist myself from the bed and pad into her room. There she is: straining against the mattress, mouth wide and wailing, pacifier out. As before, I locate the pacifier, pop it in, and press down on her head until she relents and lets it fall.
Exhausted, I curl up on the floor next to her crib and pull a baby blanket over my bare legs. Weaving my hand in through the bars, I lay it palm-up near her head. One by one, her tiny fingers find their way over: first, it's just one that grazes my thumb, and then two are brushing against me, and then, like little sweet spider fingers, all five stroke my palm. Her hand opens and closes, sweeping against my skin each time. Soft, sweet, like my grandmother whispering, Tickle, tickle, tickle, as she cleaned my ears with a cotton swab after a bath.
Eventually, her head drops, the heaving sobs now little sniffs. My own tension dissipates and I lie on her floor, grateful and quiet.
When I finally crawl back into bed, I reach over and brush my husband's back, find his foot with my toe, trying not to disturb him. I just want to know that he's there. I need reassurance that he is a real presence, nothing phantom, a physical body, the smell I've come to know over five years. His back is bare, broad and warm and smooth under the sheet. His foot is there.
He doesn’t stir, but I don’t need him to. I am satisfied. I roll over and drift to sleep.