I knew I wouldn’t be able to give as much time and energy to my daughter when our family grew, but I didn’t know that shift would happen so soon. I had a due date, a line in the sand, a mark on my calendar. Until that date, I assumed our routines would remain the same, and that I’d have plenty of time to cherish those last months of just us.
It would have been so helpful to receive a warning, a little note in the mail perhaps, something to indicate change was coming. Hey Christy, just a heads up! You should enjoy carrying your daughter and playing on the floor with her, because it’s not going to happen again for months.
My pregnancy was normal, textbook. Until it wasn’t. At a routine ultrasound, I was diagnosed with an extremely short cervix, which means my body could decide to go into labour at any time. Before that day, I never gave my cervix a second thought. Suddenly, it became the most important part of my body. I practically tip-toed out of the ultrasound appointment like I was carrying a bomb that might go off at any moment.
I was put on bed rest, advised to lie down as much as possible and not to lift anything. I expected my daughter to burst into tears the first time I told her I couldn’t carry her, erupting like a volcano with a high-pitched wail that only toddlers seem capable of. But that wasn’t the case. We underestimate our children, fearing how they’ll handle change. She seems to understand the circumstances with a wisdom that goes far beyond her two years of age. “You can’t pick me up because of the baby,” she said this morning, unbothered. “Daddy can pick me up.”
Now, time stretches on as I watch life pass me by from the couch, counting the cracks on the ceiling and wondering when my husband and daughter will return from the park. This is the solitude I yearned for when dirty diapers and nursing and rocking to sleep seemed to fill every second of the day. I daydreamed about spending an entire afternoon lying on the couch with a good book, sunlight streaming through the window and a hot cup of coffee in hand. Now that I have that, it pales in comparison to what I had before. Morning trips to the park, dancing around the living room with my daughter in my arms before bedtime, standing at the stove stir-frying veggies while she colored at the table. The little shared moments that don’t seem important at the time. Those are the ones that won’t last.
When my daughter was born, time felt like a precious commodity. Alone time, that is. I was determined not to waste a second of it. Since I wasn’t going back to work, I decided to treat my role as a stay-at-home mom as a job. I found ways to prepare food and clean and fold laundry while she was awake, playing at my feet, because nap time was my break. At my office job, I never would have worked during my lunch break, so why would I do that now? I deserved that time, right?
I loved being with her, but looked forward to nap time like it was the pot of gold at then end of the rainbow. Only instead of gold there was a hot cup of coffee, an hour to myself to write, or read, or watch a show. My reward. When she stopped napping, I felt as though I had been robbed. That little sweet spot in the middle of the day when my life was about me again, and not someone else, had been taken away from me. That was mine, and it felt like an injustice to have to face the day without it.
Now I can see I had it all backward. My daughter is not my job, she’s a person, and we have a relationship. What I’m doing is building that relationship, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. It’s not something I clock into and out of the way I used to at work, counting down the minutes until my time was my own again. That doesn’t mean I don’t need breaks, just like in any relationship—space and time apart are healthy. But the most important time I spend each day is with her, and with my husband, and with family and friends. Building relationships and community, encouraging each other, helping each other grow. Even though she’s only two, she’s a part of my community, and I’m a part of hers. She’s so much more than a stack of paperwork to file before clocking out.
Now, on bed rest, I have all the time in the world to myself. For the most part, my days consist of me, my couch, a stack of books, and my computer. My mom comes to watch my daughter when my husband goes to work, bursting through the door with a cheerfulness that brightens the whole house. They play in the bedroom, then do crafts at the table, then walk to the park. I’ve become an observer in my daughter’s life, watching her experience things rather than experiencing them with her.
Some days, it feels like a luxury the way time stretches on, how I can fill it with whatever form of entertainment I want. But most days, I miss living life side-by-side with my daughter, the satisfaction of knowing she needed me and I was there for her.
Lately, I have plenty of time to think about what’s to come. Bed rest will end, and my alone time will be taken from me once again. I’ll learn to balance an energetic toddler and a needy newborn, and at the end of the day it might feel like I haven’t had a second to myself. Babies take and take and take, and in the middle of it all, I hope I can remember everything I’m learning right now.
Balance is good. Breaks are necessary. Self care is essential. But before this, I was looking forward to the wrong part of the day. I was missing the good stuff because I was counting down the minutes until I could clock out. I can finally see that the joy of raising little ones is not found in the time alone, but in the time together.
I always thought the hardest part of motherhood was being needed beyond what you feel capable of offering—the suffocating, all-consuming, hanging-off-your-legs neediness your child has for you. I’m now realizing that for me, not being needed is a hundred times harder.
My daughter comes in from the cold, rosy-cheeked and smiling.
“Did you have fun?” I ask.
She walks over to the couch and stretches to hug me. “Yeah. I missed you.”
And just like that, I know we’re going to be okay. I’ll go from having too much alone time to having too little, and I’ll try to find the sweetness in it all. I will be needed again. In the meantime, I’m missed. And for now, that’s what I’ll hold onto.