Sleep Shallow

I stir from shallow sleep, the faint memory of a dream of a voice still on my mind. I haven’t really known any other sort of sleep since the birth, in truth. Mothers sleep like soldiers who’ve seen combat; a combination of the lingering trauma of giving birth, and the alertness of knowing you might be in the thick of it again at any moment. You still sleep with your ears open, even when you don’t need to any more.

A year on and I still don’t sleep right.

Jon sleeps the sleep of the untouched and innocent next to me. His weight and the low rhythmic roar of his breath reassures me, though. It’s hard to resent his ability to go on as normal, so I try not to.

The light on the monitor woke me. Lying in bed, frozen in place; trying not to make any noise, trying to hear. Eyes open watching the monitor. Not even breathing as the house breathes around me.

The light on the monitor flickers again, and the sound set so low I can barely hear.

Blocking out all other sounds I can hear Lily snoring quietly in the next room. Jon can never quite make it out, but I can; I can picture the rise and fall of her chest, her legs wriggling.

She’s stirring, and I can tell close to waking up. I would have slept through if not for the light and that would have been fine, but it’s right in my eyeline, beads through my closed eyelids. Jon’s been trying to make me move the monitor for weeks, but I keep refusing.

I need these moments in the dark.

Lily murmurs, and she moans quietly, and then she mutters baby babble in that way that sounds like people chattering and also like ducks and that freaks out all new parents.

Then she calls out in the dark, not quite “mamma”. Louder again, not quite “mamma”, and I shift in place in the bed, wondering if she’ll calm herself.

She doesn’t; she goes from murmuring to crying to screaming in under a minute.


Every parent has to learn to sit and be okay with hearing their child in distress. But if I ever had the knack, I’ve lost it again. I sit in the dark and listen to her call for me; she probably only needs a hug or a nappy change or a feed and she’ll settle. She’s almost at the age where they’ll cry for attention and you have to decide whether giving them it is more harm than good, but has she made it there yet?

I don’t know, so I go to her. Jon sleeping oblivious behind me.

I stand outside her door, listening a second to my screaming, wailing daughter, gathering myself in the dark.

The crying stops the second I step into the room. She settles.

Moonlight streams in through the window; one of us forgot to close the curtains again. I have to step around half-packed boxes of toys and books on the way to pull them closed. On my way out of the room I linger near the cot bed, hand resting on the soft wood of the headboard. The side is half off and hanging over the mattress. Jon must have tried to dismantle it again at some point, and faltered. Not for the first time.

After a few minutes, I quietly leave the room and go back to bed. My sleep is shallow.