A Mother's Diary
Fiorella Nash FAITH Magazine November-December 2006
“Is sleep still overrated?” asked a priest cheerfully as I staggered in the direction of the coffee counter, feeling as though I were trying to walk across a bouncy castle. I wondered for a moment whether I could plead severe provocation if I made the obvious non-verbal response. It was almost as close to the bone as the dearly beloved acquaintance who warned me over dinner that I was turning into the Catholic answer to Private Eye's Polly Filler [ yes, you miscreant, you know who you are. It'll be handbags at dawn! ] It was the second morning of the Faith Summer Session and I had had precisely two hours sleep the previous night. Even when little Hugh Ambrose had humoured me and dozed off, the two of us were sharing a bed and I kept being woken up by a small knee jutting into my ribs or afist in my mouth. It is quite incredible how violently a little baby can move and I felt battered and bruised by the morning. I had originally emptied out a large suitcase and turned it into a makeshift Moses basket for him [ Brown Owl would have been proud ] but I got so many comments and Lady Bracknell impersonations [yes that's right, I put my baby to sleep in a suitcase and pushed a copy of my racy novel around in his pram] that I abandoned the plan and brought him into bed with me instead. Oh well, looking on the bright side, we were apparently sleeping in a bed that was once occupied by Father Holloway. If he is ever canonised, it will probably make us secondary relics.
I knew I would regret being so dismissive of sleep sooner or later, but I am not going to publicly withdraw the comment, so there. I'll let you all into a secret. Whenever I am having a really bad night and little Hugh Ambrose is waking every hour, I try to imagine my grandmother [ God rest her soul ] standing beside me. The stilly watches of the night do not seem as lonely then and her memory reminds me that there are worse reasons to be wakeful in the middle of the night than a restless baby. Her firstborn son died in her arms of an infant illness that health visitors do not even talk about today and I wonder how many nights she lay awake longing to hearthe sound of him crying for her. I never find it quite so easy to complain that I feel tired then.
“He's going on a bottle!” I bleated to a friend when Hugh Ambrose's premature teething became a little too much to bear. His gums are raw and I can feel his teeth desperately trying to break through. “There's no need for that,” she assured me, “if he bites you just take him off your breast and say "no". It's time he learnt the meaning of the word.”
The trouble is that by the time we get as far as "no" I am usually seeing stars and for some macabre reason, the sound of me yelping with pain causes little Hugh Ambrose to dissolve into fits of sadistic giggles. It is strange because the more
alert and aware of the world he becomes, the more he is learning to empathise with other people's emotions. He will laugh uproariously if he hears me laugh and burst into panicked tears if he senses that anyone around him is anxious or cross, so much so that I have had to ask people not to raise their voices in front of him because he becomes so fretful. The only time he singularly fails to get the message is when he is feeding, leading me to wonder in darker moments whether my delightful little baby has turned into a vampire overnight. He is not content with milk any more, he wants blood!
But before I start feeling sorry for myself, I am beginning to doubt that babies lead the blissful lives we assume they do most of the time. First they go through the trauma of being dragged out of the comfort of the womb [ or in Hugh Ambrose's case, spending hours bumping his head trying to navigate his way out and almost being strangled by his own umbilical cord ], then they spend months being sick every five minutes with what must feel like constant food poisoning interspersed with diabetic hangovers. Just in case they get too comfortable, some smiley lady in white sticks needles into them every month or so for apparently no reason and as soon as that phase is over their teeth start cutting through.
Hugh Ambrose sits next to me, tucked up nice and warm against the chill of the English summer, the picture of misery. He has yet to work out that he needs to place his multicoloured teething toy into his mouth for it to help and rattles it indignantly.
. and there will be much weeping and teething of Nash!