Over the course of the last two years, I have been sleeping with at least one of my children nestled in my arms every night. Like so many families, our co-sleeping began out of necessity, as it was so much easier for me to bring each baby into bed to nurse, snuggle, and fall back asleep. I also, of course, grew to love the feel of their tiny little hands on my chest, the rise and fall of their breath, and the complete and utter security that they felt in my arms, even when it was crippling my ability to get any healthy, much-needed sleep.
Over time, it became harder and harder to recognize myself in any of my roles, even the ones into which all my energy was pouring. The exhaustion I was allowing myself to experience had taken over my life, and all the other things that I loved were thrown to the wayside, waiting to be lovingly cradled in my arms, like this not-so-little twenty-three-pound baby.
As time passed, night time, which was once sweet, peaceful, and refreshing, sneakily became a dread for me. I no longer could count on the rest that came as the sun set, the time to take pause and check in on myself. Rather, I was bound to this beautiful child, unable to fully enjoy the moments I had with him because I never had a moment to step away. It seemed to me that comfort, care, and love had duped me, sabotaged me, and I eventually came to a point where I realized that I could no longer recognize the girl in the mirror. She was sad, she was unhappy, and she, for the first time in her life, didn’t know which way to turn. I felt suffocated by her, trapped in the grips of something I liked to call “love,” when really, the way I was living was serving no one in a capacity in which they could grow and flourish.
Like most, however, I was gripped by the guilt I felt from pulling away from the motherhood that consumed me, and so I let it continue until my husband—God bless him—came home one day, sound machine in hand, and said to me, “I love you, I miss you, and it is time to take care of yourself.”
So, he helped as I clutched the baby monitor with unsteady hands and nervously turned the sound machine on, walking away from the static.
And this little step and the ones that followed began to create a beautiful peace that had long been missing in our home.
Whether or not you are a parent, you, I am sure, have something in your life that you cradle lovingly in your arms. Something that keeps you up at night. Something that you adore deeply but that you also allow to consume you from time to time. Oftentimes we can find ourselves bound to so many things in our life, clutching comfortably to them, when, really, those very things are the ones that are suffocating us, keeping us from becoming who it is that we really are meant to be.
For me, it was the deep desire to see my children happy, to keep them from crying, to comfort them at every turn, even when it wasn’t the best thing for them or me. For you, it might look totally different. It might be the struggle to balance keeping your clients happy while also caring for your own well-being. It might be the fear of failing at your job, causing you to pour all of yourself into your work, neglecting every other relationship in your life. It might be clinging to a comfortable situation rather than seeking out your passions because they seem too far out of reach. And many times, giving ourselves time and care can feel like a daunting task, especially when taking space from something can be, for a short time, a painful thing.
It can be painful to step away and say, “I need sleep,” when you hear your nine-month old crying to be held.
It can be painful to walk away from that big project because “making sure this is perfect will help me to move up in the company I work for.”
It can be painful to realize that you really don’t know what it is that you are passionate about outside of your children, your work, your partner, your education.
It is painful to sit through the discomfort, through the mess of the unknown, through the inevitable time that must pass when getting to know yourself again.
However, if we allow ourselves to sit with this short-term pain, on the other side of it is where we begin to breathe again, where we have the space to explore all it is that we are meant to be. Caring for ourselves enough to realize our needs need to be embraced, allowing ourselves to dive into that unknown space—albeit painful for a short while—is where we really begin to grow, to flourish, to bring beauty into the world. It is in this space of letting go that our authentic selves begin to be seen, where our creativity is given the space to shine, and where we can then pour into others in a meaningful and magnificent way.
The beauty of life is that, if we choose to, we can grow from our experiences and our choices. I have learned that we have the opportunity, in many ways, to tailor our lives and our experiences to us and what it is that we need. But at times, the hardest step to the other side is recognizing where you are at; to just say, “I’m suffocating,” to feel it, to own it, and to do something to change it.
Creating that space began to bring life and light back into me.
Creating that space began to help me gain the capacity to truly care for both the things and people that I love so deeply.
Creating that space began to teach me that I am more than the sum of my parts, that I can offer so much more when I care for each beautiful part of myself, that I am worth that time and effort.
And you know, the funny thing is, only a few days after we gently coached our littlest babe to sleep on his own, our family—all four of us—slept better and longer than we had in two years. Not only that: we were able to enjoy the waking hours together, filling our time with play, laughter, and other acts of love—something I had been desperately seeking for a long time.