I've heard mothers of new babies talk about checking to see if their baby is still breathing in the middle of the night if it's too quiet. You tiptoe over to the crib, lean over, and peer in the darkness to see if the tiny chest is still rising and falling. You strain your ears for the barely audible whisper of the breathing in and out. Then you release a sigh of relief and crawl back into bed, amazed at the miracle of this tiny life, sleeping there so soundly, unaware of all the emotions he is stirring in the adults in his world.
Last night, lying on the cot in my 100-yr-old grandmother's room at night, at first I was keenly aware of every sound she made in the bed just a few feet away. I was taking a turn to do night duty, making sure that Grandma didn't get up on her own during the night with her recently-operated-on hip and fall. My mom usually has the task of night watch. So I wasn't accustomed to all the groans and creaks of the mattress springs, the whiffling snoring, or the rustling of the sheets as she moved in bed. Every once in awhile I would stiffen, my senses on high alert at a new sound, trying to perceive whether I needed to get up and investigate. A couple of times she seemed to stop breathing for a couple of seconds, and I would hold my breath anxiously until I heard the steady rhythm start up again.
But an amazing thing happened last night. A miracle actually. Grandma never got up during the night. Not even once. Often Mom and Dad will be up with her 3, 4 or 5 times a night, helping her out of bed and onto the toilet and back again. Usually it seems it's just restlessness, discomfort, or agitation that makes her want to get up, rather than an actual need. But the doctor has prescribed a new medication that is working wonders. It seems to help her relax and feel more comfortable. And for the first time in the weeks since she fell and broke her hip, Grandma is actually sleeping through the night!
Yet somehow the lack of activity last night made me a bit more uneasy. It was too quiet. Something wasn't right. I lay there in the dark, listening for noises, wondering if everything was OK. Did I just not hear her? Is she trying to get up? I couldn't really see in the darkness of the room, and a couple of times I imagined that I could see her shadowy figure starting to sit up in bed. Once or twice I used the glow of my cell phone to sweep across the bed and ensure that all was indeed well.
And, miraculously, all was indeed well. She was still breathing. She was sleeping peacefully. And finally I was able to relax enough to sleep too.
A friend recently told me of the celebration she and her husband had when their baby slept through the night for the first time. It seemed strange, surreal to not be waking up every few hours to feed a crying baby. And the first few nights the parents couldn't really sleep. They kept listening for that cry to rouse them out of bed. But eventually they started getting used to the silence. What a wonderful thing. I think I could get used to it too.