On Watch

When I can, I try to do the writing assignment that I give my students, both to provide a model and to remember what it’s like to actually do this stuff.  So when the textbook for the Freshman Composition course I’m teaching this semester instructed the student to write a brief descriptive piece about themselves, I wrote this:

Things had quieted down, and I was sitting in a rocking chair holding this brand new little person.  It was dark by hospital standards, which meant that it was still bright enough to see everything in the room.  In that dim light, I could see Christin sleeping in the oversized single bed.  Despite my exhaustion I couldn’t sleep, but she had good reason to be more exhausted than me.

I looked down at the little girl I was carefully holding.  I could feel the constant tension through the muscles in my arms.  There was no way I was going to let any accidental slip harm this precious little body, with this fragile little neck that lacked the strength to hold the weight of this fragile little head that still had a soft little spot on top that couldn’t protect this precious little brain that had so much growing to do.

It’s my job now to take care of you.  I promise that for the rest of your life I will be there when you need me.

Nora didn’t respond.  She was asleep too.  She also had good reason to be exhausted.

Reluctantly, I laid Nora down in the plastic bassinet and positioned it in the middle of the room between Christin’s bed and the couch that I was going to sleep on.  I hadn’t let Nora out of my sight all day, except for that moment when Christin needed me and I handed her to my mother-in-law.  I had no intention of letting her out of my sight before we left that hospital.

I laid on the couch in a state of constant alertness.  Every noise that Nora made—every tiny snort or grunt—shot me straight up and to her side.  I watched for the gentle rise and fall of her little chest and listened for the quiet, constant whisper of her breath.  Babies don’t just stop breathing in their sleep—except sometimes they do.  There was no way that was going to happen to Nora, especially because I was going to make damn sure that didn’t happen to Nora.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted—more tired than I have ever been—but I didn’t sleep that night.

I was on watch.  I had made a promise and I intended to keep it.

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