One Hundred Hours of Solitude

Two weeks ago today my world changed. After a relatively quick and easy delivery, we welcomed our first child into our family. I was surprised by the experience of labor and delivery, having expected the worst agony and trauma of my life and instead having only a few hours of pain followed by excited nervousness and a few quick pushes. (yes, I realize how lucky I am, don’t hate me). Even the afterpains were overshadowed by the joy of staring at my little guy and calling him by his name for the first time, or seeing him quiet in Patrick’s arms, searching his face like a long-lost friend.

The initial days passed in a blur of love and tenderness, of resting while grandmas cooed and husbands rushed around tending to every need. Attentive and excited church members brought meals and offered their help to the newest member of the Cairo branch. I felt supported and capable, intoxicated by the rush of love for this new person, excited to slip into the new role of motherhood, even foolishly romanticizing the nightfeedings when it would just be Finn and I bonding in the middle of the night as we rocked in silence.

Those halcyon days are disappearing as grandmas depart, Patrick goes back to work, and I find myself faced with the prospect of being on the job 24 hours a day. I am trapped in the house for at least a month, until Finn’s little lungs can withstand the polluted Cairo air. Soon after we brought Finn home, the internet blacked out for over a week, cutting off my lifelines to the outside world as I found myself without e-mail or phone services to talk to the people I needed to. The world seemed to be closing in on me and the sense of claustrophobia was overwhelming. I found myself constantly feeling alone, cut-off, trapped. In the evenings the exhaustion of this would cave in on me and I started to panic. We decided to ask grandma to stay a few extra days for support as Patrick went back to work. With her generous help, I’ve started to feel more human and am slowly transitioning into the role of full-time mom.

I now indeed find myself rocking with Finn in the middle of the night, the two of us silent in our separate solitudes of sleepiness and fatigue. I’m getting to know hours of the early morning that I had forgotten existed and along with the tenderness when I lift a crying Finn out of his co-sleeper, I feel exhaustion. In addition to softly singing lullabies, I spend these hours enticing him with murmured pleas and promises if he’ll only sleep for a few hours longer.

But in those quiet hours of the night, I sometimes look down and by the glow of the streetlights outside I can see his dark little eyes on my face and I take myself back to that powerful primal rush that I experienced when he was first born. Before the doctor had even lifted him, I found my arms reaching desperately to grab him and pull his warm wet little body to me. I touched him all over and covered him with my hands as if to comfort him and let him know I was here. I nearly swatted the pediatrician away when he tickled Finn’s tummy to release that lusty little first cry. I instinctively and urgently wanted to take care of my boy, despite the nurses reaching to clean him up, the pediatrician getting ready to check him, the exhaustion of my body screaming for rest.

I draw on the reserves of that feeling in these hours of solitude, when he starts to cry and I lay still in bed, hoping he’ll drift back to sleep. I draw on it when I walk with him and frown and sigh in frustration at not understanding his cries while he squirms and cries in frustration about being so little and misunderstood. My lower moments occur during this time when I question my ability and desire to be a mother. They are erased a few hours later as the sun rises and I see his curious perfectly shaped eyes and run my finger over his pink unbelievably soft skin and forgive him what feels like the hundreds of hours spend in dark solitude the night before.


  1. Great post. Congratulations on your new addition. My heart goes out to you for the hard work facing you but, reading this post, I sense you are ready for the challenge and will excel.

  2. Expecting #3 here and having the same feelings I had when I had my first. Congratulations!

  3. Beautifully written

  4. Wonderful, Melissa DLM.

    It is indeed a great event when babies figure out that nighttime is for sleeping.

  5. This is an important perspective, especially the conflicting feelings you leave intact.

    With our little one, during those first months I was off work but saw my wife very little. She was up all night with the Sprout while I was up all day with Thing 1 and Thing 2. We found that weird loneliness as difficult as the exhaustion.

  6. I have no idea what it’s like but sleep deprivation, mixed with being stuck indoors, mixed with no internet in a foreign city sounds downright awful. I’m glad you’re surviving and writing good essays to boot!

  7. Thanks for bringing back the memories of those early days. My oldest turns 18 next month. The sleep deprived years are the hardest, but they’re also really special. Soak in every moment.

  8. Congratulations!

    You are wise to remember The beauty of it all; and I promise you that the exhaustion and loneliness will pass, the good memories will remain, and you will remember these days fondly. After having four children (my baby turns one year old today!), I can safely say that my experience perfectly matches yours (more or less) –all four times.

    P.S. You are a fabulous writer!

  9. Cheryl’s right, Melissa – you are a fabulous writer. And I can tell you that my wife already misses those early tender days of holding that little one close by.

  10. Melissa,
    This is some of your best writing ever, run with it!

  11. This is a wonderful description of the first couple days. Congrats. Get a whole bunch of movies ready to go. You will need something to do all night for the first month or 2.

  12. Snow White says:

    Welcome to the mommy club!
    Your post says perfectly what’s so magical about those first few months. I’m always amazed at how sometimes once the baby was finally asleep, I would stay up myself just to watch her sleep and think about how perfect she was. I’m due next month with my fourth, and as the other ladies said, it’s the same every time. Congratulations!

  13. As an expectant father I appreciate your words; I hope they help me to be a better father and a better husband especially in the time soon after our child is born.

    By the way, we’ve been thinking of Finn as a boy’s name too. Is it becoming common?

  14. Other than to walk the dog and go to the doctor, I didn’t step foot out of my front door for 5 weeks after I had my first baby! It was insane.

  15. This was beautiful to read and brings back memories of when my children were born. Thank you. Hang in there! If it’s any consolation, and if my experience is typical, the stresses and joys of parenthood evolve as the young ones grow, but I believe they continue indefinitely.

  16. What a beautifully written and poignant post. Brings back memories of years ago and the more recent joy of having our first grandchild born. There really is nothing like a mother’s love. Finn is a great name!

  17. Thanks for the comments. In the middle of my exhaustion and frustration, I keep telling myself that zillions of people have done this and survived. I expected many things to come with motherhood, but loneliness was the one that has taken me most by surprise.

    Just from talking to people, I hear Finn being used more and more. We’ve still gotten weird looks though. Our neighbors here, who are fundamentalist Christians, misheard us and thought we had named our son Sin. They assumed that it was a Mormon thing. They gave us a teddy bear with a gift tag addressed to Sin Javier Mason. That’s going in the scrapbook.

  18. Steve Evans says:

    LOL! That’s a great one Melissa.

  19. Melissa,

    Has Finn’s grandma rubbed an egg on him yet?

  20. Whaaaa-hahahaha!~ That baby has more names than anyone ever!

  21. Thomas Parkin says:

    I don’t know if this will help you. I’m posting it mostly because it is helping me today. ;) But I think it is apt in describing parenthood, as much as anything. I think this could also go beneficially into the hot/cold/spew/firestrom thread.

    Gibran, from The Prophet*

    Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”

    And he answered:

    Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

    And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

    And how else can it be?

    The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

    Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

    And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

    When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

    When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

    Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

    But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

    I often think that what righteousness does for us is not so much make as more joyful than sorrowful, but more able to bear greater sums of both, hence more alive, hence more joyful.

    * I note that Gibran is found under pop poetry at B&N, and once read that must make him turn in his grave.

  22. Sin as a Mormon name – priceless!

    When our first was born, we lived in Somerville, MA. When he was just a few months old, he would fuss a lot at about 10:00-11:00 each night. I would put him in our front-pack (whatever they are called), walk to the bus-stop and ride the bus toward Cambridge until he fell asleep – then return with him sleeping against my chest. That was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced.

    That was almost 20 years ago, and I still can remember it like it was yesterday. Thanks, Melissa, for taking me back to when my children needed me in a way that is unimaginable to those who haven’t experienced it. Even though it led to sleep deprivation (as I had to get up 2-3 hours later), I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Melissa, a lovely and beautifully written post.

    I just came back from seeing Fool’s Gold, a schlocky rom com with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey’s character is named Finn in the movie, and it made me think of your little one.

    And the Sin story is wonderful! Sin is the name of a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, so it would be fun to name a son after that and drive his future Mormon teachers crazy. Good thing I wouldn’t want to burden an actual son with such a wordplay…

  24. Kevin, you always could name him Sinclair – but that might be worse, depending on where you live.

  25. #19- lol, not yet, Mark, but if he’s still keeping me up all night by the time we visit Texas this summer, I may call on the local witch doctor to take a shot

    #20- no kidding, and officially his name on his Egyptian birth certificate transliterates as Feen Hafeer instead of Finn Javier. Between that and everything else we’ve been calling him, this will be one confused kid.

  26. I too recently had my first baby (November) and can relate. The actual birth wasn’t as hard as I’d expected, but afterward… I think those first few weeks were probably the hardest of my life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is nice to know I’m not alone in my mixed feelings about new motherhood. I was especially impressed how your post captured these mixed feelings without sounding negative about the whole experience.

  27. Thanks for the post, it made me cry.
    Our third son, little Fin (short for Finley) was born 3 months ago, and it feels like yesterday.
    Congratulations. Even though it feels like a hundred hours, it will go by in like 5 minutes. Enjoy it.

  28. Melissa, We are made lonely as babies separate us from the wider adult world, then again for want of the children when they leave home. Inevitable consequences of a love of life and others.
    I love your honesty as much as your prose. Thanks.

  29. Adam Greenwood says: