August 14, 2016
the sanctity of the midnight shift
The usual routine ensues: I head to the living room, switch on the small light in the corner, set the babies in the twin feeding pillow, and pull out the bottles. Tonight (or rather, this morning) I find Sam has marked Addie's bottle with a dry erase marker, so I know it's her turn for the pumped breastmilk and Link's turn for the formula.
I feed the babies for a few minutes, burp one baby, burp the other baby, repeat. It's only been four weeks, but already I feel I can do this in my sleep (and half the time, I'm convinced I am asleep during the 3am feeding). Normally, I turn on Netflix to keep me awake, but for some reason I leave the TV off tonight. It gives me time to just watch my babies, and listen to the cicadas outside.
Now it's 3:10am. Addie is falling asleep with the bottle in her mouth, and Link has drained his. I get up and make him two more ounces.
My neighbor has Christmas lights strung up on her porch, and seeing a glimpse of those lights through a crack in the blinds makes me think of another time I was up at 3am. The time my mom was dying.
Towards the end, when my mom needed around-the-clock care and monitoring, we would take shifts during the night. Any time spent with my mom became very precious when she was diagnosed, but perhaps the midnight shift was the most precious to me.
Now it's 3:20 and both babies have finished eating, so I'm changing diapers. But I'm still thinking about the midnight shift with my mom. I remember sitting in that incredibly ugly, incredibly comfortable blue recliner next to my mom's hospice bed. I remember looking at the Christmas lights that were strung on the tree outside the window. But most of all I remember listening to my mom's snores.
Now it's 3:25 and I'm wrapping up the twins in their swaddle blankets.
I used to sync my breaths with my mom's long, even snores during the midnight shift. In, out, in out. Each breath was another moment granted to our shared existence, another second that we got to be alive at the same time. If 19 years with my mother was all I was going to get, I wanted to remember every last breath. So I spent the midnight shift curled up, breathing slowly, counting snores.
Now it's 3:30am and both babies are sleeping. Or so I think, until one of them starts to fuss when I pick them up. I don't even really register which baby it is. I just pick them up and pace the living room a few times while I rock back and forth, whispering quietly to my baby.
I think about other people who might be awake at this quiet, dark hour. Police officers responding to distress calls. Nurses making sure their patients don't have a lapse in medication. Air traffic controllers with their headsets and huge computer monitors. Spouses fetching a throw up bowl and a glass of cold water for their significant other. New parents and old parents and people who just can't sleep because they're worried about someone they love.
And suddenly, the midnight shift seems almost sacred. There's a special sanctity in giving up your sleep, one of the body's most essential functions, for the health and well-being of someone you love. It feels special, sacred, and almost holy to put someone's needs above your own, to defer your schedule for the schedule of someone who needs you. I feel connected to people around the world taking the proverbial midnight shift.
Now it's 3:35am, and I'm tucking both twins into their crib. I make sure to lay them down close together, snuggled up just the way they like it. I whisper a little prayer of gratitude as I climb into bed - gratitude for my comfortable bed and the promise of sleep, but also gratitude for midnight shifts. For the midnight shifts I spent with my mom, the midnight shifts I spend with my twins, and for the sanctity of people everywhere, taking the midnight shift to make our world a little better.