"Right now, a hug is all it takes to make my son better."

My son is crying. Again.

The baby books and the other mothers assure me it’s ‘just a phase’. That all babies go through a period of refusing to play on their own. Of crying when they aren’t being cuddled. Of constantly demanding the security of human contact.

I’m sure that my well-meaning advisers know what they’re talking about but in this moment a ‘phase’ means nothing. A phase suggests an end, a conclusion, a period of time that doesn’t last forever. This feels like an everlasting cycle of tears and noise; a cycle from which I will never escape.

Every muscle in my body aches when I move. My limbs are as heavy as my eyelids. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks and I’m utterly exhausted. There are groceries to buy, laundry to hang out and a list of two-dozen other similarly thrilling tasks to complete. And none of them is achievable with a baby in my arms.

I just need to put him down. For. Just. One. Second.

My son is crying. Again.

Three weeks ago, my little boy decided that he would prefer to be permanently attached to me, thank you very much. Ever since he has been treating the floor, the pram, the cot, the mat and the bouncer — any surface that is not his mum — as if it were toxic. He cries the instant his chubby palms are no longer touching my face. Leaving the room, passing him to another person, or heaven forbid using the toilet alone are foreign luxuries no longer available to me.

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Jamila and her son, Rafi. Photo: Sarah Blackman.

I bend down to pick up my red faced baby. He promptly stops screaming, sticks a thumb in his mouth and throws his other arm around my neck for balance. Peace and quiet is restored, as I begin pacing around the apartment singing to him. I forget what activity the littlest of the ants stops to do when they’re marching five by five. I mutter some nonsense and switch to a new tune. Elephants balancing, stars twinkling, black sheep with multiple bags of wool.

Anything will do, as long as I can sustain the silence a little longer.

My son is crying. Again.

And this time, I blame the washing machine. I was squatting down, trying to prop up both the baby and washing basket on my right knee, while shovelling wet clothes out of the machine with my left arm. It worked for about 15 seconds. Then I shifted my weight to the side ever so slightly and my rubber soled Converse caught on a few droplets of water. I slipped, the washing basket toppled over and my son wobbled inside the loose embrace of my forearms.

I knew I should have bought a top-loader.

That was enough. The tightness of the hug had been broken and my bub was extremely unimpressed. I decided to brave the noise a little longer, placing him in his cot while I cleaned up the soggy washing and hung it on the line. The siren-like cries became louder and louder, engulfing the apartment in a fog of distress. I close my eyes and take the kind of deep breaths they tell you about at mothers’ group.

The tightness of the hug had been broken and my bub was extremely unimpressed.

My son is crying. Again.

I glance at the clock, as I make the familiar dash to my son’s bedroom. I retrieve him from his cot, coax him to feed but he won’t. After all, he’s not hungry, just unhappy and desperate to sleep. He gives me an exhausted smile, the tears stop falling and he slumps lazily against my chest. I don’t dare put him down again.

I lie on the couch in the living room and flick on the television. It’s a news update. Fighting in Syria. The Prime Minister, triumphant upon the successful passage of controversial legislation. Heavy rains batter Brisbane and the surrounds.


My eyes watch the screen flicker between stories. The image of a hospital appears. A tiny, tiny little baby lies inside a humidicrib, tubes up his nose and inside his mouth. He cannot breathe on his own. His mother’s wrist reaches through a plastic cutout in the side of the crib and is placed delicately inside his little fist. That tiny touch of skin is the closest they’re allowed to be.

When you become a parent, something changes. It’s not that you have more empathy or care more deeply for children but once you’re a parent, tragedies that happen to children hit closer to home. The toddler who drowns in the backyard pool becomes your own. The teenager who overdoses on ecstasy has your child’s face. The baby on the late night news whose health is so fragile that his own mother isn’t allowed to hold him.

My son is sleeping soundly.

I watch his little head shuffling just slightly to the right, trying to find the snuggliest position between the buttons and folds of my shirt. He has moved past the light sleep phase and fallen into deep slumber. I could comfortably move him into his own bed now. It wouldn’t wake him. I could get some of that precious sleep I’ve been craving. I could stand and stretch, finally free from the weight of him.

But I don’t.

Because unlike the mother on the television, I am allowed to hold my little boy.

Too many parents experience some version of that mother’s anguish. Thousands of parents are sitting in children’s hospitals around our country watching their little ones struggling for breath, crying out in pain, bravely soldiering in and out of operation after operation.

While I’ve suffered more than a few sleepless nights since I gave birth, I have never once gone to sleep wondering if my child would still be alive the next morning. I have the great privilege of being able to hug my baby, knowing that right now a hug is all it takes to make everything better.

And for that, I feel like the luckiest woman on earth.

Did you find the transition into motherhood difficult?