The mommy conundrum

READER essay'm the one who gets up in the middle of the night.

Our son is a poor sleeper, and I always hear him before my husband, Erik, does. In the past 10 months, I’ve learned to distinguish the awake-but-will-settle-back-into-sleep snuffle from the starting-off-slow-but-about-to-erupt-into-full-blown-howl peep.

I’m the one who gets up in the mornings, too. I change Ryan’s loaded diaper, feed him cereal and get him dressed. I play with him, read him The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the five hundredth time and take him for a walk to look for baby rabbits. I entertain him with songs and games, stimulate his ever-growing brain with colorful toys and help him develop motor skills while preventing him from mauling the dog or pulling plugs out of light sockets. All before Erik has even gotten out of bed.

Do I resent it? Sometimes. But we waited six years to become parents, which gave us plenty of time to consider the division of child-rearing duties. My husband would continue to work full-time. Because I work from home, it made more sense for me to be the primary caretaker. Besides, I wanted to be the mommy. When Ryan turned 2 months old, I hired a part-time sitter who takes care of him in the mornings while I work. Or try to work, shutting my office door to drown out his happy squeals.

The arrangement is close to perfect. I know what Ryan’s had for lunch, whether he’s in a good mood and how long he’s napped. I have the luxury of working at home and of knowing that once my sitter leaves, all I have to do is be Mom for the rest of the day.

Until Ryan got sick two days before I was to leave to attend a conference out-of-state. He threw up his breakfast. He threw up his second breakfast. He threw up his lunch. Then he threw up his Pedialyte.

A trip to the pediatrician assured me that he did not have a virulent case of bird flu but a stomach bug."Babies get them,” his doctor told me."He may be sick for a few more days, but he’ll be fine.”

The day I flew to New York, he was fine. But when I called my sitter, I discovered he’d thrown up again. Twice.

I’d heard about mommy guilt. But I’d manage to sidestep it, secure that I was doing everything right. Now I was swamped by pain and worry and remorse. My baby was sick! And I had left him.

My sitter said he seemed to be his cheerful self—except for the puking. My husband agreed to work from home the next day, just in case.

“Do you want me to come home?” I asked, choking back tears.

“No… but if he gets worse, I think you should.” I could hear the worry in Erik’s voice. Worried about Ryan or worried about losing sleep, I wondered briefly but didn’t ask. Marriages survive by not sharing these kinds of suspicions.

That night, I was noticeably distracted as I socialized with colleagues I see only once a year. I explained why, and parents all, they consoled me."I remember the Pedialyte years,” said the mother of an 8-year-old."He’ll be fine.”

But that didn’t matter, I insisted. I should be home. I’m the mommy.

“If you go home and swoop in, you’re denying Erik the opportunity to step up and be there for Ryan,” pointed out the father of twins.

That stopped me.

Sure, I trust Erik. I know he loves Ryan as much as I do. But he’s not me. On some level I believed that I was better at parenting than him. I certainly put more time in. All those 2 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. and 4:50 a.m. wakeups add up to a lot of hours after all.

I admit that I get frustrated sometimes because I do so much more with Ryan than my husband does. But if I want Erik to do more, I have to let him. And that means relinquishing some control.

So I did. I stayed in New York and tried not to worry. I even slept. And Ryan did fine. Given time and his daddy’s TLC, he stopped throwing up. I returned three days later to a healthy, chortling baby and a worn-out husband who may have finally realized how demanding—and how amazing—a 10-month-old can be. Because he finally got to be Mom.

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