Ethan snuggles under my arm. After breastfeeding for a while, he wriggles into a comfortable position. His little hand starts to grope around in the dark, moving across my face, to my ears, and then settling on my hair. I can feel him playing with my hair, twirling it in my fingers, sometimes pulling it a little too hard. It is a habit of his, playing with my hair until he falls asleep. No matter how sleepy, how milk-drunk, he will not drift off until he has a handful of my hair enclosed in his little fist. Sure enough, the movement soon stops, and I know he is fast asleep.
His soft and warm body is pressed against mine, his head resting on my shoulder and his face tilted towards mine. His breathing is rhythmic and I can feel his warm breath on my cheek. I lean over and smell his smooth skin. The scent of lavender lingers, remnants of the calming baby oil, apparently guaranteed to make your baby sleep more soundly. I don’t think it makes any difference, but I love the way it smells so we keep using it. With Ethan settled, and Craig fast asleep next to me, my mind turns towards Isaac. He is never far from my mind during the day, I don’t think I go more than a few minutes without thinking of him, but when everything goes dark and quiet, as the world sleeps, my mind inevitably drifts to what happened to Isaac. My head fills with images of smashed glass, trails of blood, Isaac’s scared and confused face. It continues on to the hospital, the chaos, the screams. It then veers to things that didn’t happen, things that are even worse than what actually happened – Isaac dying in my arms before we reach the hospital, Craig injured. I don’t know why I do that. My psychologist suggests that by imagining worse scenarios, it enables my mind to process the horror of what actually happened. It doesn’t matter, it is a rabbit hole that I find myself in over and over against my will.
My arm begins to lose feeling under the weight of Ethan’s head. I can feel my hand beginning to tingle. But I make no effort to shift position, not out of some valiant attempt to avoid waking Ethan but because I want – no, I need – to feel his breath on my face. As my mind follows the dark and twisted path that is that fateful night, it is Ethan’s sweet breath caressing my cheek that brings me back to the present moment. Ethan is breathing life back into me. Sometimes, at my darkest points, it even feels like he is even breathing for me. I know that I can’t rely on him forever to keep me going. I know that a child should not feel responsible for their parent’s happiness and mental well-being. It is damaging to put that pressure on a child and I won’t do it to Ethan. I will need to find other support systems, other motivations. But as long as he doesn’t know any different, and as long as he needs the cuddles as much as me, I will cling to him like a life raft.