Reflections on Identity

Mothering My First Child

A Journey of Guilt, Anxiety, and Love

Laura Friedman Williams
9 min readJul 4, 2023

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The author with her daughter in 2000

My daughter is nine months old and refuses to sleep unless she is lying in bed with me. We live in a one-bedroom apartment and her crib is next to my bed, but that is not close enough. One day I climb into the crib to see it from her perspective. I lie down on her little mattress, stare at the quilted bumper pads embroidered with pink butterflies, touch the velvety stuffed bunnies standing at attention. Through the slats of wood I see my bed almost within reach. I understand right away that it is a lost cause; she will never sleep in that crib, not with me a mere breath away.

One night, I leave her asleep in the middle of my queen-sized bed while I wander in the living room, cleaning and watching tv and forgetting about her altogether. Not until I hear a thump in the bedroom do I remember where I left her and by then she has a broken collarbone. Her arm dangles helplessly for the next week, but then she is fine; I have a guilty conscience from which I will never fully recover.

I load up on books written by experts who all say the same thing in slightly different iterations: the baby has to be trained to sleep. This will involve excessive crying on her part and tenacity on mine. I endure night after night of listening to her sob and hiccup in her crib, which I visit every five minutes then ten then twenty then thirty.

One night I decide she will have to cry it out as long as it takes. It feels wrong, but every book says this method is foolproof, so clearly the fact that it’s not working is due to my ineptitude as a sleep trainer. She cries for two hours without interruption. I pace the apartment, my heart in my throat, fighting my instinct to barge into the room, scoop her from the crib and put her to sleep in her favorite spot: on top of me, her wispy hair tucked beneath my chin.

After she has been quiet for long enough that I am certain she is asleep, I carefully open my bedroom door and am assaulted by the pungent odor of vomit. She is asleep, curled up in a corner of the crib, her sheets and bunnies and bumper pads and hair covered in vomit. I wake her up, clean her and the bedding, and never put her in the crib again. There are books written by…

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Laura Friedman Williams

Author of AVAILABLE: A Very Honest Account of Life After Divorce (Boro/HarperUK June ‘21; Harper360 May ‘21). Mom of three, diehard New Yorker.