I'd forgotten what it's like to be needed, really needed by a baby. To feel a warm head radiating heat against my cheek. To be entangled in soft limbs that reach out for comfort. To feel my shoulder dampen with tears. To hear the pained cry of a baby in my ear. To hold and rock and soothe and feel utterly helpless. I'd forgotten what it's like to worry, to Google, to ring the doctors. I'd forgotten how exhausting it is to be woken by cries in the night, to sit up and rock and fight to stay awake against the crushing exhaustion in my bones. I'd forgotten how draining it is to listen to cries from noon until night and no that there's nothing I can do to help.
I'd forgotten how much those teeth can hurt, how hard it can be to breathe through a snotty nose, how hungry babies get when they can't feed properly. I'd forgotten how desperately they need to be cuddled even when it does nothing to silence the crying. I'd forgotten what it's like to be somebody's everything, to be the only person who can make the pain even slightly more bearable. I'd forgotten what it's like to not have the time to shower, to watch a baby cry on the floor so I could snatch two minutes to pee. I'd forgotten what it's like when showering is impossible, to be covered with the dried tears and snot of a screaming baby and not be able to put them down to get clean. I'd forgotten the relief of the front door opening at 7pm and knowing that I could have a few minutes of not holding or feeding or cuddling. I'd forgotten the bone-aching skin-crawling reality of feeling touched out.
A baby needs you in a different way to a five-year-old. A five-year-old can wait, she sat patiently on the top step the other day for five minutes while a crimson bead of blood formed on her finger as she waited for her sister to stop crying so she could show me her cut. A five-year-old can soothe herself and often does. I hear her trip, pick herself up, dust herself off and carry on, muttering under her breath about the stupid toy that tripped her up. A five-year-old doesn't need me, she needs anyone. Her dad, her nanny, it doesn't matter, she is soothed by love and attention but it doesn't need to be from me.
A baby is different. A baby's needs cannot be put off or ignored or asked to wait. A baby cannot be fobbed off on someone else. A baby can scream and cry until she is red in the face even when she is being held tightly. A baby can't explain why she is crying or what hurts. All she can do is cry and reach out for me and let me know that she needs me, even though neither of us know why.