Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Awake at eleven p.m! The contractions I had been waiting for and working toward (trying everything from power-walks to castor oil) were finally beginning. This was it. I was about to have my first baby. I had read all about how a woman’s body was made for this, how it knew just what to do. I just had to get out of my analytical brain, into my animal brain and let my body do its beautiful, excruciating thing.
That was nearly eight years ago. And these days I am again up in the night, but my labor is not birth pains. It is labor of a different kind.
I’ve been reading a book lately my husband brought home from the library called Fire by Night. Mennonite author Melissa Florer-Bixler writes beautifully about the Christian tradition, but what struck me was her description of the beauty and utility of darkness. She describes a conversation with her midwife:
“‘Of hundreds of births,’ she told me, ‘all but three labors began at night.’ She mused that deep within women is an instinctual sense that daylight makes us vulnerable to predators and marauders. The last thing a woman wants is to be unable to retreat from danger for several immobile, child-birthing hours.
“Night is a cloak, hiding us from death as new life is birthed.”
At its worst, we tend think of darkness as frightening. We can’t see the enemy out there waiting to get us. We walk quickly to our cars, our keys pointed out, prepared for an attack. At its best, it seems useless—a pause between the light-filled hours when we cram our schedules with activity, communication, errands, games, food preparation, food consumption, etc, etc, etc.
But what if darkness is something else? What if darkness is a shelter, a pause for creativity, a break from the hounding pressures of survival? Dreams come in the darkness, if we are lucky enough to sleep, like a gift from somewhere else, a restful chance for our brains to play.
Sleep is not always a gift that come easily to me and a handful of others I know. Sometimes I view my insomnia as a curse, so many wasted hours, waiting for sleep to take me away from my endless mental chatter. But lately, I have seen those hours in the night as a blessing, a time when the house is quiet, the outside demands on my time have ceased, and I’m am free to create. My brain is so intensely engaged during an evening’s photo shoot and so eager to view and process the images that I have captured that I often find myself awake at 2 or 3 a.m, processing images from the night before.
I don’t know if it’s sustainable. I’m not always at my best the following day, but for now in this busy season, I am choosing to see this labor in the darkness as a gift.
Could it be true for you, too? Do you find yourself awake in the night, calculating the hours of sleep you are not getting, measuring the exhaustion you will feel the next day? Perhaps you are nursing a new baby, maybe agonizing over a conversation from the previous day, perhaps planning something for work that just keeps going around and around inside your head.
Is it possible to shift your thinking and view that time in the night as a gift? Maybe you could get up, maybe write down your thoughts, maybe create something new. I’m not promising it’s a good idea. You might be incredibly grumpy the next day and irritable with your family. But what do you have to lose? What is one day in exchange for what you might create during the shelter of the night?
Holly Freeman is a Denver area newborn photographer with a passion for capturing the deep connections between family members. She loves photographing newborns in their most natural habitat: in the arms of their family. Reach out today to schedule an in-home newborn photo shoot for your family.