Nothing, not the countless hours of research nor the pep talks from friends, could have prepared me for the sleeplessness of new motherhood. After my baby was born, I was paralyzed each night by a bleary-eyed mix of rage and sadness. My anger would come like an uncontrollable wave, ripping my feet from under me and slamming me with guilt.
Overall, I was a pretty happy new mama. Throughout the day I laughed at things like projectile poop and assuaged my newborn's cries with enthusiastic dance parties. I took pictures, sung lullabies and practiced babywearing like it was the latest workout trend. But I found that at one, two and three in the morning, my daughter turned into a mix of milk-vampire and screaming banshee.
Her cute pooping faces didn't make me giggle like they did in the middle of the day. They made me groan, occasionally scream and most commonly cry. Her wide-eyed stares didn't fill me with the confidence of her health and happiness. They made me feel undeniably alone.
Did I love my daughter? Unconditionally. I also wanted her to close her mouth and let me sleep.
The first time my phone beeped at midnight, it made me jump. I thought it was the smoke detector. I was sure there was a fire. I quickly planned the easiest way to extricate myself and my suckling baby from the house.
You can imagine my relief when I realized the beep was just a text message. There was no need to drop, cover and roll out the window. The digital note was from a fellow new mommy who had a few extra months' experiences under her bra.
She asked me how I was holding up. (I was going stark raving mad!)
She told me to text if I felt alone. (Alone? I was bloody stranded on an island losing my mind one white ounce of nourishment at a time.)
You can always text, she said. Books help, she suggested.
And voila—The Midnight Milk Readers was born.
It wasn't a very exclusive affair. Anyone was welcome, especially those experiencing hair loss and rocking a perfume of spoiled breast milk. Book selections were simple. They needed to keep us awake. (This included humor, sexy-time romance, adventure and drama.) They needed to be something that wouldn't scare us. (Horror stories and murder mysteries were for daytime book clubs when shadows and crying babies were nowhere to be found.)
And, all titles needed to be available for digital checkout through the public library. (We were new moms on a budget. Heck, we still are! Plus, digital books have the decided advantages of swipe left page-turning and dimly-lit room reading.)
There was no set reading schedule. We didn't establish weekly or monthly dinner dates. No one was required to write notes, suggest book-related field trips or offer supplemental reading material. Though, there was talk of one day sharing a bottle of wine, preferably sans babies, while we might or might not talk about books.
Mostly we just read. And texted. And shared OMGs over story bits and nipple bites. Suddenly, the walls that seemed to close in at midnight stood their ground. The sound of my baby guzzling breast milk like a prized pig stopped sending me into spin drive.
Other women joined our ranks from time to time. They didn't often read the books. Or even participate in the midnight text talks. It was more the knowledge that they could. Men were welcome, but they never joined. I assumed the occasional talk of engorged nipples and vaginal stitches wasn't their cup of tea.
So while members of the Midnight Milk Readers may have been minutes or hours apart, we were no longer alone. The gentle glow of text messages and ebooks lit up our lives with a lot more than a digital screen. It gave us camaraderie, a gift that outweighed all others—well, except maybe sleep.