The cough that woke me up was the last in a series of three, and it was the one that made my heart stop. Oliver was sleeping on our floor on Sam’s side of the bed, covered in the fluffy red blanket he got from Santa this past Christmas. We’re not thrilled that our son comes into our room each night, but, we’ve chosen to pick our battles, and the bedtime struggle with our five-year old is not a battle we have energy to fight lately.
I must have heard the first cough, because I vaguely remember it. It was the last one, though, that woke me fully. The deep, wet cough — a cough that seemed too loud to have come from my little boy — was followed by a sharp intake of breath. The inhalation was more of a wheeze than a soft breath, as if my son was struggling to pull air into his lungs through a straw. Fully awake now, I held my breath and went perfectly still, waiting to hear the sound of Oliver exhaling.
One second passed. Then two. And three. And still, there was silence.
Finally, he exhaled, quietly and slowly. After another small cough, one appropriate for his size, his breathing settled into a steady pattern. He was asleep and unaware.
I continued to listen, eyes open and staring upward in the dark, but not seeing anything. My body was filled with adrenaline, every nerve on edge. As the minutes passed, my panic subsided, my own breathing calmed, and my heart slowed, resuming its regular pace. As my son’s sleep noises returned to normal, my eyes finally closed. His rest and comfort assured, I was able to return to sleep.
Motherhood, I thought as I drifted off. This is what it’s all about.
This morning, I was up before the rest of my family, before the sun had risen fully. I sat at the desk in my darkened office, writing, taking advantage of those few moments of morning silence before I had to leave for work. After a while, my daughter tiptoed into the room with Oliver following a couple of steps behind.
I hugged them both, their arms squeezing me tight in response. I felt grateful.