Monday, June 4, 2012

Breaking Point

It was about 11pm. The baby, who was about 5mon old woke up screaming. His mother had gone to bed less than an hour before, had actually just managed to quiet her mind and drift off to sleep. Her husband had been asleep for more than 2 hours. But she didn't have to work the next day; he did. 

He used to sleep through the night, she thought, until he got that damn stomach bug a month ago. She rolled out of bed, padding sleepily into his room. Barely awake, looking forward already to crawling back into her warm bed in just a few moments.

She entered the baby's room, peering into his crib. His face was all screwed up and his mouth open in the middle of a scream. She picked him, wiping the tears off his cheeks. He'd come unswaddled. He didn't sleep well unswaddled, even still at his age. She laid him down and swaddled him tight. She wished he'd take a pacifier, but he'd never wanted any part of it.

He was still screaming. The swaddling hadn't done the trick as it usually did. She wondered how her husband could sleep through all this noise. Certainly a gift. For him at least. For her, not so much.

She walked slowly down the hall to the living room and the rocking chair, carrying her baby. She knew he wasn't hungry. It'd been less than 2 hours since he'd eaten. He wouldn't be hungry again for at least another 3 or 4 hours. She settled them both in the rocking chair and started to sing. Rock and sing. Rock and sing.

After about 20 minutes of that she gave in to the realization that it just wasn't going to work. He was still screaming. A completely pissed off little creature. She stood up and started walking and bouncing with him. He wasn't impressed. The screaming continued. She tried the Happ.iest Baby on the techniques. All 5 of them. The screaming continued. At this point he'd been screaming, nonstop, for an hour.

She was crying, too, because she felt helpless, and tired, and didn't know how to make her baby feel better. Also, all that screaming (and her crying) was giving her a headache. Oh my god, what is wrong with him???!!, she thought.

She started dancing. Another no-go. She offered him a bottle. He seemed offended by the thing. She took him outside. He woke up all the neighborhood dogs, several of whom joined in on his noisy protest. She held him on her shoulder. Then cradled, face in, face out. Then face down on her forearm. He was still screaming.

She unswaddled him. (screaming) Then swaddled him again. (screaming) She took off all his clothes. (screaming) She put them back on.(screaming)  She added another blanket. (screaming) Took it off. (screaming) She checked his fingers and toes to see if something was wrapped around them. (screaming) She looked for tags in his clothes that could be irritating him. (screaming) She changed his diaper. (screaming) She tried bicycling his legs. (screaming) She tried infant massage. (screaming)

It had been more than two hours at this point. He was still SCREAMING.

She, not really all that gently, turned that loud offensive creature so that her hands were holding him around his ribs, he was facing her. What is wrong with you???!!!!  She need it to shut up. Just SHUT UP. Just for a minute. SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, she yelled at it. It did stop for a second. Then his eyes opened wide and tears poured down his cheeks afresh.

Something clicked in her head. She laid him down, purposefully, gently in the bouncy seat, buckled him in and ran down the hall. She said to her husband "Go get it. Make it shut up!". It took him a minute to wake and focus his eyes on her, "uh, umm, what?". She screamed hysterically, "it won't shut up. It's been screaming for more than 2 hours. I am losing it!!!!!". He got up, slowly. Much too slowly for her liking. She threw herself down on the bed, sobbing.

After only a few minutes, the screaming stopped. Her sobbing continued. She had lost it. Screamed. At her baby! She was a horrible mother. She hadn't done anything to him physically. But still. She'd screamed. He was just a tiny baby. How could she??!!

Her husband came back in, after putting the baby back in his bed. "I don't know what that was all about. He calmed right down". She told him that if he didn't shut the hell up, she was going to do she didn't know what to him, but it would probably involve his genitalia and a knife. He started to say something that sounded an awful lot like "you're overreacting" but then seemed to think better of it once he noticed the tears streaming down her face. Her face was still wet with them when she finally fell asleep much, much later.

Today's Lesson:
I never understood how someone could hurt their own child. I never knew how you could get mad at an innocent baby. I never thought *I* would hurt my child.

And then I became a mother. And I found myself at the edge. And then I understood.

I was 27 when the kid was born. Had been babysitting for 15 years. Had a degree in social work. Had worked in a daycare. Had worked at child protective services for 2 years. Had been teaching parenting skills to new parents for 4 years. Had wanted this baby more than life itself. Had waited for him for more than 4 years. Had the knowledge and skills to soothe a baby.

I didn't know that even I would get frustrated with him. That even I could lose it.

I hear people (including lots of professionals) demonize parents who hurt their children, particularly when those children are infants (as in shaking the baby). They say "those people" or "them". As if "those people" and "them" are not the same as "us" and "we". But the truth is, we are them, they are us. Any of us can lose it if given the right, or wrong, conditions. Just because someone loses it for mere moment, it doesn't mean s/he is a bad person. It means a mistake -an albeit horrible, possibly life-altering mistake - was made. But, that mistake? Well, any of us is capable of it. Any of us.


AS said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's a really important thing to know and remember. I've worked with parents accused of abuse and neglect, and I'd like to do it again someday as a lawyer, and I often get incredulous questions about why on earth I would want to work with "those people." Putting aside the fact that most of them are there because of lack of resources, and a few did nothing wrong at all, it's still important to remember that within everyone there's something less than perfect and that these less than perfect people are still (usually) the beloved parent of a child.

On a more personal level, I'd also love to share this with my sister, who believes that, having worked with children for many years, she knows everything and will be a perfect parent! But I won't. Some things you have to learn for yourself.

Alex said...

Great post! This is such a good reminder to everyone - pre-parenting and after. I am very thankful that my little one hasn't gone that long, but this weekend, I had to take a break after 30 minutes of crying. Just handing her to my husband for 5 minutes and walking away made me feel so much better. There's something about about a crying baby that makes us feel so helpless, so out of control.

M said...

The nurse who did our child care class told us a similar story about her first baby. Thanks for sharing. <3

Mo and Will said...

powerful post. thank you for writing it.

Trinity said...

This is such a brave and honest post, Becky. And one that is particularly timely for me. Just this morning I was finishing up a post about gentle parenting (about how social work shaped my parenting--for another blog project, not my IF blog), and I commented elsewhere that it was especially difficult for me to write about gentle parenting when at that moment I felt anything but gentle. After a night of excrutiatingly fractured sleep and during a morning of unrelenting whining and clinging, I barked at my own child after he stuck his hand in the trashcan for the billionth time. It was something I instantly regretted, something that instantly flooded me with shame. Man, parenting is some hard shit sometimes. I am not the kindest, most patient version of myself when I am so sleep-deprived and without an extra pair of hands to help me manage my own needs.

Social work is all about empathy, and I think each of us social workers sees the families with which we work as human beings. Reacting within their unique context. Perhaps making poor choices and probably needing a more healthful and resourceful support system. And couldn't that describe any of us, really?

When I was working in public social services, I remember it hitting me so clearly one day: the only thing between me and this client is a few paychecks. Meaning, if I lost my job, I'd have limited resources before I'd be in similar straits--needing financial assistance, swallowing my pride, feeling less than.

Take care of yourself, Mama. Don't be so hard on yourself. In any given moment, you're giving the best you can offer... XX

Venessa said...

Thank you for sharing this! It is so true!

Guera! said...

Yes you screamed at your baby but that's all you did. Nothing more. Your love for your baby and your solid foundation prevented you from doing more. I don't believe for one second that you would every cross the line and hurt your baby. I do get how someone could get to that point and fear themselves. When our daughter arrived it rocked our world. I realized that no matter how many books you read, how many babies you are around , how many friends you have that have been through it there is simply no way to fully prepare someone for the weeks and months that follow that first day home with your baby. I never knew tired like I did then. I never really knew what exhaustion was. I never knew what it would really be like to have a screaming, inconsolable baby at 2am and to be worn out from weeks of not sleeping. I wondered how someone younger and more immature than me could cope...someone like so many young girls that have unwanted pregnancies and are single moms. Your post is very important and illustrates the need for a clear, non-judgemental way for women to reach out and ask for help. I wonder if it would have helped if you could have called a 24 hour number and talked to someone....not necessarily to get advice but just someone who could have said "I've been there, This is what worked for me. It may not work for you but it doesn't make you a bad person. You are exhausted aren't you? How old is your baby? Why I can hear him screaming too, oh my. What's his name? I bet you haven't slept in weeks have you?" Even if this didn't calm your screaming baby this empathetic person on the other end of the line may have calmed you and helped you get through it. For others it could be just the thing that keeps them from going to far. Women are too hard on themselves and we are afraid of being judged. We should be able to reach out for help at any time without fear.

I have rambled sorry. I stumbled upon your blog from Stirrup Queens.