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 Blo.ck 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.
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.