This is my column for this weekend’s paper:
One night when my daughter, Genevieve, was about 6 or 7 months old, my neighbors came to babysit so my husband and I could go out to dinner.
We hadn’t had many babysitters for her or our son, Jack, as we adjusted to having two children. But we trust and love Vickie Wilbur and her husband, Craig, and know the little ones are in good hands with them. After all, they raised three wonderful children of their own, are unflappable and the kids adore them.
Genevieve, or Viv, as we call her, was a dramatic baby. She cried. A lot. For hours most evenings. And when we came home from our much-needed date, Vickie was in the living room, holding a swaddled and sleeping Viv. It looked so peaceful, if you didn’t look too closely to see how our competent neighbor looked slightly shelled.
“I just got her to sleep,” Vickie told me. “Is she like this every night?”
Right then and I there, I felt so much relief that it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it, two years later.
“Yes!” I practically shouted.
“You must be exhausted,” Vickie told me.
I was. I was so, so exhausted. Every night, for months, Viv cried. She screamed. She thrashed. We were at the pediatrician’s office nearly every week checking her for reflux, trying reflux meds, cutting dairy out of my own diet, looking for an answer, any answer, for why she cried so much every night. Jack wasn’t like this. I was so naïve to think all babies are about the same. We did a swallow study, different reflux meds, put rice cereal in bottles for her, elevated her head, swaddled her tighter and looser. Eventually, I gave up everything, and she slept in her swing until at least 9 months. So much so that she almost needed a helmet for a flat spot on her head. My husband considered installing a plug in our swing, to save us on batteries.
We never found any real reason for her crying – even though I paid enough in co-pays to easily put our pediatrician’s three daughters through med school. It was worth it, though, for her patience and kindness when I would come in, frazzled and lost. She would listen and look in Viv’s ears and throat and tell me one more time that I was a good mom.
There were so many nights I cried as Viv cried, wondering what I was doing wrong, why my beautiful, loved daughter cried so much at bedtime. My husband, Philip, would come home from work and find us both sobbing, and quietly and gently take her from my arms. I would throw on running clothes and go as far and as fast as I could, to somehow relieve my own stress. And then ask myself, is this my fault? Am I too stressed out, and she can feel it?
So I was grateful –thrilled!—that Viv cried so hard for my patient neighbor. I finally knew: It wasn’t me. She just was a baby who cried.
The Period of PURPLE Crying is a campaign aimed to educate parents and other caregivers on why it is that babies most often cry. There is a video for parents to watch before they leave the hospital, a DVD and a brochure that helps parents understand: Sometimes babies just cry.
And when they do, you shouldn’t shake them.
Everyone knows that. Right?
I remember my sister-in-law commenting that a billboard advising you should “Never, ever, ever shake a baby” was insulting – of course you shouldn’t.
But I ask myself: Did she spend 9 months bouncing, walking the floor, swaying, shushing, and crying right along with a baby who wouldn’t stop sobbing? I’m a mostly patient mom. I don’t have a quick temper. I love my children with every part of me.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t many evenings when I stood in the dark in Viv’s room and thought: “I understand why people do it.” That doesn’t mean I did it, considered it, or condone it. But I can see how you might lose control, how you might just be there, at the end of your rope, and do something you’ll regret forever.
Sometimes, when my husband was at work, and I had somehow navigated the misery that was getting a 2-year-old to bed while the baby cried relentlessly, I would have to stop. Step back. And call a friend. Once I called a friend just to let her hear how hard Viv was crying. “Listen,” I said, as I held up the phone. “She won’t stop.” I knew she was fine. She was safe, fed, dry, warm, loved. But I needed to hear someone say, “Wow, she can really cry,” and we would laugh for a moment, and I would feel human again. It was just enough energy to get through that night.
And with the ease of smartphones, I took more than one picture of Viv, either finally asleep in her swing or mouth wide open, face red, screaming, to text to my best friend. “She looks like the little old lady from Looney Tunes,” my friend would reply.
I needed that laugh.
I would remind myself of what my friend Joan told me repeatedly – “Most children survive. And most parents do, too.”
And we did. We survived. Now, Viv is the world’s best sleeper. She asks for her blankie on her back, her baby doll and her cup of water, curls up and says, “Night-night, Mommy.” And that’s that.
She’s still feisty. She can throw award-winning tantrums. But she’s 2, and you expect that from a 2-year-old. I like the state campaign reminding parents to expect crying from a baby, too.
It helps to know it’s normal. That others have been there. That this, too, shall pass.
Because when you’re in the thick of it, you feel so alone, so smothered, so helpless.
Set the baby down in a safe place. Call a friend. Do push-ups. Stress eat ice cream right from the carton. Then remind yourself: I’m a good mom. A great mom. And this is a good baby. A loved, wanted, and cherished baby.
And we’re going to get through this.