And then.....abruptly......a baby starts shrieking from two booths down. You jerk your head up, spell broken, heart skipping a couple beats. Those of you with children think of your own kids, panicked for a second, wondering if they're ok. The sexy, lazy haze starts to dissipate and out of anguish for your lost moment, you roll your eyes and quietly, coolly say,
"Really? A baby, here? Can someone please get that kid a bottle or something?"
We've all been there. I've said those things. Those are my words, my attitude showing.
But I've also been her, the lady with the baby who won't stop crying.
My daughters were both insanely crabby infants. From the moment they were born, they were tears, they were pain, they were acid reflux, they were blue faces gasping for breath between screams. Those first few months - and by few I mean six - were the most terrible months of my life. The isolation I felt, like nobody understood, nobody listened to me, nobody could help me, was insurmountable.
And then there was the judgement. With the second baby my husband was around to run errands and help out, but with my first, he was deployed and I lived alone. My new baby and I had to go out, whether we wanted to or not. I felt like 1,000 eyes were on me each time I went in public and my baby inevitably started wailing. I felt like everyone could smell my fear, see my hysteria, and were judging me for it, mercilessly.
I went back to work two short weeks after my first was born. She kept me up from 9PM to 3AM every. Single. Night. I worked from 7AM to 3PM at a dental office about 40 minutes away from my home. She cried the entire way to daycare. She cried all day. She cried the entire ride home. She cried all night. I remember coming to pick her up one day and the woman I'd hired for daycare had left my baby strapped in her carseat in front of a TV, blue and screaming, because she "didn't know what else to do with her!" Weeks of this. Months of this. I brought the baby to the doctor relentlessly. Something had to be wrong. Nothing, they told me. She was perfectly healthy. Colic.
I did everything. Ran water. Held her upright while she slept. Fed on demand. Fed on a schedule. Car rides. Tummy bands. Breastmilk. Formula supplements. Special bottles. Gas drops. Rocked. Walked. Music. Swaddled. Pacifiers.
I did everything.
It did nothing.
My baby was miserable. I was miserable and I was lost. I didn't even know who I was as I stood there, night after night, tears streaming down my face as I ran the bathroom faucet, the bathroom fan, holding my screaming red infant, trying to breastfeed her but getting nowhere, understanding with so much shame, so much guilt, so much pain, why people have shaken their babies. I was failing. That was me failing.
Or so I thought.
My girls are now 2 and 8. They are blessedly healthy, deliciously bright, and perfectly ordinary. They eat good food, sleep for 8-10 hours at a stretch, and have never seen the inside of an intensive care unit. My 8-year-old loves to read and my 2-year-old loves to sing. When they cry, they tell me why. When they are happy, I see it all over their faces. I suppose I didn't fail them, after all. I suppose I did just fine.
If I could go back and speak to myself during those insane, terrible months, what would I say? What do I say to any mom or dad asking for help with their crabbypatty infant?
1. You are an incredible parent. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do. Sure, exhaust yourself trying literally every option out there. It helps pass the time. But know this....time is the only true cure for colic. This, this terrible time, will not last forever. I repeat - this will not last forever. Soon you will be past this phase. It will be over soon. Do not give up on yourself.
2. It's ok to not be ok. Don't feel guilty because you're unhappy with your healthy baby. Don't hate yourself for complaining when you know it could be so, so much worse. Stop hating on yourself, period. This is not easy. This was never intended to be easy. You don't always need to suck it up, cupcake. It's ok to be mad, it's ok to feel disappointed, it's ok to feel anything you are feeling....feelings are not right or wrong...they are feelings. Feel them and give yourself the opportunity to be a real human being.
*Side note: It's important, especially for new moms, to document your feelings the first few months after you've had your baby (or forever, if you like it). Keep a journal, write a smiley/sad face on the calender, whatever you need to do - record how you feel each day. Recognize patterns and if you see yourself going two full weeks without a single smiley face, talk to your physician. I struggled with post-partum with my first baby. You CAN feel better. Medicines are NOT permanent. They are temporary solutions to a temporary problem. Do it. You are worth it. If you've been waiting for a sign, this is it. Go get your joy again.
3. Realize your baby truly is not sick. She really isn't. The doctor said so....seven times. So did the other doctor you took her to for a 2nd opinion. Yes, it sounds like she is in terrible pain. Perhaps she truly feels uncomfortable....any pain she feels at this point in her life will be the worst pain of her entire life. I promise you, she is not dying. She is going to be ok. She will stop crying....maybe not in the next few minutes, maybe not in the next hour, maybe not tonight....but eventually, she will stop because mama, she is perfectly fine.
4. Lean on other parents. I don't mean your parents, or your significant other....I mean other moms and dads...people who've had babies in the last 2-5 years. They are up-to-date on what's going on with today's infants. They get it. They will look at you and nod, completely and totally understanding what you mean. Let them watch your impossible baby. Let them bring you dinner and let them stick around while she screams. Don't be embarrassed. They get it.
5. The Gerber baby isn't real. Well, maybe she's real but you don't get to see the real...nobody gets to see the Gerber baby cry, or projectile vomit, or blowout her diaper. Don't try and "live up" to a marketing-genius' (literal) golden child. Don't compare yourself to Mary NaNaBooBoo two doors down. Sure she looks like she's got it together but we all know that's never the case. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is...well....yourself. Aim to be better than you were yesterday. That is all.
...and finally....this lovely bit of wisdom, given to me by a mother of six. Her words, as I shakily asked her for advice, sleepy eyes hooded, baby screaming in my arms:
Just gotta keep 'em alive.
Infants don't need playdates, or visitors, or toys, or church sermons, or cute clothes, or pictures with the Easter bunny. They need a caretaker, someone to feed them, touch them, keep them clean, talk to them. Don't think you're failing because she cries. You've met her needs and she is alive and healthy. You don't need to make her happy...even if you're in a restaurant and a million people are staring at you.
I've been the lady at the restaurant, rolling my eyes and feeling hateful that my night was ruined by a crying baby...but I've also been the mom who was asked to meet up with friends, friends who don't have kids and eat late, friends who I haven't seen in months, and so I go. I bring my screaming baby, and while the other Jen, the nice-dressed one, is fighting back irritation, I am fighting back tears, wondering what I'm doing wrong, hating myself and desperately trying to hide my shame, my struggle.
If this is you, the parent with the baby who won't stop crying, hear these final words from my heart, to yours:
You are not alone. You have nothing to hide. There is no shame in struggle. Struggle develops strength. This will pass, and when it does, you will see yourself as the warrior you are.
Thank you so, so much for reading.