There’s no way to tell when it’s coming. One minute, he’s perfectly content, nestled next to me nursing contentedly. The next, he’s screaming and clawing at my breast leaving red scratches all over. He throws his head back in an angry roar. He’s in pain. I can tell by his cry. I don’t know how I know this, but I do. He’s hurting, and I don’t know how to make it stop.
What kind of mother does that make me?
I relatch him and all is calm for a moment. First a slight whimper and then the screaming again. I rub his back and speak softly to him. He’s bobbing on and off my breast. I can tell he’s hungry, but apparently it hurts to eat.
Why can’t I feed my son without causing him pain?
Finally, I sit up and prop him up against my knees. He’s happy. I sit there watching him for a few minutes until I think it’s safe to try again. This time, as soon as I lay him down next to me the screaming starts again, so I cry too. I am just so tired. I just want to sleep. I can’t keep doing this. I cannot soothe him now. He just keeps screaming, thrashing his tiny body, and lashing out at me with his hands.
In that moment, I truly understand why some people shake their babies. Utter frustration and a total loss of what to do.
But I don’t. I lay him down in the bed, which only makes him angrier, and walk away. I take a few deep breaths in the living room and pull myself together. I head back into the bedroom with a new resolve. I scoop up that tiny baby, and we try again. I hold my breath as he suckles. Waiting for the moment the screams will come, but they don’t. His body relaxes and finally sleep comes. I don’t dare move him back to the bassinet. I just lay there as still as possible and try to get some sleep, too. We both need it.
I’ve wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. I always had the natural touch with children. They loved me. And I loved them. I couldn’t wait to have one of my own. I dreamed about what it would be like.
It’s funny how dreams shift when they become a reality. Once I had a positive pregnancy test in hand–my ideas about motherhood began to shift. I wanted a natural birth, to breastfeed at least a year, to cloth diaper–all things the 18 year old me would’ve thought was crazy. But one thing never wavered: I was confident I would be a good mother.
Then, my little one arrived after a long day of induced labor with an epidural (not the labor I had envisioned!). I had been awake for nearly 24 hours and was exhausted. Most babies sleep for the first 24-48 hours of life. Not my boy. He nursed. Constantly. I remember the moment I snapped that picture. I posted it to Facebook with the caption “asleep at last”. I’m pretty sure he woke up 5 minutes later.
My confidence began to slip.
The first week at home, my mom was there, and Thomas was an angel. Seemingly, the moment she walked out the door, the crying started. Nights like the one described above were routine. He started pulling his little legs up to his chest and screaming. We tried gas drops, bicycling his legs, gripe water. Nothing helped.
My husband suggested a call to the doctor–I refused. Babies cry. It’s just what they do. I wasn’t going to be that mother.
But inside I already felt less than.
He would not sleep anywhere but on my chest or nestled next to me in bed. If he was awake, he was probably nursing. He also started spewing milk. I won’t call it spit up because that just sounds too gentle. After, he wanted to nurse some more. Motherhood was just so constant.
When he was four weeks old, my aunt brought my grandparents out to meet Thomas. I remember sitting in my rocking chair crying because I couldn’t get Thomas to stop crying. I was embarrassed. I was tired. I was lost. I was confused. They probably went home thinking I had lost it.
And I had! I remember telling Michael multiple times in the middle of those long nights, “I quit. I just want to take him back to the hospital. I don’t want to do this anymore!”
What kind of mother says that?
I had done everything right. I nursed on demand. I held or wore him. I never let him “cry it out”. I read the books and did what they said. I also followed the few instincts I had. But still, he cried. And truth be told, I didn’t even know if I really liked him. During the day, when all was well, I adored him. But at night, when this monster child came out, I wasn’t so sure anymore.
What was wrong with me?
Finally, I broke down and called the nurse at the pediatrician’s office. One doctor’s appointment, an acid reflux diagnosis, and two prescriptions later, we had an answer, a happy baby, and I was on my way to learning some of a parent’s most important lessons:
I cannot perfectly parent my way to having the perfect child–he is unique, and we are both sinners.
I cannot be a perfect mother.
God has grace for both of us.
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