A Screaming Baby
Today I am thinking about when my husband and I first brought our new daughter home from the hospital.
We were in the hospital for four days after my c-section because everything went so rough. When I finally had enough strength to go home, we went home. Our daughter was a perky newborn with bright curious eyes peering out of her baby carrier and almost a smirk on her little face. We have a picture. I can prove it. I recalled vaguely that on the occasions that we sent her to the nursery so we could rest, I could hear her doing a little crying down the hall. OK, a lot of crying. In retrospect, she was probably one of the babies that the nurses rolled their eyes about and said, “Lord, there she goes again. Somebody make it stop!”
I remember pulling up in the driveway with her for the first time and thinking, Lord, what have we done? We carried her in with me walking very carefully, as my new c-section scar pulled and tugged and burned. We installed me in the leather recliner in my husband’s downstairs office where, unbeknownst to me, I was going to spend the next four weeks.
Our new arrival had colic. Bad. As near as I could tell, she hated being alive and it was all my fault. Almost every waking moment, she screamed. For hours. I walked her. My husband walked her. My mom walked her. It was worst around (what would have been) bedtime in the evening. She bowed up and wailed and screamed as if someone were burning a hole through her stomach. She was breastfed, so I couldn’t imagine what was bothering her. It never occurred to me that it might have been nothing identifiable at all.
A week passed, and my folks went on home. My husband had decided that my time at home with the new baby would be a good time for him to travel for work, since I wasn’t on call when I was off on maternity leave. So he flew away on a work trip. Every day he would call and check on me, and every day I would tell him the same thing: “Remember that chair I was sitting in when you left? I’m still in it.” I don’t remember eating. I don’t remember cooking anything. I really didn’t have a chance. I had a newborn who, if set down for a moment, bowed up and screamed as if she were being branded. So in the chair I sat, all alone, in mid-July, with a wailing infant who could not be comforted, except when she was eating. And eat she did.
One day I decided I was sick and tired of being stuck in the house. Why, I would put her in her stroller and we would go out for a walk around the neighborhood. A great idea, except my baby despised her car seat. And her stroller. And being set down. And buckled in. And the July heat when we went outside. I put her in her stroller and rolled her outside. Immediately she screamed so loud her voice echoed off the houses around us. I slunk back inside with my terrible baby.
Another day, I decided to go for a ride to Sonic, for one of my favorite lemonberry slushes. This would be the first time I had left the house in over a week, save for the time I barely got out the door with the stroller. I was determined. I was going. I put her in her car seat and she began to scream, immediately. I was still determined. I drove all the way to the Sonic with her screaming in the back seat. On the way there, I began to cry. I was a terrible mother. I was making my infant scream with misery because of my selfishness in wanting to go out to Sonic. I arrived there sobbing, with big tears rolling down my face. She was still screaming. I placed my drink order in between sobs. Then I climbed out of the car and walked around to the back seat to comfort my daughter. She still screamed as if I had beaten her. Just then, the carhop came out to the car with my drink. She recognized me. “Doctor…?” she said. She looked from fat sobbing me in my grungy maternity sweats to my screaming daughter who was inconsolable, set the drink down, and backed away. I took my drink and slunk back to the house. The kid screamed until I took her inside and got her out of her carseat.
It was about this time that I called my mother. I hated to ask for help. It KILLED me to ask for help. But I begged her to come back and help me. I was all alone. This was all I could take. When my daughter wasn’t eating (which she did a lot) or sleeping, which she did very little, I had to keep holding her and keep moving with her. This was the only way to keep her from screaming. I put her in a little sling and walked the house endlessly. I looked sadly at all my jewelry making supplies and thought about how I would never use them again. If she fell asleep and I dared just to sit down for an instant to rest, she jerked awake and the Godawful screaming started again. It was just like flipping a switch. Unbelievable. Thank God, Mom showed up to bail me out. She stayed until my husband got home again.
My husband decided to take over and get online and find a cure for the colic. You wouldn’t believe how many websites there are on how to shut up a colicky baby. We put her in the car and drove her – she screamed. We put her in her carseat on the dryer and turned it on, because the warmth and vibrations were supposed to soothe her to sleep. She screamed. I have a picture of her in her carseat, screaming on the dryer. We got her gas drops, and these homeopathic stomach drops, and she screamed. I cut out dairy products in case she was lactose intolerant. She screamed. My husband found this ridiculous site that had a two step process to break the colic cycle. You were supposed to pat the baby to bring up any gas, then distract the baby (how?) to keep it from bowing up and blowing its stomach up full of air again. I wound up wild-eyed chanting, “PAT the baby. DISTRACT the baby. PAT the baby. DISTRACT the baby.” until my husband took her out of my hands for fear I had lost my mind. One night my mom found my husband in his office, passed out with a screaming baby on his lap. She took the baby and walked her for several hours, screaming all the while. I had been sent upstairs because it was obvious I was losing my mind.
We took the baby in for her two week checkup and mentioned that we might, er, have a little problem with colic. My pediatrician prescribed Prilosec for possible reflux, and we were supposed to tilt her bassinette up in case stomach acid was coming up her throat. This seemed to help a little, but basically, she just screamed. She screamed for several months. Then gradually, she just stopped. It never occurred to me that this was causing postpartum depression. I was in this mental fadeout fog that made any kind of perception impossible. Looking back, it was more of a postpartum psychosis. But I didn’t see that then.
Was my daughter the most difficult baby ever? No. Probably not. Was she too much for me to handle? Yes, definitely so. Despite my love of photography, I took not one photograph of her that entire time. All the pictures we have, my husband took. Although I didn’t put it into words, did I hate my baby? Yes, I think I did. Yet I loved her fiercely all the while. Looking back, this was an insane period in my life. At the time, it was just a blur. Thank goodness we have outgrown that horrible time and my daughter is a healthy seven year old who, despite a penchant and flair for drama, doesn’t scream and cry any more.