First thing every morning, lurching from uneasy sleep to greet a world he seemed to view with mistrust, he screamed. Getting his diaper changed, he screamed. In the car seat, he screamed. Taking a bath, he screamed. Even while nursing, sometimes, he screamed, though it sounded more like drowning. And most every evening, from about 4:30 p.m. until he passed out somewhere between ten and midnight, he screamed unrelentingly.
At two months old, his skin was still yellowed by breast-milk jaundice, but his screams turned his face so red you would never know it. His tiny fists drove his fingernails into his tiny palms. His legs kicked in an uncoordinated rhythm; his back arched. Toothless mouth stretched wide in apparent agony, eyes clenched shut, hot tears streaming down his cheeks, he screamed.
This was not the baby I knew. Like most newborns, he had spent the first few weeks of his life in a drowsy haze. He slept so soundly that my husband, Jared, and I needed to tickle him awake several times a night to make sure he was eating enough. Sure, he occasionally fussed, but mostly he slept. Through long, lazy autumn days I cuddled with him on the couch, watching reruns of my favorite shows and snacking to keep my milk production up.
“He hardly ever cries,” I told my sister with pride, as if I had something to do with it.
Then, one day, shortly after he turned one month old, Jared and I took him on a short car trip through the foliage-painted hills to meet his great-grandmother. As we chatted with family members in her living room, he began to cry. I arranged him under a blanket to nurse, but to my bemusement, his crying continued. I stood up and carried him back and forth across the room, bouncing and swaying, but he only became more agitated. He cried for the rest of the brief visit, and by the time we left I felt uneasy, as though I had committed some sort of faux pas by being unable to calm my child in someone else’s house. He fell asleep on the ride back home, and Jared and I decided that his stomach must have been upset, perhaps from gulping air while feeding from the bottle we had given him earlier in the day.
For the next few weeks, as the crying worsened and lengthened, I continued to find reasons. Excuses, I would come to recognize later. He was overtired. Overstimulated. Too hot, or perhaps too cold. I hadn’t changed his diaper quickly enough. I had eaten garlic with dinner. It was surely something passing that I, in my new-parent ignorance, had overlooked, but that I could eventually pinpoint and rectify. I would figure it out and return him to the good baby he was meant to be. Throughout my life, I had found success at nearly everything I put my mind to, and having a baby would be no different. I wouldn’t be the mother whose baby disrupted playgroup or dinner. No one would roll their eyes or feel sorry for me or opine on what I was doing wrong in raising this child. Tomorrow, I would get it right, and he wouldn’t scream.
From OH, BABY! True Stories About Conception, Adoption, Surrogacy, Pregnancy, Labor, and Love.
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Leah Laben is a recovering attorney, part-time shepherd, and full-time mother. She lives with her husband and two young sons on a small... read more