I put myself out there in this blog a lot, I think. I risk judgment and ridicule because I think what I have to say might reach someone who needs to hear it. Yes, many of my posts are entertaining (I hope) or simply reviews of our homeschooling lives or silly things the kids do and say. But, on occasion, I write something that could be a bit controversial. Today might be one of those days.
I've thought about this post for a long time. It's a topic that I've mulled over in my mind for seven and a half years now. I wasn't sure how to write about it, though. I'm still not...but I'm going to give it a try. Recently there was a 4-month-old taken to the hospital and found to have been repeatedly abused by his mother (story here). This is one of those things that is easy to feel badly about, even get angry about, but to also let go of easily because it won't happen to you or me, right?
I have to admit that I have a whole range of emotions that go through me when hearing these stories. One thing I'm able to do now, though, that I wasn't eight years ago, is to empathize. I think I tend to be a pretty compassionate person anyway and I'd hope (although I don't remember for certain) that along with feeling angry on behalf of the child, I've always felt some sympathy for the parent who shakes her child to stop him from crying. Some of you might wonder why I'd bother, but I don't think most of these situations start with an adult wanting to harm a child. I like to believe there's not malicious intent. In that assumption, some sympathy can be found. But, how did I work my way toward empathy - feeling like I might know the parent's heartache, frustration, uncertainty?
I became a parent myself.
I became a mama to an incredibly beautiful little boy. And three weeks later my husband sailed away on his submarine and I curled up with my baby to nurse him and grow him and love him. Jace wasn't a colicky baby. Overall he was pretty good, I think. And I wasn't completely alone for that three month patrol. We have three sets of parents and they all came out at some point to help out and see their new grandbaby. I also had friends a plenty within driving distance to bring over dinner or just come hang out. And still, with all that I had going for me, I was overwhelmed. I was exhausted, an emotional wreck more than normal, trying to put on a "got it all together" face anytime anyone was around. I missed my husband but thought I was supposed to be strong. Loved my baby but wanted him to sleep...just a little...when not touching me. I was overwhelmed.
And one day he wouldn't stop crying and I tried everything to help him. I changed him, fed him, burbed him, swaddled him, unwrapped him, rocked him, cuddled him, cooed at him, yelled at him, cried with him, sobbed with him.
Thought about shaking him and screaming at him to shut up.
Then I put him down in his crib and walked as far away as I could get in the house. I cried and cried and scolded myself and berated myself and couldn't believe what a horrible person I was and how absolutely awful it was that I wanted to hurt my baby. I wanted to shut him up so badly and that was wrong and horrible and I was tired and hurt and didn't know what else to do.
After I calmed down enough to realize I needed help I wasn't sure who to call. I didn't want anyone to report me and have my baby taken away. I didn't want anyone else to realize what a horrible mother I was, even though I obviously was. I called my mom.
I don't remember the whole conversation, but I remember saying something like, "I think I understand why people hurt their kids. They don't know what else to do." I don't know what mom said back to me either. I do remember that Jace was still crying at the other end of the house.
Whatever mom said, whatever I did...I didn't shake my baby. I didn't hit him. I made it through that ordeal, that day, but I came out of it with a little more empathy for parents that don't make the decision I did - to put him down and walk away. And not everyone has a mother who can talk them down from thousands of miles away.
So, I'm sharing this today, feeling a little exposed, because I know that it's not uncommon to not only feel at wit's end after having a baby, but to be there. I know I'm not the only one who's felt overwhelmed by a baby. I know someone is feeling that way now. Maybe it's you. Maybe a friend of yours.
I want to be clear that I'm in no way excusing the mother of the little boy in the article for what she did. I am saying, though, that without knowing more, I'm not willing to say she's a bad mother and throw away the key just yet. She did some incredibly horrible things (I should probably say allegedly) and has a long way to go before she should be allowed to have her baby back, but I do not think I can judge her completely.
Perhaps if she'd reached out or someone had touched her, the situation would be different. We'll never know.
So, what if it is you that's feeling this way?
Call someone you know
Talk to your family doctor
Find a counselor or clergy member
Walk away (put baby someplace safe and collect yourself)
Sleep (dishes and laundry and whatever else can wait)
Buy some clearance paper plates
Eat your fruits and vegetables (most can be eaten with one hand!)
Connect with a parenting group or La Leche League in your area
Know you're not alone
And if it's a friend?
Stop by with cookies or dinner
Let her sit with baby and visit with you while you do the dishes (don't ask, just do)
Take baby for an hour or two so she can sleep uninterrupted, or shower
Offer to pick up something at the store
Invite her over for a meal
Ask how you can help
Suggest she talk to someone
Call in outside help if it's needed
Let her know she's not alone
My mantra for parenting has always been, "I am not the first to go through this. Others have survived it. So will I." You are not the first and you can come to the brink of injuring your baby, maybe you've already gone over that line, but there's help. There's a way back. You are not alone. You are not horrible. You're a parent. Others have survived it. You can too.