Monday, June 11, 2007

Shaken Baby Syndrome

I never understood, before I had kids, how someone could hurt a child. Before I had kids, I had never felt the depths of frustration that I've felt with my kids - when they just wouldn't stop crying, and they just wouldn't sleep, and nothing would comfort them (or me).

I have been to some very dark places inside of myself since MG was born. She has not been an easy baby. She is very wakeful, and very alert, and has always needed constant stimulation and interaction - almost since the day she was born. She is an exhausting child. Now that we have C, who is a much more typical baby, I know that this is just part of who MG is - not any failure on my part. Parenting her differently wouldn't have made any difference - she would still be MG.

She's not bad, she's intense.

Ironically, the things that make her so tough are also the things that make her so wonderful. I can see that now. It wasn't so easy to see when she was really small. When she was really small, I didn't know if things were ever going to get better. Sure, people told me that it would, but those peoples' kids were also sleeping through the night by 6 months. They didn't have My Kid. The couldn't really Know.

The only person I could really take much advice from was my mom, because I was the same way when I was a baby. So, she promised that it would get better, and I believed her, and I learned to call her when I Just Didn't Think I Could Take It Anymore. And she was always there, even when I scared her.

Combine all of the above with a raging case of postpartum depression, and I was practically a ticking time bomb. Seeing those pictures of that little boy just made my heart ache, because it was very literally, "There, but for the grace of God, go I..."

I think it's important to talk about these issues - frustration in parenting, shaken baby syndrome, postpartum depression - because they are so real, and so common. Normal people, people you love, people like me feel angry at their babies. It's not just something that happens to bad mothers.

I am a good mother. I hope that you can see it in the way I write about my kids (and if you know me in real life, the way I am with them). I am a good mother, and I almost shook MG. We tried for two years to get pregnant. I wanted to have a child to the depths of my soul. And I got so angry and frustrated and tired and strung out that I almost shook her. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.

I am putting this out there, my confession, so that other parents who may read this someday will know that they are not alone. It is normal to feel angry. Feeling angry doesn't make you a bad parent. Thinking is one thing, acting is another.

I wrote earlier that I am grateful that I have always had the strength and clarity to put my babies down, gently, and walk away. One time, I almost didn't. MG bit me, hard, while nursing. When I scolded her, she laughed. I won't attempt to justify the rage I felt, I will just say that at that moment, I came so close to losing it that it scared me. I thank God that I walked away. It wasn't easy. I went into the bathroom and screamed into a towel. I cried. And I stayed there until I had myself under control again.

Even a good driver can experience road rage. Even a good parent can experience fury toward his or her child. The important thing is what you do with those feelings. Do you run the other driver off the road, or do you pull over until you cool off? Do you shake your baby, or do you walk away? I am grateful that I walked away. I hope that other parents who might read this will feel less alone, and will understand that their dark thoughts don't make them bad parents, and will remember this if they ever get to the point where they're in danger of losing it:

Walk away. Breathe. Breathe again. Deeply. You're going to be okay, and so is your child. This too shall pass.

This too shall pass.


Erin said...

I had written this huge long comment, only to have the phone ring and my attention diverted for a few moments. The computer took that opportunity to completely shut down to install some new updates. So here I go again...

I envisioned myself so elated and happy when Katelynn made her arrival. However, I had not anticipated on being up most of the night, 3 hours of intense pushing and a c-section. When I came back from recovery, still in an anaesthia fog, I did not want to hold her. In fact, I just didn't care. I wanted to sleep. Besides, who was this little person anyway??

Next thing I know the lactation consultant and nurses are in the room (maybe the nurses never left, I'm really not sure) and it's time to start breastfeeding! Yea! Katelynn did fine, but it turned out that some of the drugs in my system were in her system (completely normal) and Matt & I congratulated ourselves upon having a laid-back baby. What a shock we were in for since as we learned later, c-sections can delay milk production and Katelynn's more intense than we had thought.

By the time I came home, breastfeeding was a nightmare, as was simply walking around. Thank goodness that the pediatrician's office recommended we bottle feed her while the pain medication got out of my system (and my milk came in).

I don't know if I had postpartum depression or not. I do know that my hormones were raging and hardly anything would set me to crying. My family left a couple of hours earlier than I had anticipated. I mean, I had stuff I wanted to get done before they left. There was the laundry and I had to shower and eat! But no, they had to get on the road and leave me by myself with this little baby. What the heck were they thinking? I think I managed to finish the laundry and take a shower. I remember eating a container of yogurt, but by 5pm I had a screaming baby, very low blood sugar and a husband not home from work yet. I felt like the worst mother ever. I couldn't stop crying and I couldn't put Katelynn down. The moment I did, she would cry. She wanted me and I wanted space.

Thankfully Matt came home and he plopped her in her carseat and they went to Walgreens to get something. We had been talking on his way home. Correction: he had been talking, Katelynn & I were crying. He gave me the chance to actually eat something and to get some rest. Katelynn fell asleep in the carseat.

Another time while on maternity leave, I think Katelynn had a dirty diaper and she was tired or hungry. It seemed like a couple of things hit her at once and she would cry until all the things were taken care of. Well, I'm only one Mommy and I can only do one thing at a time so I decided take care of the diaper first. She would not quit screaming and I had it. I gripped her little arms and I shouted back at her to be quiet. And she just kept crying. I knew I really did not want to shake her and the frustration was too much. I had the presence of mind to hurry up and take care of her, put her in her crib and walk away for a few moments.

But I felt so ashamed that I had yelled at her and I told Matt about it. He reminded me again that crying is a baby's only source of communication when they're that little. I did the right thing by making sure she was safe and walking away. Even now he can tell when I am coming close to my frustration threshold and he steps in, takes her from me and makes me leave the room to do something for myself.

Katelynn can be intense at times, much like her dad, but overall she's a sweet kid and I love her so much! I don't cry endlessly like I used to, but if she starts crying in the car, my stomach will just knot up. Matt will look at me and say, "It still bothers you, doesn't it?" and I'm like, "Yeah, I think it always will!" If she's crying at home, we have more freedom to figure out what's going on and if either of us is really frustrated, we hand her off to the other parent and we walk away.

Will I ever yell at her again? Goodness, I hope not! My mom was not a yeller to us kids in our house that I can remember growing up. I know she got pretty mad at Dad quite a bit and I'm sure my other siblings could tell a different story. (I'm the youngest) I think that Matt & I are a good team and I am so blessed to be married to him. And I am equally blessed that he is so willing to be so involved with both of us.

So in the wise words of our mothers, it really does pass...eventually. It's still not easy to walk away and not lash out, but we are capable of putting our child's need for safety and our need for calming down at the highest priority. Yes, I am right there with ya...

Mommy said...

We had trouble breastfeeding with MG, too. And now, even though things are going swimmingly with C, I am still totally paranoid that she isn't getting enough (she weighs 11 lb. 5 oz, as of today, at 3 months old, so I am trying to quit worrying). Those are some bad memories. I wanted it to work SO badly. But it took a lot to get there. And now, I can't get her to stop! Oh, the irony!!

I know what you mean, about feeling ashamed. I have to "confess" to BJ, too, when I lose my temper or have a bad moment with the girls. Sometimes it helps, sometimes I continue to feel guilty. My mom still cries over things that happened when I was a baby, though, so maybe guilt is just something we have to learn to live with as mothers... It goes with the territory, I guess. No one can do everything right all the time, all we can do is try.

Crying in the car drives me up a wall, too. We're biologically wired so that it drives us nuts, so that we'll do something to get them to stop. It ensures the survival of the species. Dads don't get this wiring (lucky them).

Things really started to get good for us around 1 year, maybe even earlier than that. I finally found my "groove" with her, right around the time that I found out I was pregnant with C! It gets easier every day, though, until they're teenagers. I'm sure I'll have a LOT to blog about, then! :)

You're a great mom.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks guys. Erin, your scenario was/is my life... My DD is 2 now and I still cry at everything that is a slight bit sad... so nice to know it IS normal and I'm totally not on my own... I have thought for the last 2 yrs I have been.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for being "real" about your mommyhood! It isn't a fairytale or a romantic comedy--it is real life. I too suffered PPD--very severely.

Thankfully, I was able to get on some great meds that fed my brain what it needed to heal.