For Crying Out Loud

****June 2015*****

I read one of those comments on a blog last night. You know the type: “If you breastfeed your baby, and carry him all the time, and sleep with him, he won’t cry. Babies don’t cry if you do those things. Only babies whose mothers somehow alienate themselves from them cry.” Well, bullshit. They might help, of course, but a crying baby isn’t the sign of a mother who’s failing somehow. `Don’t let anyone ever persuade you otherwise.

Nine years ago today I got the bus into town.

If I had been on Facebook, it would have been worthy of a post: “I got the bus into town today!!!!!”, but I wasn’t on Facebook back then, not least because I was a heavily pregnant English thirty-something, rather than a lissom Ivy Leaguer.

It wasn’t the getting the bus that would have made the event post-worthy, but rather the date I did it. It was, according to that little cardboard wheel in the midwife’s file, my Estimated Due Date. Although I knew that babies didn’t tend to keep to schedule, I still had a hankering suspicion that this would be the day that would forever mark my Before from my After. More than that, after weeks and months of (usually kindly) comments from strangers, I was desperate – in that self-absorbed way every first-time mother should be entitled to by law – for someone to ask me when I was due and to beam “Today!” at them, just to see them scurrying for kettles of hot water and clean towels. Or just scurrying.

It taught me a lesson about parenting, that journey into town. The bus was late, just as the baby turned out to be. The day was cold and raw and I was too uncomfortable to do any shopping. And not a single, solitary granny or shop keeper even made reference to the bump sticking out under the top button of my coat which was the only one I could still fasten.

Nothing, from that point on, went as I’d expected it to. The Baby Whose Birthday Should Have Been Today eventually arrived ten days later, in theatre. The newborn clothes I’d packed didn’t fit him and his little toes curled up in protest like tiny jester’s feet inside the babygros.

He cried, and he cried, and he cried. We came home, and he cried. I fed him, and he cried. He’d doze, fitfully, and wake crying. My memories of that winter are of pushing him in his pram for hours till he’d drop off, only to arrive home, rain dripping off every bit of me, trying to manoeuvre the pram up the step of our small terraced house and startling him awake. And crying.

It was suggested I tried a baby carrier. He cried. Someone said that babies don’t like moses baskets, that I should let him sleep in with me. He cried. At the mentions of colic or reflux, I badgered the doctor for prescriptions to try and help. He cried (baby, not doctor). The health visitor suggested baby massage classes at the Sure Start centre, but we were asked to leave because (you’ve guessed it) the crying was setting all the other babies off.

Why did he cry? I have no idea. He is now the most chilled out of my three children, much more so than the other two who tended to cry only when any self-respecting baby would do so. I think, although it doubtless makes no sense, that he just didn’t like being a baby.

It’s all a long time ago now. I thought I was over it all, till I saw a Facebook post from a friend of a friend on maternity leave with her first baby. She was glowing, fulfilled; doing all the mummy things she’d dreamed of while her brand new little boy sleeps and feeds and gurgles. He has been a long time coming, and I am delighted for her. Someone, who possibly hadn’t found the early days like that, commented on her luck. “I’m just so happy and relaxed, and I think it’s rubbed off on him”, was the reply. And I was back to all those miserable, guilty feelings of nearly nine years ago.

Even writing this, I am thinking of people close to me who would do anything to have a baby – perma-crying or not – in their arms. I feel uncomfortable writing something that could sound ungrateful.

It’s just that we beat ourselves up over our babies: how we birth them, how we feed them, how we bond with and raise them. To some extent, so we should: the early days really matter. But it all lends itself to a culture of judging and feeling judged, an atmosphere in which we come to feel that we have more influence over circumstances and the individuals who are our children than we probably do. The lesson I learned from the bus trip that day – that you can be as well prepared and as positive-minded as you like, but that life – and babies – don’t always work that way – still holds true, but it’s not always easy to remember.

There is so much advice out there for new mothers: from strangers on the streets, from acquaintances on social media, from experts making a living selling books and apps and courses all promising to solve our problems. Some of it is helpful of course; sometimes there are things that can make a difference, difficulties that need to be identified and dealt with. In the midst of it all, though, I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that it is, in so many ways, a lottery. So much of it is beyond our control, right from conception onwards, and that applies too to how our babies are. There isn’t a default “calm baby” waiting inside every squawking wakeful infant, just waiting for its mum to crack the code. Sometimes it’s just a case of hanging on in there, being as positive as you can, and trusting to time to do the job.

And if you have one of those crying babies? Once you’ve checked you didn’t leave the tags on the vest and that you didn’t use chilli oil for the post-bath massage (true stories, folks), add a pat on the back to that swaying, baby-holding stance of yours, and don’t listen to anyone who says (or makes you feel) that it’s somehow your fault.

Oh, and from personal experience, I don’t recommend you read We Need To Talk About Kevin. Not yet, anyway.


14 thoughts on “For Crying Out Loud

  1. A fact that every mother of a colicky baby should know: research has shown that these crying babies do not have raised cortisol levels, ie they are not particularly in distress, however it may appear (and however much distress they are causing their parents).
    Here’s a link, but there are lots more studies with similar findings.

  2. My first didn’t really cry at all, apart from the time I accidentally elbowed her in the head. I assumed, too, that it was because I was a chilled parent. She is now the most uptight, highly sensitive pain in the arse 5 year old I have ever met.

    I was equally as relaxed with my second but he cried a lot for the first 9 months. Not as much as your little one by the sound of it, but certainly more than I was used to. He’s now 2, and uber relaxed about pretty much everything in life.

    I have no idea what this means but anecdotally me being relaxed clearly made bugger all difference in the long run!

  3. Yes, oh yes! 23 and a half years into my parenting journey I still have a gut wrenching guilt from time to time about my second baby.
    As a nursery nurse I thought I had baby’s sussed, something of a baby whisperer by all accounts. My first baby did nothing to dispel this myth, a model baby who’s mind I appeared to be able to read, anticipating her every need before she even knew she needed it. I metaphorically patted myself on the back.
    Roll on almost two years and the entrance of baby number two……for roughly a year I felt as though I had been run over by a bus, I felt as I hadn’t the first clue about babies, I felt guilt…I loved my son but I found him very difficult to like…(it was a long time before I could say that out loud)…no matter what I did he cried…the only time he didn’t cry was when he was attached to the boob…even then sometimes managing to cry. Over time things gradually got easier, the more he was able to do the happier he was, and like you I came to the conclusion that he was an old soul trapped and frustrated in a baby body.
    With lots of personal development work over the years I have come to realise just how much I learned through him, as a parent, as a person…and now I look back and feel grateful for that education (which has continued and no doubt will continue as long as we both walk this earth)…
    The belief that so many people seem to have that there is an answer to every challenge with babies and children is pervasive and often not helpful, but deeply set within our culture (and possibly just human nature).
    But as a fellow ‘sufferer’ of a challenging baby I would like to share a virtual hug and to those out there going through it, it doesn’t last for ever xx

  4. Just reading your post brought back that awful stomach feeling that my ‘difficult’ first baby gave me. He was always too awake, barely napped as a newborn (and even now) and cried, whinged and complained all the time. He was my contrary conundrum

    I avoided and left baby groups early because he wouldn’t stop crying. Mind you, he had milk intolerance and silent reflux, so he was genuinely miserable.

    The more we are open about the difficult baby times. The better we make it for new mums to admit that their baby isn’t perfect and not to torture them selves when baby isn’t ‘contented’. X

  5. I was obsessed with trying to crack the code! Took a second, less crying-all-the-time baby to finally make me realise that it wasn’t MY fault. So much guilt that I wasn’t relaxed and happy, and all completely unnecessary.

  6. Ah brilliant post! I need to learn to stop feeling guilty about EVERY single thing I do (or don’t do). Until recently I thought I had a calm relaxed baby but she’s getting more difficult every day and of course I wonder what it is I did to make her this way. I mean, it must be me, right? No, of course not but I still think that way. It makes no sense whatsoever!

    Jenna at Tinyfootsteps xx

  7. This post really resonated with me, my third child cried and cried too. Having had two kids, I was ready for anything but the crying ended up making me cry most of the time too. You are so right that there sometimes is no rhyme or reason. Like you we tried everything, even cranial osteopathy! It turned out that there was a reason with my son and it was only after a random visit to a locum doctor who said straight away that he was lactose intolerant and he was right. After months of crying, we suddenly had a normal baby. He certainly isn’t the calmest child now sadly but I often think back to those early days.

  8. Both of mine cried. One with reflux. The other with leukaemia. He died with it, crying until he could no longer cry. And of course, even now, I feel it was my fault, as irrational as it even looks on the iPad screen, as I am typing this. Guilty for wanting them. Guilty for being stressed out during pregnancy. Guilty for not being able to take their pain away. Guilty for wanting what my heart has always wanted to be, ever since I was a little girl, stuffing pillows under my T-shirt. A mummy.xx

  9. I had a baby that didn’t sleep. At 6 months I recorded how much: 4.5 hours in total for a period of 24 hours (longest stretch was 2.5 hours…the rest was in in 15-45 minute chunks). My doctor said this was in the realm of normal. I was demented with the lack of sleep. The best support I got during this time was from La Leche League (who I had started going to right from her birth). They helped by assuring me that I was doing nothing wrong.

    She didn’t really improve wrt sleeping until she started walking (luckily, early, 9 months) and then things got great once she started running.

    Even now, 20 years after her birth, I flinch at the thought of those first couple of years.

    Great post. Thanks.

  10. You’ve described all of this “baby/motherhood not living up to expectations’ thing so very eloquently. I had a horrible time with my son until he was about 4 months and I remember searching so hard for answers. I now suspect he had mild reflux, and that the doctors missed it, but perhaps I’m still just searching for answers.

    The thing is that we are indeed burdened with huge expectations, externally as well as internally, and not enjoying looking after him or not being able to calm him simply wasn’t what I expected. He’s now a fantastic, happy, very funny almost-two-year-old, but I still can’t think about his newborn days without feeling sick and sad. I have learned though, that it wasn’t my fault. Well done for having realised that too and for saying it all out loud – more mothers need to hear it.

  11. This is the first of your posts I’ve read. What a brilliant writer you are. I was right there with you when you were on the bus. Totally agree. My babies have all been fairly easy. I have worked at it but I’ve also been lucky and in all the time they slept, I never once felt smug about it. I just felt relieved. I hate judgement of any kind. I wouldn’t judge a person for cosleeping so please don’t judge me if I choose to let mine cry. Sorry you had a tough time but as you have proved ‘this too shall pass.’ Oh and I watched WNTTAK last week. Wow. Put it this way, the next day I was like the perfect mother. For a day anyway 🙂 x

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