“I swear,” say to the health visitor between sobs, “that if he doesn’t stop this soon, then one of us is going to get hurt.”
I was going to be a good mother. I had experience with toddlers and other small mammals. I was intelligent and patient, a nice person. I wasn’t expecting it all to be all sunshine and roses either; I knew that being a parent could be difficult, but there would be smushy kisses and tinkling laughter and delightful cooing. Babies sleep most of the time anyway, right?
Not quite. They ran out of cooing, laughing, sleeping babies at the hospital and they gave me the sort that cries for fourteen hours a day and takes up whining as a hobby the other ten. I am drowning in motherhood’s undertow.
The baby grinches all day. It’s a loud, grating, God-awful groan which sounds like the soul of an old, malcontent, chain-smoking sailor is trapped inside my son, bitching to be let out. He gnashes his teeth in his playpen and glares at me as though this unbearable existence is my fault. “My God, what’s that horrible noise?” people ask during phone conversations. “That’s the baby.” I sigh. “Really? Is there something wrong with him? He sounds like he’s in pain!”
No, he’s not in pain. He only does this when I’m with him. I think my baby hates me.
This is what I have fantasized about in the last three months:
Packing a bag with whiskey and clean knickers and checking myself into a hotel.
Packing a bag with formula and clean diapers and leaving the baby on someone’s doorstep.
Taking a sleeping pill and trying to snore through the noise.
Giving the baby a sleeping pill.
Taking the baby back to the hospital and saying “I got this baby here nine months ago but he doesn’t work properly. Can I exchange him for another one?”
This is what I have done in the last three months:
Shouted at the baby.
Shouted at myself.
Obsessively read baby books which do not have chapters on incessant griping.
Visited internet forums full of mommies fussing about problems I never get round to worrying about. (“McKenzielynn won’t eat her vegetables!!!” “Mom23angels wants to know is it better to dust first or vacuum first? Please Help!!!1!”)
Sat with my head in my hands so often that my bangs have seriously started to grow the wrong way.
This is what I have not done in the last three months:
Admitted failure. Asked anyone, even my family, for help.
It’s the most perfect spring day. The trees are budding into luscious green, snowdrops and crocuses stipple the verges, the sky is bright blue and there’s a fresh breeze tickling the last of the autumn leaves in the front yard. Watery sunshine is pouring through the windows making the living room look like a page from House Beautiful. I should be happy. But for the baby and me it still feels like winter. We have been crying for hours, because after nine months of treading water, I can’t hold on any more. (The baby, by the way, is crying because that’s just what he does when the crazy lady is around.)
He deserves better than this. I take a faltering breath and dial the number on the soggy scrap of paper crumpled in my hand. Then hang up. I dial again, and, the words tumble and torrent out of me. “I need help. My baby whines and cries all day and I’m going mad. I swear that if he doesn’t stop this soon, then one of us is going to get hurt. And I love him so much.”
“Oh sweetie”. The health visitor’s warm, clear voice sounds like a buoy bell in the fog of my misery. I hear rustling papers as she glances through the baby’s records. They detail a horror story of a botched c-section, colic, reflux and multiple, recurring, never-ending double ear infections. “You had a rotten start, the two of you but I promise that things will get better.”
She put me in touch with Moeders Informeren Moeders, a volunteer organization which pairs up experienced mothers with rookies, helping them through the first eighteen months.I visited my doctor who diagnosed post-natal depression and prescribed medication. I put away my childcare books and read Life after Birth by Kate Figes and Mother Shock by Andrea Buchanan instead which showed me that most mothers at some point regret the day they peed on a stick and saw two pink lines.
I sometimes still think I’m drowning. But now and again, the manic currents of my son’s toddler disposition give me chance to surface into the sunshine and see how well and how far we have swum.