The nursery lights are dim and the sound machine is buzzing white noise at a level that blocks the sounds of NBC Nightly News from the living room. He’s bathed and dressed for bed in a short sleeved onesie, despite the winter season. My baby boy runs hot just like his mama.
He should be eating, but instead, his fourteen week old little face is so red it’s nearing purple as he screams. He twists and contorts in my arms, refusing to take the bottle in his mouth. Attempts to encourage him to do so involve gagging and coughing. I rest him gently over my shoulder to encourage any burps that may need to come up. He just keeps screaming. We walk and we rock and we soothe, but the result is the same. I try to give him the bottle again. He takes a few greedy gulps, then sputters and howls louder. The cycle repeats all over again.
After 30 minutes of this my nerves are shot. My baby is exhausted and hungry, but the two are in direct conflict and preventing him from settling down enough to do either fully. I looked down at the bottle and saw that he’d managed to take 3 ounces of the 4.5 I’d prepared. I got up from the rocking chair and placed him in the crib to swaddle him, which pissed him off even more. We swayed back and forth in the chair again, him a now bundled burrito of crying baby and me a frazzled mess. I worried that he didn’t eat enough and if I put him down to sleep, he would wake up screaming hungry again in a few hours. I feared that something else was causing his distress, but it had escaped me. And I wondered whether I’m making a mess of this whole parenting thing.
That’s what did it.
My face crumpled to match his. I let the tears come as we kept rocking, both of us crying. The storm raged in both of us, but my son’s squall blew itself out within just minutes. I felt the tension leave his little body as sleep took over and he exhaled a long, shuddering breath. His downy head nestled heavier into my elbow crook, but my tears continued. They plopped heavily onto his blue fleece wrap as I tried to contain the sobs that shook my chest. We kept rocking as he slept in my arms and I weathered through my own storm.
Because parenting, if nothing else, tests the elasticity of your previous limits. And sometimes, those limits need to break before they can be reset anew. Sometimes it does all get to be too much. Sleep deprivation, out-of-control hormones, hunger and stress form one nasty cocktail when your crying babe requires a calm port of harbor. And yes, sometimes this means that you wind up spilling your own tears onto your precious child.
When the waves subsided I kissed his impossibly soft cheek, then told him I loved him before gently placing him into his crib for the night. My feet padded lightly on the carpet as I left his room and closed the door.
My tears returned as I headed down the stairs, but they were not of sadness. They were tears of recognition, an acknowledgment that parenting is reshaping me. Where I once thought I was plenty tough enough to handle this, I realize now that my son has given me a new place of vulnerability. I can only hope and pray that, just as his tender skin will toughen with time and experience, so will my new mama’s heart.