Once upon a time there was a little baby who was born into this world out of mutual love and adoration and that little baby thanked his smitten and doting parents for giving him life by screaming at them. All day. All night. Screams. Loud ones. This baby’s screams would make the most serene, patient and loving human being want to drive off a cliff at high speeds just to escape the particular pitch and tone of these screams. I am not a particularly serene or patient human being. But I am this baby’s mother and what do you know? We’re still alive. Mostly. This is our tale.
Keaton was born on December 4th, 2007. The room was really pretty quiet throughout my labor with him. Believe it or not, I am not a screamer and didn’t even swear once during labor or delivery with either of my kids which is very strange if you know me because even on a good day I can’t walk from the couch to the fridge without swearing at least once. So here I was, happily numbed by the epidural, pushing with everything I had because I was so very ready to meet my son and I swear to you, Internet, he came out of my special place mid-scream. There was no “He’s here!” and then “Wahhhh”. No there was simply “He’s crowning, give me one more pu-” “AHHH WAHHHH WAHHH”. He was not pleased to be removed from his nice, dark, warm, private, ocean-view uterus, into an extremely narrow tunnel that led to a fridged tundra of bright lights, gloved hands, and sharp pokey instruments. He was pissed.
He was immediately placed on my chest where he calmed down long enough to take careful inventory of my face for future reference as to whom he should place all the blame for this horrific incident and then commenced screaming again. He did take a break long enough to mutilate my boobs, though! Later that evening after he had been assaulted with a bath and numerous newborn measurements and tests he calmed down and we spent that first night snuggling and feeding and getting to know one another. It was all quite perfect. The second evening was when the screaming kicked into full swing. He wouldn’t sleep, he would simply alternate between nursing and screaming. It wasn’t like it was with the first baby when your milk takes up to a week to come in. Milk was pouring out of me by day two. My body had done this before and was ready. The milk was there, and he was eating as displayed by his already very soggy (and um, muddy) diapers. So food wasn’t the issue. I was exhausted Bill was exhausted, the nurses just looked at us like, “your problem now, bitches” and so we “bucked up” and passed him back and forth between us that night- thinking something was bugging him but what, we couldn’t say. We would talk to his doctor in the morning.
After his pediatrician heard how our night went she said that it was possible I ate something that bothered him and it is really unusual for such a new baby to freak out like that. Normally colicky babies don’t show their true colors until they’re about 2 weeks old. It’s natures way of ensuring you bond with them before they drive you to the mad house. In other words, so you don’t kill them. And I am saying this only half jokingly because we’ve all seen the same news reports of babies being shaken to death. They made me watch the “Don’t shake your baby” video in the hospital after both kids, and both times I watched it I rolled my eyes and put it on mute half-way through so I could complain about how this was the dumbest thing I’d ever watched and anyone who shakes a baby has an IQ of less than 25, lives in a trailer park or is the incarnation of Satan. Possibly all three. Do I think that after living through Keaton’s babyhood? No. I don’t. I never once hurt him but I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind during his first 8 months. I somehow gathered the will power to trudge through hours and hours of screaming that continued on no matter how many techniques I tried. I certainly do not think violence on any helpless child is acceptable but now very much understand how some people could lose control. Not a pretty sentiment but it’s the truth.
When we came home every night after was the same. So much screaming. Newborns are supposed to sleep in short spurts somewhere around 18 hours a day. Not Mr. Sir. He hardly slept at all, even as a tiny brand new little thing. We tried soothing music, co-sleeping, different beds, baby massage, different routines, different feeding schedules, constant babywearing, and reflux medication among other things. No dice. There were numerous trips to a variety of doctors where we tried to relay the message that his screaming was nearly violent in nature and he seemed to be in terrible pain. Each time the doc pronounced him healthy and gave us a “buck-up” speech or a “this is totally normal” speech. So we were cowed and resorted to the only thing that seemed to sooth him, which was: 1. jogging in place with him until he drifted off . This usually took 25 minutes. On a good day maybe 15, but on many unlucky days it took around 45. This took place in the only room that didn’t get any sunlight and had a built in white noise maker. Yes. The bathroom. We are not proud but it was basically his nursery for 8 months. 2. Ever so carefully transferring him into his vibrating bouncy chair. You know! The one that says on its tag in all caps: WARNING: DO NOT PUT YOUR CHILD TO SLEEP IN THIS DEVICE. 3. Ever so sneakily making our exit without waking him up. And then we’d wait. Sometimes we’d get lucky and he’d nap for an hour, sometimes 15 minutes, but more often than not the nap lasted around 40 minutes. 40 minutes is not long enough, when chances are, you spent longer trying to get him to sleep than the time he actually spent sleeping.
But what were our options? When he was still a newborn, he would get up at night every 1.5 to 3 hours to eat. Every single time we’d have to listen to the screaming when it was time to lay him back down and fight to get him to sleep only for the whole process to repeat itself an hour or two later. All night. This lasted 3 months or so, until he started going longer stretches in between feedings. Then we were only fighting the screaming 2-3 times a night instead of 4-5. And when I say fighting, I mean it quite literally. The kid was small but he would thrash in our arms when we’d hold him but if we tried to put him down the screaming would only get louder. More high-pitched. More ear stabby. Everything They said, (you know the assholes I’m talking about here, right? The ones who had 2.3 textbook children that were so easy the idiots thought THEY personally were responsible for how easy the kids were so they wrote lots of books telling you how stupid you are if you or your kids don’t act/react like THEIR kids did. Um, yeah. THAT THEY. ) Anywho, THEY said colic peaks at 6 weeks and should be gone entirely somewhere between 3 and 4 months. Only Keaton was just as screamy at 4 months as he had been at 2, so we just stuck with what we knew got us through each day and each night. .
It was not a pretty life to live. It is exhausting to live in fear of an act you have to commit on the average 5 times a day. At five months, he gave us a small 2.5 week reprieve. I had decided to schedule a test at Children’s hospital that involved tubes being shoved down his throat. And you know what that little bugger did the very same afternoon the test was scheduled? He slept for 2 and a half hours after being bounced for only 5 minutes. W.T.F. This is a fluke, I thought. That night he went down with minimal fuss, slept through the night and woke up 11 hours later with smiles and coos. He repeated this behavior for 5 more days and nights so I canceled the test. I was so freaking happy. Was the reflux medicine finally working? Dis something shift inside his brain that allowed for more sleep? Was it divine intervention? I did not care. My baby was happy and that was all that mattered. Then a week and a half later the screaming commenced again with renewed vigor and good God, we were lost. We had gotten a glimpse of what life was like with a happy, good-natured baby. We were devastated to go back to the rigorous jogging routines. To hear his screams waking everyone up 3-5 times a night.
We made more doctors appointments. We analyzed his diet, my diet (breastmilk), possible allergies or sensitivities and the recent weather patterns of the greater mid-west as they may give us SOME FRICKEN CLUE AS TO WHY OUR BABY SUCKED SO MUCH. It all came down to one resounding word. Behavioral. Keaton’s demeanor just so happened to be screamy and there wasn’t anything any doctor could do about it so please stop bothering them. (I should add at this point that his regular ped. was out on maternity leave for all of this. And although I am tempted to hate her for having the nerve to get pregnant at the same time as ME, she birthed twins and was probably not having the time of her life at this point either.) We didn’t think to re-try some of the things that we tried and didn’t work when he was 2 or 3 or 4 months. We were, quite literally, shell shocked, and couldn’t do anything but continue the bouncing routine and to just accept that we somehow produced the world’s angriest baby.
When I went to schedule Keaton’s 9 month appointment at the end of July, I asked if they knew when/if Keaton’s regular pediatrician was coming back from maternity leave. They told me she had just returned and I said screw the nine-month check-up for a month from now, I want him in to see her RIGHT NOW, as in he’s already in the car, lady- so fit us in. The doc, who hadn’t seen Keaton since his 6 week check-up when we all thought this was a really nasty bout of colic that would right itself in a few short weeks, was so patient. She listened to me while I told her everything that had happened in the last 6 and a half months and she carefully checked Keaton over and explained in detail why she agreed that it wasn’t anything physical. But she didn’t then tell me to “buck up” or say “oh, well there’s nothing we can do”. She told us that his behavioral response was not normal and that she would be more than willing to send us to a developmental pediatrician, who could help us figure out why Keaton chose to use such an ear-splitting screaming approach to communication and why he couldn’t calm himself down.
Before she set this up though, she wanted us to try one last thing. She knew we had attempted the Cry It Out approach out of desperation when Keaton was younger and it didn’t work but she asked if I’d be willing to try sleep training one more time. After resisting the urge to say “Bitch, please. We tried this. It failed.” I agreed that I would give it one more shot. Cry it out doesn’t at all jive with my much more hippy-like parenting leanings but we were beyond desperate. Keaton was older and she really felt that while he needed all the help we gave him to get him soothed to sleep when he was a younger babe, it had become a crutch. She felt he had outgrown his need of it and now had no idea how to soothe himself because we had been doing it for him for so long. She told me to be prepared- he could scream for an hour or more before finally falling asleep and that after three nights he still wasn’t catching on, we would know that was most likely not the issue.
That night, I brought him to his room. Read him 2 books, then sang him 3 songs while I rocked and cuddled him. I placed him drowsy but awake in his crib (which he had never slept in for more than 5 minutes before this night). And I walked out. He started crying a minute or two later. I did what the doctor advised which was to pour a glass of wine and go sit out on the deck where I couldn’t hear him. After 20 minutes I came back in and he was still crying. Not screaming, just normal baby cries. Then two minutes later he stopped. I had been prepared for hours of screams so I was a little shocked when after 22 minutes I heard silence. We waited a few minutes and then, like idiots, went to check to see if he was still alive. And there he was. Sleeping soundly.
And you know how many nights of cry it out we did after this? Zero. Every night after, we laid him down and he put himself to sleep without any tears within a few minutes. Same for naps. Not only was he going to sleep without the terrible jogging/bouncing/screaming routine, he was staying asleep. 11-12 hours a night, and 2 naps during the day, nearly 2 hours a piece. There are absolutely no words that could possibly describe the relief Bill and I felt. And how terrible we felt for not attempting it sooner. Clearly this kid needed something and we were so scared to change his routine that we didn’t consider our options. Mostly though, we were so very happy for our son to finally get the sleep he (and we!) very dearly needed. Keaton is still Keaton, which is to say, by nature a little more demanding and needy than your average kid, but now he was getting the rest he needed.
Does this mean I think the Cry It Out method is the end-all be-all in sleep solutions? HA. No, this is just another example of how parenting can challenge every ideal that you hold true. Every kid is different. What works for one is terrible for the next and vice-versa. Fourteen months later, Keaton has had his first lapse in sleep since we sleep trained him at nearly 8 months old, thanks to his parents’ super smart decision to take him to see fireworks. GO US. The screams brought us back to a place we would much rather forget. They were so intense that blood vessels broke all over his face and in his eyes, just like they had on many occasions during his first 8 months. I freeze up when I hear these screams. In all honesty I’m more than a little sure both Bill and I (and probably Rowan) have post traumatic stress disorder from Keaton’s infanthood. We made it out as stronger individuals, but we are in no way unscathed from all that screaming and the constant feeling that you were failing your kid, that you were helpless to make them better.
This time around we tuned into him. We evaluated the situation and tried different things. Leaving him to cry wasn’t helping him or us. We modified his bedtime routine and gave him a little extra love. A few nights later and all is right with the world again. He is sleeping soundly again, hopefully reassured by us that the fiery jaws of the sky aren’t going to open up and eat him whole. I’m not saying this whole experience was worth the lesson learned. No. I would never chose to go through this again and I can guarantee Bill won’t even read this post because he tenses up whenever I bring up The Screaming. However it doesn’t change the fact that situations like this can break a parent or can make them a better person, a better parent. In our case it did both. We had to break before we could do better. Keaton’s infancy wasn’t a pretty road to take, but it has gotten us to where we are now, which is the proud happy parents of a smart, funny, handsome little man who we just can’t get enough of.
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