Darkness

We were trying to watch a movie.

We were trying to watch a movie, just the two of us, after the kids were in bed. David had brought home a projector from the office and set it up in our (finished) attic for the girls’ sleepover, so we thought we’d take advantage of having a “movie theater” in our home and watch a movie.

We were trying to watch a movie. Just the two of us. But Olive kept waking up. And waking up. And waking up.

We were trying to watch a movie so I finally brought her up to the attic, thinking I could hold her, but she was then WIDE AWAKE and squirmy and fussing and not going back to sleep.

We were trying to watch a movie, but we couldn’t hear it over the baby.

I put her back to sleep 3, 4, 6 times. I put her back to bed, crept up the attic stairs, turned the movie back on… and BAM. Fussing again.

We were trying to watch a movie, but after about two hours, we’d only seen twenty minutes of the movie.

Finally I just laid down with Olive. She refused to nurse. She just wanted to squirm and fuss and flail around. I tried swaddling her. I tried unswaddling her, thinking it was pissing her off to be wrapped up. I tried shushing her, rocking her, rubbing her little cheek. I tried nursing her again. Singing to her. Patting her butt, just the way that usually soothes her.

Meanwhile, David was waiting for me. Because, you see, we were trying to watch a movie.

But she wouldn’t just settle down. She was fed. Warm. Dry. Being cuddled, for Christ’s sake! She wasn’t sick. She USUALLY was asleep at that time of night. But she WOULDN’T SLEEP. We were trying to watch a movie, just one single little movie, and she wouldn’t let us.

And that’s when it happened. I got so frustrated and angry that for a brief moment, I really wanted to hurt my baby. I want to hit her. Or push her off the side of the bed. Or throw her.

I’ve had plenty of those bizzar-o mothering thoughts; you know, like not wanting to stand on a balcony for fear that you might just suddenly drop your baby over the edge. Or being near a body of water and thinking calmly “…if I just dropped her… would she… float?” Those thoughts are troublesome and weird and (thankfully) very, very fleeting. But they also come to me in moments of calm. Like, they just pop into my head. And they are rare. RARE. I think with each of my babies, I’ve had them only a couple of times. They just happen. And then they are gone.

But this? This was anger. This was temper. This was why they teach you over and OVER “Don’t shake your baby!” Because? I wanted to shake my baby. We were trying to watch a movie, see, and we were trying and trying and TRYING, and she kept interrupting us.

Is it so much to ask to have less than two hours, just my husband and me, in a different room from the baby, to watch a movie? TWO EFFING HOURS. That’s all. I’ll nurse you all goddamn night, and HAVE– every night of your life, for the past 4.5 months– but I just want TWO HOURS. I felt myself, teetering there, on the edge, deciding should I or shouldn’t I. I felt myself WANTING to hurt my baby, wanting the satisfaction of giving in to the impulse. I imagined myself doing it, and in that dark, dark moment… IT FELT GOOD, imagining it.

I didn’t hurt my baby. I did pull out her paci and yell/growl at her “What do you WANT, Olive?” and I did sigh a ton, and I did feel very, very sorry for myself. But the moment of wanting to hurt her passed quickly, and David came in and took her and rocked her in a different room.

I didn’t hurt her because I know better. Or because I have a husband who was there, who was willing to help in any way I needed. Or because God stepped in and put his hand on my shoulder and whispered peace across my body. I don’t know why I didn’t hurt her, honestly. But I didn’t.

I didn’t hurt her. But I wanted to. I’m a good mother. I am an educated person. I have an excellent support system. I live in an emotionally healthy household, with an emotionally healthy relationship with my husband. I am not depressed or anxious or suffering from any kind of mental illness. We have the financial means to seek help (babysitting, therapy or drugs if needed, etc) and provide for ourselves (plenty of food, clothing, entertainment, a nice place to live etc). I am very bonded with my baby. I have resources I can rely on to help me in times of need. And yet, I wanted to hurt my baby. Briefly. In passing. A flash, a flare, then it was over. But still. I felt it.

I wanted to hurt my baby because she was interrupting me. She was interrupting my MOVIE. She wasn’t screaming for hours on end. She wasn’t doing anything all that “hard” to parent, really. There was only ONE of her, unlike when her twin sisters were this age. But I still wanted to hurt her for ruining my plans for the evening.

The next morning. The sun streaming in the windows. The baby awake in the crook of my arm. Wiggling with smiles. Squirming with glee at the sight of me. Hi! Hi, hi, hi Mommy! I’m awake! You’re awake! HI! Hi, hi, hi, hi! I’m so happy to see you! We’re both awake! Hi!

The emotions of the night before seems so silly, in the sunshine. Seem so silly with this impossibly cute, impossibly happy, double-chinned little cherub. How could I have wanted to hurt her?

The sunlight that comes into our bedroom in the morning is all-illuminating, filling all the space, leaving no corner unlit. My baby’s smiles are the same way; when she looks at you and grins, it fills all the cells of your body with its light and joy.

In the morning, in the sunlight, darkness seems impossible. Cuddling my cooing baby, kissing her squishy cheeks, I can barely remember wanting to hurt her. Was it a dream? A vision? Something I made up?

No.

No.

It was darkness. Because no matter how much light is coming in the window now, no matter how much I have to blink my eyes because of its brightness, no matter how warm it is on my skin, there is still darkness in motherhood.

There is darkness in motherhood. But thankfully, there is also so, so, so much light.

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26 thoughts on “Darkness

  1. Oh Marie. I read this without even flinching, because HELLO. I had a baby who screamed ALL THE TIME. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, there wasn’t a day where I DIDN’T want to shake her out of frustration. But I never did, and I never REALLY would have, and neither would you. But it’s perfectly okay to think about doing those things, and I firmly believe it’s human. My pediatrician at the time flat-out told me I wasn’t a mother until I had that flash of wanting to hurt my baby out of frustration. But we DON’T. And we NEVER WOULD.

    When in the darkness with Sam, I used to thank God that I got the colicky screaming baby, because I felt that a lesser person MIGHT have actually hurt her. But I got her instead, because I never would, no matter how many times it crossed my mind in a terrified, murky haze.

    • Thank you. Thank you so much. And also? My very, VERY stubborn Joan? My grandma came for a visit once, and after observing our household for a few days told me, evenly, “God gave you Joan because others would abuse her.” That was so VALIDATING.

      I think the thing that sucks about wanting to hurt Olive is that she WASN’T colicky. Wasn’t screaming for hours on end. She was just low-grade fussing, NO BIG DEAL. And yet I wanted to HURT HER over a movie?? Because she was… inconveniencing me? Sigh. (But again, thank you.)

      You’re right. We won’t hurt our babies. But I so totally can see why people DO. Not that that excuses them. But damn, if someone like me with all the resources in the world, all the support, wants to hurt her baby, HOW does someone alone, poor, not knowing where the next meal is coming from, how do THEY have the strength to not?

  2. I have been there. My first born never slept, and it was horrifying. I spent all day obsessing about sleep and all night mourning over it. He was the light of my life and it terrified me how angry this tiny little baby could make me. I will never forget my first glimpse into that darkness. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Wow. Tears are running down my face because not only have I had that feeling, but I’ve had it many, many times. I’ve never acted out either, and wouldn’t, but even now, with my girls so big (10! Almost 8!) I still get that feeling of wanting to hurt them because I’m so frustrated. I do, however, confess to saying (moderately!) mean things that upset them and that I regret bitterly afterwards…
    Our living circumstances are tough (not catastrophic – well, not yet anyway). I have little family and none of it even in the same country as me. My ex is a “good father” up to a point but does little to help out. I have one full-time, one part-time job and am constantly exhausted. Despite that, money is so tight I’m staring down the barrel at bankruptcy. I have no activities of my own, no social life, no “life”.
    Yet, despite all that, I don’t act out. But yes, oh yes, I’ve wanted to. My younger daughter was spectacularly difficult – wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep, EVER. I mean, she’s still like that up to a point (very, very picky, still HATES sleeping) and the feelings were more intense with her. It is terrifying, it is upsetting because you realise just how easy it is to cross that line and do the irreparable…
    Thank you for posting this; I’m sure many people will feel less alone tonight.

  4. Of course you should post this. Because it’s TRUE. My husband’s best friend is a doctor and he stayed with us for a few days after we had our firstborn and I remember him very clearly telling me, “Never shake your baby. I KNOW you know this. I know you won’t, but at some point you will feel like you want to. This is not a feeling exclusive to low class people or the under-educated or teenagers or single mothers,” and man was he right.

    Everyone has that moment of Oh my hell child, I have loved you and cared for you and put your needs above mine for 23 hours today, can I not just get one damn hour to take a bath/watch a movie/eat dinner without you screaming?! And it is selfish but duh, you NEED to be selfish to survive as a human being and sometimes your baby is just exhibiting asshole behavior that you wouldn’t tolerate from ANYONE else but they can’t see reason, they can’t be explained to, they can’t understand enough to even know that you’re angry in the first place. So your flash reaction is to MAKE them understand. But, you don’t. Of course you don’t. But it helps to talk & write about it so we all know it’s there, so we’re careful to watch and to know that everything looks better in the morning light.

  5. So honest, so true. I believe those thoughts come over all of us from time to time. In times of stress and frustration. My first baby was SUPER colicky and I did not ever hurt him but YES, I wanted to at times. I remember being SO glad that I watched the “Don’t shake the baby” video. At the time of watching it, I thought, “How could I EVER feel that way?’ But when his crying was full throttle, I remember thinking about that video, playing it back in my head- “Lay the baby down in a safe spot, splash cold water on your face, have someone else come over if you can, step outside for some fresh air, etc.” And having a couple of ideas at my disposal gave me the ability to take a little break if hubby or someone else wasn’t at home with me. The thing that frightens me about this subject is thinking about all those who go with that impulse…

  6. I have had many a moment where the baby is put safely in the crib, screaming his brains out for no reason I can determine, and I go outside and shut the door. Maybe walk to the mailbox just to be 100% sure I can’t hear him. Just to breathe for a minute or two and get a grip.

    This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

    This is why I love blogging. Because we can hear and say things that would usually be left unsaid. The things never spoken…

  7. I am so glad one of my friends had a baby before I did because she was incredibly honest with me about what she called “dark times” like this so that when it happened to me I didn’t think I was a monster or an anomaly or going insane.

    I said the same thing to all of my friends who had babies after me and every one of them to a woman had similar experiences. We are all well educated, financially relatively comfortable, married women with supportive spouses and yet every one of us felt the darkness at some point.

  8. I think of myself as a great mother, and moreover a PATIENT mother – when my kids are misbehaving or being difficult I can almost always react in ways that are thought out, not prompted by anger.

    But, nonetheless, there was a time with my son – it was the middle of the night, and he wouldn’t stop screaming, and he’s such a loud baby, and I’d tried everything and was so so tired – that I actually had to wake my husband up and tell him to take over because I was angry at my helpless baby. I wasn’t afraid that I would actually hurt him or shake him, but I wanted to, and that was scary enough, even though it passed quickly. It’s like you have the thought, and instantly shove it out of your brain, but you’re a little traumatized that it found it’s way in there in the first place.

    That moment made me understand how people who are less well-equipped end up hurting their children.

  9. I wish that more doctors, like Amy DoubleYou’s, told moms-to-be that you WILL feel like this and that it is perfectly normal. That you are not a bad person for feeling that way and you will not act on it but it will happen to you at some point. It’s the rite of passage into parenthood.

    Thank you for being brave enough to post this.

  10. I think most parents have had a moment where they think, “I see why people shake babies.” Not that you [we] would ever, ever, ever do it, but… yeah. I am so grateful to have the support system I do.

  11. Oh, YES. Olivia is probably one of the easiest babies out there, judging from what people have told me about their babies, but OH, does she push my buttons some times. I’ll even admit it, I’ve handled her more roughly than I should, but I’ve never shaken her, or done more than CONTEMPLATE dropping her.
    I had no idea I’d feel that way, and it makes me feel unfit for motherhood every time. So thanks for letting me know that it’s normal, and that it passes.

  12. My first baby was so ridiculously easy and undemanding, and my life in general so not-difficult (staying at home with baby by my own wishes, lots of friends and family locally for support and babysitting, no other kids to watch,) that I was completely sideswiped by how I felt when my second came along, and suddenly I had a fussy baby who never never slept more than two hours in a row and who never never would sleep unless rocked and rocked and ROCKED, and now I also had a potty training two year old and we were trying to sell our house and oh my gosh, sometimes I was so overwhelmed. I remember looking down at my crying baby and thinking, “I love you but dear Lord I don’t like you even a little bit right now.” And then feeling so awful because those thoughts had never crossed my mind the first time around and what had HAPPENED to me? Well, I had a normal baby this time, for one thing! Or possibly even a slightly challenging baby, who turned into a slightly challenging boy.

    That thing your grandmother said to you about Joan? Jim and I have said it to each other about Eli, many times. We tell each other, “Thank God we got him, because at least we have read the dang books and have talked and talked and talked about how to handle him and help him and we have each other to fall back on and family and friends and church to support us. Think how someone without those resources might end up treating him sometimes…” It honestly makes me shiver to think about it. I can see how someone drunk or desperate or just completely unprepared and without any kind of example of how to parent might absolutely lose it with him.

  13. I remember that feeling SO VIVIDLY, it’s making me queasy just remembering it. And then that second feeling, the incredulous feeling after the first feeling passes.

  14. Thanks everyone. Really. I would like to respond to you all, but I’ve spent my afternoon renapping this baby, and one-handedly pecking out tweets… but I appreciate your words so much. And although I already have learned that this is “normal”, it’s so great, when you’re actually living it anew with a different baby than before, to hear so many voices chiming in. The internets are the best. 🙂

  15. As always, you are so honest with your writing, which I love about you. We all have those dark moments periodically – I think it’s called being “human”, or something? – but they always pass, don’t they? And then there you are, the next morning, with light streaming over your little cherub, ready to start the day anew, wondering how something so seemingly insignificant could get you so frustrated (but really! You wanted to watch a movie, for pete’s sake!!!).
    Anyways, that must be really tough for you, as I have never felt that towards my sweet little children before – HA!!! My very darkest moments usually came (and occasionally still do) between the hours of 12-6 am, when they won’t go to sleep (for the love of GOD, WHY WON’T THEY SLEEP?). But again, the morning sun always makes things a little easier to handle.

    You’re an awesome mom. Feel free to walk your baby down the block and hand her off to me in your next dark moment.
    xo

  16. Thank you so much for posting this. My husband and I were dealt two difficult babies (not at once, thank heavens) and luckily we had each other to confirm that the baby was, indeed, an asshole. And to console ourselves with that. I vividly remember telling my friends that I was grateful *I* was given my firstborn, rather than him being born to someone else, because I could at least handle it.

    We thought the second child would be easier, and it’s been so hard realizing that she isn’t, and that even if she were we’d still have these moments. It is a terrifying thing, parenthood.

  17. This is beautiful, in that piercing, terrifying way. I didn’t flinch once reading this, either. I *know* this feeling so well. It comes from looking forward to things. To having expectations. I’ve gotten used to keeping my expectations low, last minute, flexible. But still, it happens. I want to do something, I’m looking forward to something and I’ve already given SO MUCH that day and a baby/child needs me for some unfathomable, unexpected reason. And the rage is right there, explosive and terrifying.

    So beautifully done, MG. Good for you for putting it out there.

  18. I related to all of this post and, like the others, admire your courage in writing it. First, I have had that same, ghoulish, what if I dropped him over the edge thought when standing next to a balcony and I dont know why because it was never a time of anger, just a troubling wonder. And I have also been in that DESPERATE moment overnight, leaning over the side of the crib, patting patting, shushing, please, please please, let this kid just go back to sleep. I remember those moments vividly, and they are so hard when you feel that you are at your wit’s end with a spouse snoring unaware in the next room and nothing but hours more of it to face before morning. I have advocated with friends to sleep in whatever bizarre arrangement gets them through the night in order to avoid that desperate pat over the side of the crib. I am thankful that I have never harmed any of my babies (and I do think God had a hand in that) but those dark moments are another reason that I always wanted my caregiver to be a mother herself. Because I feel like only another mother knows that dark feeling and the need to fight the overwhelming urge to respond in anger. Thanks again for the post. I love reading your blog.

  19. Shortly after my son was born, and I wasn’t sleeping, my mother-in-law said, “Do you understand why people shake their babies, now?” I think we’ve ALL been there. We’ve had the moment of WHAT DO YOU WANT, CHILD, and the baby can’t respond and it is frustrating. It’s crazy to me that this moment of clarity came to me from my mother-in-law, who is not my biggest supporter, but that makes it so much more validating to me.

    • My grandmother said the same thing to me not long after I had my first and it helped ENORMOUSLY to know not only did she understand, but women for generations had been having the same feelings.

      Marie, this might be my favorite blog post about motherhood I’ve ever read.

  20. It happens so often to so many moms (all moms maybe?). With my youngest, he was so wonderful … such a good baby … but woke often and I was always so tired. And I remember taking him from his room to ours during the night and pausing at the top of the step right outside his door. I glanced down, thinking how easy it would be to *I can’t type it out*. From that point on I always held him so tightly when walking from his room to mine, because I knew it was possible for the thought to cross my mind. I knew I would never act upon it, but it was like I had to protect him from myself anyway.
    Thank you for being so honest and for writing the truth so beautifully.

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