The last few days have been hard. The baby is napping and I don’t know how much time I have, hopefully at least an hour, so I sit down with my warm coffee and open Facebook on my phone. The first post I see is from a mom on my favorite mommy group.
“My baby is such a good, easy baby. I’m afraid to have another. What if the next isn’t this easy?” asks a mom, with what I have a hard time thinking is a legitimate concern.
“Good” baby? Easy, sure, but good? Are hard babies not good babies, too?
She has no idea, I’m sure, how this cuts into the hearts of mothers like me. Mothers with the reflux babies, babies with intolerances and allergies, the babies that cry for a whole day at a time and keep us up all night and make us wonder if it’s something we’re eating or if a new medication is in order or when this nightmare of child rearing will end.
If good means easy, what will keep me from resenting my baby?
I want to tell her how lovable hard babies are and how mysterious and sweet and strengthening it is to love a difficult child. Not that the baby herself is difficult, but that her start to life has been just as unpleasant as my entrance into motherhood, and that to be pushed to the brink together every day tugs our hearts a little tighter through each trial. We’re in this together, no matter how alone I feel. That hard baby is somehow a blessing.
I want to help her know what she can’t know without the experience I’ve had that a hard baby can still be a good baby. That “good” doesn’t mean easy or even enjoyable but that it makes us something better than we were. And I’m sure being the mommy to a generally easygoing baby makes you better than before you were a mom, but please, give me credit. Not pity, but credit. Give my baby credit, because her life so far has been hard, and it’s not her fault.
Being a mom–for me so far–has meant giving up control. So if “good” means “if I’m not in control I at least want it to be easy,” then I guess she has a good baby. But I think good means more than easy. I think good tests us, molds us, leads us to a new understanding.
Having a hard baby has left me vulnerable to the very depths of depression and anxiety. Most days it’s difficult to motivate myself to mother beyond I have to. I second-guess everything and sometimes have a hard time feeling like I really love my child. Some days I feel I hold and coddle her too much, other days I feel I don’t give her nearly enough attention and she and I will grow detached. And then Saturday happened.
It was an anxious day for me. One of those days that I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, I was just off. I was also very hands-off and left most of the parenting–comforting, diaper changing, entertaining–to Garth. He was on full-time Daddy duty for most of the day. As I had a break-down in the kitchen after spilling steamed half and half on the floor (and almost on my child), there was Clarabelle. My hard baby. My hard to love baby. This nine-and-a-half month old crawled into my lap, pulled herself up on me, smiled, gave me a hug, and pressed her head against my cheek. We sat that way for a good few minutes until a smile broke my sadness.
All of my questions about how I’m parenting just disappeared. How did I do this? How did we do this?
The baby who we’ve had to give up comforting and just let cry for 20, 30, 45 minutes at a time until she’s tired and will finally go back to sleep. The child who always needs to be held, who cries at our feet when we have to put her down just to wash our hands, who sometimes screamed through most of a day because of pain from reflux. This baby came to comfort me.
I must be doing something right. She must not be bad.
And actually, aside from all the stressful, fearful things that have happened this first year of her life, she is a good baby. She explores, smiles, laughs, experiments, hugs, cuddles, sings herself to sleep at night. I can’t even focus on all the hard things. I used to and it destroyed me. I forgot all the good things. As I paid more attention to the good things intentionally I noticed them more. She is a good baby, I was just too busy comparing my experience to those of others and feeling sorry for myself. But the good is there, all around.
There are no bad babies.