I’m wicked, but I want to sleep. Be quiet, baby
The baby screams. She scrapes away at my layers of sleep. Not slowly and gently, but like a Band-Aid being ripped off skin. Waah!
I shoot out of bed, heart pounding. Where am I? What day of the week is it? Is it night or morning? Have I been sleeping for two minutes or two hours?
I stumble into the baby’s room and pick her up. I look at my watch. It’s two a.m. I’ve been asleep for 15 minutes, and I haven’t slept for days. Or weeks. Or months.
Something is wrong with my baby. Something is wrong with me because I can’t fix the problem. I can’t help her. I don’t even know what’s wrong.
I go to the kitchen and switch on some calming classical music. It says, Relaxation Music for Baby. It doesn’t do anything. I bend over the baby swing and shush and rock her until she falls asleep.
I slump at the kitchen table, too exhausted to cry.
My baby is six months old.
She’s been screaming all that time.
I’m a stranger in a strange land. I’m still a stranger to marriage, and definitely a stranger to motherhood.
My husband goes to daven, and after a short breakfast (which I didn’t prepare for him, I was holding a screaming baby), he leaves the house. He won’t be back until five p.m.
The door closes behind him. Eight hours. Eight long, long hours. Eight hours in which I won’t sleep, will hardly eat. I won’t throw in a load and definitely won’t make a bed. I won’t cook a meal for my husband and myself, so we can sit down the way normal couples do, and eat supper.
I hold in a primal scream.
I have no family nearby. No mother to call and say, “Take the baby. I need to sleep.” No sister to call and say, “What should I do?” No one. No one. The story of my life.
I’ll walk the streets, where my baby will sometimes give me a reprieve. When she doesn’t, I’m told by strangers concerned for her welfare to sit her up, lie her down, to cover her, to uncover her, and why don’t I give her a pacifier?
I’ll take her to the doctor where I’ll be told there’s nothing wrong with her as far as the eye can see. I feel stupid, but I go back. It’s insanity, but please, doctor, find something.
I’ll knock on my sister-in-law’s door, embarrassed to intrude yet again, and sit there watching her placid baby who is one month older than mine. I’ll stretch the time as long as I can without letting the discomfort choke me.
I count the hours until three p.m., and then I know I can go and visit a friend. She’s from my hometown and is quite a few years older than me. She invites me over out of pity, I’m sure. I try to help by assisting her girls with their homework or dinner. I go back again and again, day after day. It’s horrible to be so needy.
I try expensive formulas and anti-reflux medication. I go off milk, cocoa, soy, gluten, acidic fruit, and then all of it at once.
And still she screams.
I want to send my baby to a babysitter, but there is barely money for basic necessities. And I don’t work — how can I have the audacity to entertain such thoughts?
And I should love my baby. But it’s really hard.
I’m wicked, but I want to sleep. Be quiet, baby. I want my head to stop hurting.
Just cope. Pull yourself together. Smile. You can do this. I tell myself. Day after day after day.
Whoever I was has ceased to exist. I’m physically there, but there’s nothing inside. No feelings, no wants, no needs, no dreams, no aspirations.
My husband comes home, and I almost throw the baby into his arms. With tears in my eyes, I beg him to take her out so I can sleep. Just for an hour. Please.
He’s upset. I can tell. It’s been a long day for him, too. He’s also hungry, but I’m so detached from my own physical needs, feeding anyone seems like a foreign language. I don’t have space for his needs when I’m an empty shell.
I collapse into bed, fading into oblivion until WAAH!
One day my husband tells me that his friend, who he meets often while strolling outside, told him not to be such a sucker and to stop helping me so much.
So much? An hour here and there?
I can’t forgive those careless words. Now my husband feels like I’m using him.
I cry and cry, something inside me shattered forever. Isn’t this his baby too?
I try alternative treatments. Cranial osteopathy, homeopathy, reflexology, One Brain, 3-D therapy, IPEC.
Still, she screams.
Babies cry, people tell me. She’ll grow out of it, they say.
Eventually, she does.
I never, ever do.
It’s close to two decades years later, and my new baby screams. She yanks me out of sleep just like her siblings did. She wakes them up, too.
I’m told there’s something wrong with me if all my babies scream, but after so many years of screaming babies, I no longer feel I’m doing something wrong.
Only where is the key to doing something right?
Every time my husband leaves the house, I feel a familiar pit in my stomach. That voice comes back. Something is wrong with you — all wives manage without their husbands.
My husband goes out and goes out and goes out; Shacharis, work, Minchah, shiur, Maariv.
Why do I panic when he leaves the house?
He asks to go away for an alumni Shabbos, and I can’t even harbor the thought. Please don’t go away. For the precious time between tefillos that you’re here, I need your help.
He stays, resentful, bewildered. I’ve failed as a wife. As a mother.
Months pass, and we pull through. I cover my scars with a smile, and breathe deeply in the little pockets of peace. I send my baby to a babysitter and start picking up the pieces of months of neglect.
I see young people I know struggling with their babies, and I want to reach out and tell them: There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t let anyone tell you this is your fault.
I want to tell them: This is a challenge. Acknowledging this doesn’t mean you’re not grateful. It means you need to find ways to get through it without your mental and physical health destroyed.
I want to tell them: get help. Nurses, cleaning ladies, take-out food. So what if this is your first child? It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Go out with your husband (without the baby). It’s hard for him too — he’s watching you fall apart. He’s falling asleep over his Gemara and getting comments from his chavrusas whose babies sleep through the night.
I want to tell them: This may seem unbelievable right now, but one day your baby will stop crying and give you many beautiful, joyous, Mommy moments.
And then I go and pick my baby up from the babysitter. I squeeze her tight and kiss her precious little face, and remind myself that she’ll grow out of it.
As will I.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 769)
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