On the floor, she kicks and kicks
and looks at me
and kicks some more,
softly and firmly,
so that I might expect little grunts of effort
--like a piglet or a tennis player--
but she is silent.
I lift her to me,
glad at the breadth of her
abiding little body between my hands.
Blue eyes open wide, and bubbles
burst from pursed lips.
Her shoulders shrug upward
as if to say,
I wish I knew.
I sing; she smiles.
Lying at my breast.
the way her hands press my flesh,
the way my life transfers to her. So hot,
in the duck down of her hair.
Satisfied and serious, she speaks.
In the babble, the gurgle,
the burble, the coo,
I hear something else, too.
Though I didn't know I hadn't yet heard it
--and in a language alien to all but her and me--
she calls my name.
Dear Mom of the Crying Newborn who lives on my street:
Yes, I hear her. But I also hear you, moving in the darkness of that room alone. Or maybe with a boyfriend or husband or partner. But still, mostly alone. You are trying everything you know how to do, as well as quite a few things you don't, in a bid to soothe that little screamer. The one with the big eyes that are identical to her father's. The one who hasn't yet learned to smile, but will, and when she does, will light up your life with a single flash of those pink gums.
Yes, I, your neighbor who wants to sleep blissfully in my own home, can hear your crying child. But I can also hear your heart, beating harder than ever these days. There's the anxiety of trying and failing to calm your baby. There's the fatigue after so many nights of interrupted sleep, and what feels like a million napless days in a row. And then there's the stress over how your little one's wailing might be perceived by the rest of the adults who inhabit your city block. Because they can hear her. Oh god, WE can hear her.
Can I tell you something? Forget us. You're on the front lines of hell: a screaming child who cannot communicate her needs any other way. You're growing a seedlet of human being into a person, and these first months are a level of crucial that rises above the desires of others. Yes, one day you'll be responsible for keeping your kid quiet in our civilized society. But not today. Today, it's about feeding her. Keeping her clean, dry, warm. Bringing her to your heart and singing every song you know. Walking the floor in your home until she is soothed.
And this will go on until your feet hurt. Your throat aches. You're light-headed from all the shhhhh-ing. Until your arm goes numb. Your eyes burn. You smell like sour milk. It's all you, babe. I hear you. And I'm with you all the way.
The next time you're in your home and your newborn is shaking-the-walls-wailing, don't think about the neighbor who might be disturbed or offended by those cries. Don't allow her insensitivity to ratchet up your loneliness and desperation. Don't stare bleakly and angrily at the contorted face of your baby and hiss, Shut up! Miss So-n-so needs her sleep! Don't close your windows if it's too hot and stuffy for your baby to sleep, or for you to breathe. No, dear one. Rather, think of me, your fellow mom-of-a-newborn, also in the dark, also wrestling a child into a swaddle she doesn't want, or out of a bathtub she wants to stay in, or through the first cycle of a nap that she can't complete without help. You aren't alone.
We are in the darkness together, windows flung open for a reason. And anyone who doesn't understand that... anyone who doesn't have sympathy for our position... anyone who doesn't trust us to make the right decision for our kid under the heavy artillery fire of a late night scream session can go straight to hell and sleep there.
I hear her. I hear you. And you know what? There's something you've said a lot recently--have whispered endlessly over the cradle to ears that often can't seem to hear it--but it may have been a while since anyone else has taken you in their arms and said it to you. So, allow me:
It's okay, it's okay, shhhhhhh, it's okay.