We didn’t know how good we had it. On our daughter’s three week birthday, she started sleeping a six hour stretch at night. She would wake up then to eat and then go back to sleep for a few hours. Parental nirvana. People commented on how well-rested my husband and I looked. They were jealous. We were blissfully unaware that it doesn’t usually go down like that, and loving all the sleep.
And then she turned two months. And my beautiful, angelic, sleeping infant morphed into a screaming, red-faced demon. She stopped sleeping. I could no longer put her in the vibrating chair for a few minutes while I did necessary things like eat for the first time in 20 hours or go to the bathroom without her wailing. What happened to my baby? I would think. Something must be wrong with her. What are we doing wrong?
At that two month mark, we entered what I refer to as “the dark period.” I’ll let you know when we see the light. At first I thought she was just having a rough couple of days because sadistic doctors think six shots at one time is totally fine to do to an eight week old baby. And then a couple of weeks went by. And my ability to handle this new phase of babydom quickly disintegrated as there didn’t seem to be an end in sight.
I’ve done everything. I’ve hired a sleep specialist and a postpartum doula. The receptionist at the pediatrician’s office is rapidly becoming my best friend. I ask them all, “What is wrong with her? What are we doing wrong?” And they throw words at me like, “high-alert,” “extreme fussiness,” “extra sensitive,” “non-medicated colic,” “difficult temperament.” All these labels and you know what they’re really saying? We have no idea why your baby turned into a screaming, red-faced demon, but hopefully these labels will make it easier for you to accept. In my worst moments, I’ve come up with a few labels for her myself, but I’m trying to keep this blog PG.
And then at my last session, my wonderfully gentle and loving therapist recommended something. She said next time my daughter was having a “moment,” that I hold her and say, “I accept you for who you are. I embrace this part of you.” I realized in that moment, for the first time (I can be a little slow), that it wasn’t just me going through this phase. My girl is going through it too. And she can’t think this is fun either. I’m sure she doesn’t want to have to shriek at the top of her lungs for exactly 17 minutes every time she goes to sleep. She probably wishes she could be one of those babies that just peacefully drift off too. She probably doesn’t want to spend the twilight hours of each day crying with her eyes closed tight and her gums exposed to the world. She would probably love to take naps that last longer than 42 minutes since she wakes up cranky and still tired. Instead of needing to explain her behavior, I need to acknowledge that this is who my daughter is. Nothing wrong with her. Nothing we are doing wrong.
And so, my dear girl, I accept you for who you are. You are a spirited, persistent soul who knows what she wants when she wants it. And loving you means loving all parts of you. Not just the parts that are easy to love. It’s okay that you have trouble sleeping. It’s okay that you spend the majority of your day crying. I embrace those parts of you. Who knows? Your rejection of Sophie and all teething rings and everything else that babies are supposed to want to chew on because what you really want is my index finger may mean you will become someone who never accepts less than what she wants and deserves. Your refusal to stay in your vibrating chair for five seconds so I can prevent myself from peeing in my pants because you would rather practice sitting up and rolling over may mean you will become a woman who believes in hard work and has the drive and resolve to do whatever she puts her mind to. The truth is, you are going to encounter many people in your life who try to tell you that who you are isn’t good enough or try to change you. I don’t want to be one of those people. You are perfect as you are. Those parts of you that seem hard now will probably end up being the things I admire most about you later. I accept you for who you are. I embrace those parts of you.