Before I was a mother, I heard lots of babies cry. But until I was a mother, I never felt a baby cry. We can hear lots of things that don’t make us feel anything. But my daughter’s cry is not one of those things. I can feel her pain, her heartache, her fear, and her anger when she cries. It squeezes my heart, raises my blood pressure, and shoots adrenaline through my veins.
The first time I heard my daughter cry was a joyful experience. She was healthy, labor was over, and I was in love. But from then on her cry would reverberate through my chest and shake me to the core. She was part of me and I of her, and in those early days of motherhood, when she cried, so did I.
In those early days, I would hear her cry even when she wasn’t. Was it her? Nope, just a siren, the shower, the furnace, the cat, and so on. It was as if the sound of her cry was trapped in my head, bouncing around unable to escape. I would even feel my heart tug on my arteries when someone else’s child cried, in real life and even in a freaking TV commercial. Having a kid, turns you into a big sap!
Eventually I no longer shed tears alongside her, but the emotions still emerged. In the early days it was my job to respond to those cries – was she hungry, sick, scared, tired…I would hold, rock, and soothe her till the crying stopped, feeling every emotion along with her and equally as soothed and calm when she was. But as babies grow older, you can’t continue to well.. baby them, and they must learn to calm down increasingly on their own.
It started with sleep training. I remember sitting there shaking and hugging my knees as I let her cry it out in 1 then 2 then 5 mins increments. Nothing pains me more than to let her cry, because I don’t just hear the crying, I feel it with every cell in my body.
Next came the tantrums, when all I wanted to do was give in to make the screaming stop. But instead, I had to let her scream bloody murder while I practiced deep breathing or beat my hands into a pillow in the other room to keep from screaming myself. When she’s in pain, scared, or sad, it’s easier. My heart beats faster, but I’m still in control because I can soothe her. She runs to me and I hold her, stroke her hair, and speak softly. She calms, and so do I. But the tantrums, especially at bedtime are still so hard.
She’s now three (forget the terrible twos) and knows her cries illicit a response and just how powerful they can be. And boy does she use them. It’s so hard when I can’t soothe her, I can’t give in to her desires, whether it’s another bedtime story, a second cup of juice, or even the umpteenth hug before bed. (Oh and by the way, you’d swear my perfectly healthy, well-fed, cared for little girl was dehydrated, starving, terrified, and beaten the way she carries on before she finally conks out for the night. “I need a hug, a drink, a snack, my tummy hurts, please don’t go mommy. NOOOOOOOOO”)
And while I shut the door and walk away, I feel sadness, anger, and frustration just as she does. Again, nothing stresses me more than leaving my child to cry. I’m always amazed at how my husband can be unaffected by her tantrums. I envy how calm and collected he can be while she screams like someone is cutting her leg off in the other room. Does he not feel it like I do? He is a great father and loves her to pieces, but maybe he doesn’t. Studies have concluded that fetal cells are left in the mother long after pregnancy and take up residence in her bones and organs, including her brain and her heart. So maybe there is an explanation. Maybe it’s not crazy that I feel her emotions and have to harness all the coping mechanisms I’ve learned in my 32 more years of life to keep my own tantrums at bay. Or maybe it’s just me and I just can’t take it.
Whatever it is, I guess the good news is that I also feel her laughter, her smiles, her excitement, and her wonder. And that is what soothes the pain from her cries.