She likes to scream! And I mean, SCREAM! A high-pitched, piercing scream that drives right through to your bones. It makes me wince, and is a source of anxiety for me. It has me a bit stumped if I’m honest. Up to now, I’ve been able to communicate verbally and non-verbally with my 11-month old (she knows sign language for ‘milk’, and has made up her own signs for most other things). When she was a tiny baby, I even worked out the language of her cries, and I could tell the difference between the sound she made when she cried for food to any other cry she made. But I haven’t quite managed to tune into the scream, perhaps because I am trying too hard to tune out..?
I might be getting close though. It is somewhere in between frustration and attention-seeking I think. It happens mostly when she is restricted; car seat, pram, highchair. Add any of those situations to occasions when she doesn’t have my full, undivided attention, and you can multiply the decibels tenfold. So, you can imagine how I feel if I’ve driven into town (car seat), walked to a coffee shop (pram) and sat down (highchair) for coffee with a friend (divided attention)! I am living off my nerves! That said, I keep telling myself that this is temporary. She will soon learn to communicate more effectively, and the need to scream will lessen. And as she starts to settle down in this new and amazing world she has discovered at speed as she commando-crawls across my wooden floors, I will be able to allow her more freedom. Soon she might be allowed to sit on a normal chair, stand, walk a little, so as not to feel imprisoned by a 3-point harness. Until then, I have to accept it, and perhaps try and work out how to help her break the habit. That’s the hard part.
Although, saying that, it’s not the hardest part. Oh no, the hardest part is trying to deal with the noise that my child has decided best fits to articulate her thoughts when surrounded by selfish, insensitive, intolerant human beings who either never had children of their own, had perfect children, or who can’t remember what having small children is like. Yes, that is the hardest part.
I’d like to address the above described human beings, if I may be so bold. Perhaps you will need to share this blog post on social media to make sure it reaches the right audience; if you’re reading my blog I am most sure you would not be one of those people. So here goes…
I know my daughter’s screaming is loud, and intrusive, and downright irritating. I feel it too. Except I feel it in a way that you will never come close to, because she is mine. I carried her in my body for 9 months, and I went through 3-days of induced labour hell to bring her into this world. When I beheld that little face staring up at me from the hospital bed (yes, I was on all fours like some kind of wild beast!), I had no idea that she would develop this rather annoying habit. I could do without it too. Don’t you think I would prefer to have one of those babies who just sits in their pram without making a sound so that I can engage in good old fashioned chatter with one of my girlfriends over a caramel latte? Of course I do! Don’t you think that I don’t wish I wasn’t such a prig about dummies (not that my babies have ever been able to take to one when I’ve tried)?
Do you think I can’t hear it? That every screech doesn’t churn me up so much that inside I too am screaming? Do you know the embarrassment I feel every time that sound leaves her tiny lips, or how I squirm in my seat at the thought that she is spoiling the experience for everyone else? Well, trust me, I hear it. And I feel it. And it makes me want to run. But let me tell you this; seeing the looks on your faces, watching you put your fingers to your ears, seeing your shoulders scrunch up with tension with each shrill squeak, feeling your head snap in our direction and hearing you mutter “Oh for goodness sake!”, or “What a naughty thing!” to your friends not only makes me want to run, but makes me want to run and hide and never come out again.
When you look at me with irritation, and not compassion. When you say cruel things about my baby, without understanding. Those things hurt me to my core. I can’t expect you to love my little girl like I do, but know how much it hurts to think that others are thinking ill of her because she has learned to vocalise her frustration. She is an 11-month old baby. She loves to crawl. She loves to sit surrounded by bright and noisy plastic things that make her smile. She loves the challenge of that piece of furniture that looms like Everest, yet she can conquer it in one pull on those little arms of hers; the pride in her face when she makes it to the summit is something us grown ups have long since forgotten how to show. She doesn’t particularly like being cooped up in a pram, strapped in because the floor isn’t safe or clean enough for her to roam. I hear your unuttered thoughts, “Take her to a baby group then, and not our [insert favourite venue]” Oh, how I would love the normalcy of a playgroup right now. Where I could sip a cup of tea with likeminded mums whilst our children play happily in the soft play area. Except I can’t. I can’t because my child takes a drug that puts her at risk of serious illness (perhaps even death) if she comes into contact with certain childhood illnesses, so until her immune system is able to accept the relevant vaccines, a play area is the last place you will find us.
“So, stay at home then, if that’s where she is happy.” Yes! Yes! That’s the answer. You’re quite right of course – she is happiest when at home with her toys and her freedom. But what about me? What about my needs? Most days I do exactly that; stay home and entertain my little girl, or stay close by while she entertains herself. It’s lonely. Days go by when the only adult interaction I have had has been via Facebook. So when that invite for a coffee comes in, with the opportunity to get out in the fresh air and meet another human being and talk, of course I am going to take it. It is th antidote to my depression.
“Plan your time better! Go out when she naps!” Oh yes, another brilliant suggestion. Except that I have this clockwork baby, that since spending 6 weeks laid on her back in a hospital cot has slept from 6pm to 8am without a murmur. The trade off being that she is awake and switched on for pretty much all of the daytime hours. Once there was a chance that she wouldn’t be here at all, so I’m happy to take the trade.
You see, this baby who looks like butter wouldn’t melt and screams like a fiend, has been through more in her little life than I have had to contend with in my 41 years. And she has achieved more than most of us will in a lifetime. She is an inspiration, and she is my little miracle. And me? Well, I suffer with anxiety on account of having been through the trauma of seeing my 7-week old baby get sicker and sicker until eventually a broken heart confirmed she had been struck by a rare disease with a penchant for the coronaries. I haven’t dealt with that yet; these things take time. But I am dealing with it, and for all you know that coffee I am drinking is the first I’ve had all day because that morning I went to my PTSD counselling straight after dropping the older kids at school.
I remember the silence of the first few weeks of my daughter’s illness. It’s a silence that will haunt me forever. When I feel irritation at that scream, I feel ashamed for disliking a single bit of my little girl. Sadly, the anxiety is making it difficult for me to see through the scream to the child, to understand what she needs. But I cannot hide us away from the world. She is bright as a button. She has got things worked out that a child her age shouldn’t be able to figure just yet! So of course she is going to scream when I try to stifle her need to move, explore, discover and learn.
I am not asking you not to feel annoyed; I have no control over that. I’m just asking that you search deep inside for some compassion. You have no idea what journey a person has been on. You have no idea what a person is struggling with right now. I have no idea what you might be struggling with right now either, which is why I will always look at you with kindness and a smile. If you knew that I go home and cry after an encounter with someone like you, would you act differently next time…?