A few days before I gave birth to my second child, there was a story in our local paper about a father who was being detained. The police had been called to the family’s home and a six week old infant had been found unconscious. They suspected the baby had been shaken.
These stories break my heart any day, but maybe especially so when I’m nine months pregnant and am gearing up for sleepless marathons, feeding challenges, and everything else that comes with caring for an adorable ball of truly endless needs. I felt for those first time parents, for the frustrations and for how hard it is to ask for the support you need. I’m not really a praying type but I sent warm thoughts and wishes to the skies that this babe would be okay and that this father wouldn’t have to live with his child not making it.
After coming home from the birth centre with our perfect day old creature, I checked the news, thinking that there might be a way to help the family, given our solid supply of diapers and breast milk. I learned that the child had died the day before, as I was birthing mine. I can’t fathom what that father and that mother are going through.
I made the mistake of reading the comments section of the article that named the father and said he was out on bail. They were vindictive and lacked all compassion. A lot of the comments seemed to be written by parents which made me wonder if they either were all blessed with remarkable support networks or if they were being totally dishonest about how overwhelmed and despairing our screaming infants can make us feel.
If we’re going to find ways to support young parents, new parents, all parents, I suspect we need to start by admitting that children can make us lose our cool, that no one is immune to this. Otherwise, we’re shaming people instead of providing supports, which makes vulnerable families (which we all are at some point) all the more isolated.
I’m more confident the second time around (and thus ironically, more likely to ask for help) but there’s such pressure when you bring these little people into the world to do it all yourself, to try to prove that you have your shit together. This really doesn’t serve parents or children.
I was pleased to see that there were documents about the anger that hours of infant crying can cause in the stack of forms and pamphlets that we received from our midwives. One was a form to be filled out by both parents with the names and numbers of people they could/should call if they needed a breather. Given the isolation I often feel living far away from my old urban hub, I appreciate the need for this. For that conversation, those safeguards.
I am reminded of how overwhelmed I felt when I was alone with our first for over a week in the early days. For some reason I had to bathe him (probably just to prove to myself that I could do it alone), but my wee ones hate baths and infants in water are very slippery and I just cried. Luckily I had a very friendly upstairs neighbour at the time. I didn’t know her very well but her smiling presence was always a joy to me and knowing that she was from the Maritimes made me insta-trust her all the more. I am heartened now knowing that I did ask for help. And that after washing my infant with another woman who had never washed an infant — the two of us getting just as wet as the child — I felt lighter and safer.
So here’s to knocking on a neighbour’s door, or to being the one who opens that door.
And wishing solace to those who didn’t or couldn’t.