Max’s soft little breaths waft through the baby monitor tonight, a smooth staccato rhythm of peaceful sleep. He’s tucked in safe, cuddled up to his enormous Buzz LightYear
doll pillow. My heart is full of love and pride….and relief.
We’ve come a long way, this little family of mine.
A year ago we were driving through a rainstorm with a sick baby boy bundled into his carseat. A year ago, my tears blurred the outline of the red light in front of me. It was 3 am and the bottoms of my flannel PJ pants were tucked into the dirty tops of my knock-off Ugg boots. I drove through the streets of our quiet neighborhood and silently cursed each and every family that lived in each and every perfect house. I hated them for being asleep. I hated them for not living the same hell that we were. I imagined their bedtime routines with their children were stolen from the pages of the latest parenting book. Weissbluth himself whispered in their ears to let their children cry it out. I could just see the moms and dads curled around each other in bed, unaware of how blessed they were, while we weaved through their subdivision, dreaming of a normal life.
Max was always tucked so beautifully into the backseat. His perfect angel face would peer out from under the blanket that I had wrapped around him, his wide hazel eyes refusing to close. We would listen to the “Spa” channel on XM radio. It was the most maddening lullaby I had ever heard. Up Hwy 1 and back down. Past the gated community of manicured lawns. The gorgeous ocean moon lighting the crests of waves as we drove by blackened beaches and abandoned coastal trails. An endless loop of rain, of tears, of tire tracks on the wet pavement. My heart so full of love for this little boy, and my body overwhelmed with exhaustion from trying to make him well.
For the most part, Max looked healthy to everyone else. When I think of how many times his pediatrician tried to reassure us “Well, it’s not like he’s a failure to thrive baby” I want to kick her in the face. Thriving is a relative term. Yes, he was growing. Yes, he was charming and beautiful and ahead of every milestone, but he was PUKING and screaming and couldn’t eat without gagging. And he was awake. All.the.time. When he did sleep, it was fitful. Restless. He’d wake sobbing and shrieking, vomit everywhere, unable to go back to sleep until we packed him into the car and soothed him with the gentle motion of speed, sorrow, and heartbreak. Sometimes multiple times a night.
There was little that Sean and I agreed on back then. We fought because we were afraid. Of not being able to help Max. Of what the future held. Of the distance that was growing between us and our past. Sean would fall asleep in the passenger seat sometimes, and I would alternate between taking comfort in knowing that I was responsible for both of them, and knowing that I was responsible for both of them.
I have never felt so alone.
I have never been so sad. So scared. At times I thought my heart would burst, never knowing until Max was in my arms that it was possible to love someone else so much, that your entire existence began and ended with them.
I can hear Max stirring on the baby monitor. For the first time in over two years, I know for sure that if he wakes I will be able to get him to go back to sleep. In his own bed. Without getting in the car. Without having to clean up vomit. Without endless hours of Curious George. Without replaying our entire day in my mind, because it was always a failed experiment of what we fed him/when he napped/did he get enough medication/were the meds timed right/did he have enough activity/was he sleeping in the right position/were the ounces of formula too much or too little? Without desperate phone calls to the GI doctor to tell her that we will do anything just please please tell us how to make him feel better. I emailed her once at 3 am. From the car. Sean was driving. And we composed it together. From the car. At 3 am. God help her, it was not a pleasant email.
Now, at 2 1/2, it’s better. It gets better. But don’t say that to another mother who’s in the thick of it. Because for her, for me, it can feel like the walls are caving in. It feels like the world is ending. It feels like 3 am, in the middle of a rainstorm, hurtling down the freeway with a screaming, shaking baby looking back at you in your rearview mirror. “This suuuuuucks” he’s thinking. And you’re dying inside, night after night, from the insanity of it all. How you wish you could just curl up with him in the big rocking chair in his bedroom, and nurse him off into peaceful sleep like all the other mothers in this world. But the rocking chair is covered in vomit stains that won’t come out. You stopped nursing months ago because your tiny newborn couldn’t keep anything down, and you were too depressed to argue with your body about why it wasn’t producing enough milk. Your gorgeous, perfect son, with the beautiful pouty lips and the full cheeks that are painted rosy pink….his little chicken legs curl up to his belly as he wiggles in pain when his stomach cramps and gurgles and his last bottle comes back up in his mouth. Your heart breaks open and washes over the soft wisps of new hair that grace the head that really does fit perfectly in the palm of your hand. And you wonder how someone this tiny can rock your world so completely.
I’m thinking about my baby, who is now a little boy, as I listen to him breathe through the baby monitor tonight. And I’m thinking about two of my dear friends, who are in the thick of it with their sweet little boys at this exact moment. This is a love letter for you, and for all of you, who are guided by your fierce mama instincts to love your child back to health. To drive down the freeway in the middle of the night, fueled by sheer will and the raw panic that helps you believe that you are the only one who knows exactly what your baby needs at this moment.
We move forward one hour at a time. We bond with our babies as we cry with them. We bond with our husbands as we shriek at them. We mend our broken hearts as we love with them.
“If you’re going through hell, keep on going….”