I read a story online at CNN this morning about a baby who died from being shaken. Normally I try to avoid these tragic tales because I empathize so deeply that it colors my whole day a dark depressing shade of gloomy.
But in this case I feel the need to give testimony from my own life that I wish would prevent this from happening to anyone else.
I remember among my life lessons with my first baby, stuck at home all day with this little being that depended completely upon my good will, the first time I got violently angry when she wouldn’t stop crying. I remember there came a point when an clear image popped into my head of me throwing her against a wall. I was just at the edge of losing control.
I wish I could tell new parents, this is okay. This moment does not make you a bad human. You are probably going to feel this angry, these feelings are normal, they happen, don’t freak out.
Somehow I knew to do the right thing. As soon as I saw that image, I put her down where she was safe and I went in the other room. She was still crying, but I knew she was safe, so I just sat by myself for a minute and tried not to be scared at how mad I was. When I felt a little calmer a couple of minutes later, I went back in to her and I tried again to soothe her.
I don’t feel proud of myself that I’ve never shaken or otherwise injured a baby, I just feel lucky. I know how strong the feelings of anger and frustration are, and I know how hard it is to be alone for extended periods with a baby. To the people who have succumbed to the violent feelings, I feel the deepest sympathy. I feel like it could have been me.
But no one ever talks about this. No one ever admits to young parents how there might arise violent feelings, and how to just let them pass, which is not easy. No one ever talks about how unnatural it is for a parent to be isolated with a young one; we are supposed to live in a tribe, are we not, with people all around to help us when life threatens to be too much to handle? But too often we are separated in our own little box, expected to be independent and deal with things on our own.
I am so sorry that this ever happens. I cannot express that strongly enough. I don’t feel like an ad campaign by the Department of Social Services is going to do the trick (I’ve seen the posters), though it might get the ball rolling. I feel like we all have to talk about it, give genuine support to new parents and tell them the truth. Not laugh and say, “Well, you’ll never get any sleep now! ha ha” but tell them about the real frustrations, and let them know that we can offer advice and support if they’d like.
I can’t stand to see this sort of tragedy happen and know in my heart that, if we behaved as if we were all in this together, we might prevent it.