My baby was four weeks old. He hadn’t slept for more than a 45 minute stretch in his short lifetime. I was bleary eyed, depressed, and terrified.
I knew, deep down inside, that something wasn’t right. I can’t describe it except to say that I could just tell. He seemed to be miserable.
All. The. Time.
(This is my little man at a few weeks old. Blurry and bad picture I know. I was really tired. And it was eleven years ago – I was probably using a disposable camera. Look at his little, already stressed out face.)
I read every book I could find. I talked to every mother I knew. Researched colic and milk allergies and sleep training until I couldn’t see straight. And then I talked to the pediatrician at my son’s well baby check-up.
He dismissed me before I even finished my sentence.
In his defense, I was crying. A lot. I am sure I had not done my hair in weeks and might have been wearing clothes from four days prior. But still, I was hoping for help. Or an answer as to why. Something.
Instead, I saw him write in the chart, when he thought I couldn’t see – “Hysterical first time mother”.
It was the first time I was openly dismissed and judged as a mother.
It would be far from the last.
Because of that one doctor’s reaction, I became truly convinced that everything going on with my son was my fault. That somehow, I was overreacting. Or not disciplining enough. Or disciplining too much. Or not sticking to enough of a routine. Or being too regimented.
I was sure that no matter what, I was the problem. Worse yet, I was sure that if I could just get it together as a mom, my son would be OK.
The pressure and the burden was immense. The more interactions I had, the more I found further proof of my inability as a mom.
When he would melt down in the grocery store, every single time – it seemed clear to me, from the looks on all the other mom’s faces, that I was missing something important.
When I would share that he would cling to me at night and want me to put pressure on his torso in order to finally calm down and sleep, I was told that I was spoiling him and training him to be needy.
When I asked a psychiatrist about helping him learn to wear socks and shoes, I was told he must have emotional problems related to my divorce. That, and why didn’t I just force him to wear shoes and socks and then he would get over it?
When my son melted down at a New Year’s Party several weeks before we were married, my sweet husband unknowingly contributed to this when he said, “I have watched enough episodes of Super Nanny to know what needs to happen here.”
I was so ashamed of my poor performance as a momma. I was desperate to figure out what to change to make it better.
It wasn’t until I started homeschooling and was around my child again, all day long (just like when he was four weeks old), that I felt that same maternal instinct.
Again, I knew deep down inside, that something wasn’t right. I can’t describe it except to say that I could just tell. He seemed to be miserable.
All. The. Time.
It was exactly the same as it was when he was a baby. Nothing I had done or tried had changed him, or his needs.
It took nine years for me to seek help for my son. Nine years.
The guilt and the shame I felt meant my son did not receive much-needed help or intervention.
I received a message recently from a sweet mom friend who has a mysterious, three-year old little one. Her sensitive girl had a meltdown at a public pool. It was awful, both for her and for her momma. Shortly after, she texted me and asked, “When does it get easier? When will people stop staring at me and her, with so much judgement? I tried my best. What else can I do? I am laying in bed, trying to fall asleep and I can still see all those faces staring at me.”
My heart broke for her because I knew exactly how she felt. I was so sad because I have seen her with all three of her kids. She is a wonderful, caring, concerned and committed momma. It just seems so unfair. I could only respond with what my own experience has been…
The truth is, the looks and the stares and the judgement and the condemnation don’t go away. I wish they would, but they don’t.
I have just stopped caring as much.
As time has gone on, there are still situations where judgement comes. As my guy gets older however, I find it is more obvious to adults that something is different, and they are less likely to be the ones commenting or staring.
Now, it is other children that will most often comment and stare. It hurts just as much, but in a different way. Less judgement, more fear for the future, and a grief to which only a parent can relate.
I try to remember in all of this, that God made me this child’s momma. He made you yours too.
He lovingly equips us to mother and to care for our kids.
I pray we listen. I pray we follow.
We can’t let the memories of other people judging, or more importantly, our own fear and guilt, get in the way of finding out what our children need.
And about those people staring at the pool, and the doctor writing in the chart, and the other moms at the grocery store, and the future husband who had never really been around kids or had ones of his own – they have not experienced how difficult this is any more than we had before these special little ones came into our lives.
I don’t want to lose sight of that. Even when I want to scream, “You don’t understand!“, when the comments are just plain mean, when I doubt myself because of someone’s ignorance or judgy-ness, when I want to cry big tears because another child is being unkind to my son. Even then, the truth is they really don’t know. If they did, most wouldn’t dream of having that kind of reaction.
I think if I want grace, I have to be willing to give it.