When you want to shake the baby
When you announce that you’re pregnant, a tidal wave of advice follows. Everyone who’s ever seen a baby wants to tell you what they know, what happened to them, what you should do. Most of it is horrifying.
“It’s fantastic what you’re doing. I love the way you’re handling this. It won’t be like what happened to Michelle.”
“What? What happened to Michelle?”
“Oh, did I say Michelle? I didn’t mean to mention that, I’m sorry. Don’t worry…she was a fool. She ate vegetables and drank water. The baby came out her ear. You’ll be fine.”
— Dylan Moran, Like, Totally
And it doesn’t stop after you have the baby, either. They want to tell you about insomnia and poopsplosions. If you know them really well, they’ll tell you about leaving the baby in the car or giving unnecessary Benadryl.
But there’s one story no one tells. One piece of wisdom that’s rarely passed along because it’s absolutely taboo to even think about.
You want to hurt your baby sometimes.
Before I had a baby, I was aghast that anyone could ever shake one to death, even on accident. What kind of monster does that?!
And then that monster rose up in me.
When Mackenzie was about a month old, after a day of inconsolable screaming despite hours of nursing, barely-damp diapers, and putting nearly 10km on the stroller, I felt the awful urge to just. make. it. stop. I knew I could. It would be so easy.
A twist of the neck. A dash to the tile floor. A blanket she couldn’t pull away.
I lifted her out of the carseat, still shrieking like an injured pterodactyl, and my arms tightened around her. My cells buzzed with the undeniable compulsion to shake her, slap her, cover her mouth, anything to make the screaming stop just for a second, to make her understand how senseless it was, how frantic and insane it made me feel.
Why won’t she stop crying? There’s nothing wrong! Just. Shut. Up!
And as quick as the desire to hurt came, a flash of clarity rocked me back.
She’s a newborn. The world is traumatizing. This is the only way she can communicate. You’re her mom. It’s your job to protect her.
Then I cried, too, as I used the same arms that wanted to squeeze the breath out of her to protectively clutch her little body to me. All I could say between hitching sobs was, “I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry,” over and over.
It was a moment of insanity–true disconnection from reality–that could quickly have turned fatal. It was so real, so fast, so dangerous. Such easy darkness, such ferocious, selfish rage.
And despite being surrounded by mothers of all experience levels, no one ever warned me.
If there’s any proof for the existence innate evil, this is it: that I could not just imagine but crave deadly violence towards my own helpless child. I’ve struggled with emotional disturbance, but I’ve never felt anything like this. Animal rage borne of despair and exasperation chased with shame, compounded with the certainty that if you tell anyone, they’ll report you, damn you, shun you.
Worse, it’s not just a one-time thing.
This demon squats inside me, waiting for a vulnerable moment to throw sand in my eyes and see what I’ll do. It doesn’t go away because I’m aware of it or because I fought it off once.
What’s important is that I’ve never acted on it. And neither have thousands, maybe millions, of other mothers.
But some have.
They’re the ones we see on the news. The ones who lost their battle with the demon. Their stories mirror our own, forcing us to hide our experience lest we face the same condemnation despite our victories.
This is a call for truth.
If you know this rage, this shame, talk about it. When we can be open, we can support each other, and we can beat the stigma. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s horrific. But until we can speak truth to the darkness, guilt and isolation will continue to rule. Knowing that it’s not just you, that you’re not a broken monster, steals the demon’s power. It can literally save lives.
Don’t let your sisters, the mothers-to-be, get blindsided. Share your story so they don’t have to share your pain.