When you want to shake the baby

Rage and Gentleness by Daniela Uhlig via DeviantArt

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.

It’s this:

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.

9 Comments

  1. K R Green

    November 5, 2016 at 11:49 AM

    I don’t know anything about being a mother, but this is exactly what I want to know about before making the decision to become one. I would personally use the word “selfish” over “evil” but either way: those wars with ourselves must be so strong and yet to vulnerable in those early days. Thinking back to my experience with families in job roles and friends, there are definitely parents who lose this battle. Thank you for sharing.

    1. elliedi

      November 5, 2016 at 11:53 AM

      My own battles with mental health were a big concern for me in becoming a parent. I never felt like I had “won”, and I was (am still) afraid of passing on the darkness that I myself don’t really know how to best. Confronting this demon really threw me. And it’s so insidious because you are SO raw and bruised in those first few weeks and all of the sudden you have all these cranked-up emotions and then BAM! the frustration overloads you and this happens. It’s horrifying. But it’s also beatable. I wouldn’t want this to discourage anyone from having kids if they really want them. The more we talk about this, the less likely it is that someone will lose the fight.

  2. jessabits

    November 5, 2016 at 11:59 AM

    I think I told you once, the story my grandmother told me about being a mother which has affected me most (if she ever told me others, I don’t remember them) was that when she was a new mother and my mum was very tiny, she nearly tossed her out an open window. She told me that she still didn’t know, to that day, how she didn’t. That the crying just went on and on and she couldn’t make her stop. It was a lesson about unfathomable love and bravery that’s stood with me every day since. And I think I’ve also remembered it so viscerally because ever since, I have been eternally grateful for her love and bravery in that moment. Because that tiny, frightening, furious little baby turned out to be my mother, who I can’t imagine not being in the world. Who, in turn, told me stories of how colicky I was as a newborn, and allergic to formula, and how I cried “nonstop for the entire first four months” of my life. Though she’s never confided in me quite the same way as my grandmother did, she has told me about taking me into public places and I’d scream and transform into another child until I was taken out of a crowd (this was in a discussion about my crowd anxiety). I know she felt the same. But yet, here I am. Her courage saw her through those months, as yours does for you. Mothers are truly TRULY amazing creatures. I admire you more than I ever have. <3

    1. elliedi

      November 5, 2016 at 12:22 PM

      I don’t think I’d heard that story before! I’m so glad your granny shared it with you; I’ve had a lot of people in my life joke about that feeling of wanting to throw the baby out the window but none who ever treated it as serious as it feels. (I also didn’t know you were colicky and allergic to formula!)

      It’s interesting that you use the word “frightening” to describe a baby–that’s so true! It’s weird to be afraid of something that weighs less than your cat, but they are scary.

      <3 <3 <3

  3. Thekla Richter

    November 5, 2016 at 1:21 PM

    Pediatricians can help with this by warning about purple crying and advising parents that it is okay to put their crying baby in a safe place like a crib and just walk away for a few minutes. Put in some ear plugs to dull the sound and take deep breaths and get yourself together for a few minutes before returning to soothe your baby. Sometimes putting baby in a carrier or stroller and getting outside with them can also help the caregiver cope.

    Listening to hours of screaming and not being able to help truly is overwhelming, and people who have birth have hormones that make this even more intense for them. All caregivers who experience this situation need to know how to keep everyone safe if they feel themselves starting to approach a breaking point. I agree that we need to talk more openly about this and about how we get through it.

    And obviously we need way better support systems in place for new parents 🙁

    1. elliedi

      November 5, 2016 at 8:12 PM

      Yes, yes, yes. I didn’t learn about PURPLE crying until I was desperately googling what to do about the screaming. And as soon as I read up on it, I was like, “Oh, this is supposed to happen,” which made it a little bit easier to cope with (a little is a lot in situations like this). I didn’t have much emotional luck with the 10 minute break/earplug solution, but I know it works wonders for loads of people. Being able to reach out to trusted other moms has been a godsend for my stability, and I really wish more of us felt safe to talk about scary things like this.

  4. Dani

    November 6, 2016 at 8:24 PM

    Ellie I wanted to say that I really enjoy your posts about motherhood and I admire your bravery for speaking openly about things all moms face but few speak about because of the shame.

    1. elliedi

      November 7, 2016 at 12:54 PM

      Thank you for that, my dear! <3

  5. Kyeli Smith

    September 14, 2017 at 2:10 PM

    Um, so I know this is a super old post, but this happened to me when my son was an infant and I’m happy to talk about it with you if you still need to. <3

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