In the dead, lonely hollow of midnight, my baby girl is screaming.
She is feverish and blistered, baking in my arms. I pace and rock and shush…but still the screams come. She has been awake for hours, will be for hours more. At fourteen months, the nights she wakes and cries still outnumber the nights she sleeps through soundly.
It is hard. For me, the hardest part of everyday parenting. Harder than toddler tantrums. Harder than painstakingly homemade meals that end up shared between the floor and the bin. Harder than the bitter disappointment of failed breastfeeding. I admit I have shouted. Begged her to stop. Mumbled swear words under my breath.
My boy was never like this. He cried, yes. He still does. But never like this, for this long, this loudly, this desperately, this inconsolably. He has meltdowns that take time to subside but they do subside. I am a comfort to him.
Sometimes, it feels like I live inside the shrill purple shriek of my daughter’s cry.
In the bleak corners of the night, that cry threatens to overwhelm me. It blacks out all other thoughts, obscures all but the despairing, consuming need to make it stop.
There have been many such nights since she arrived. She was born crying, shrieking, before she and I were even separate entities. She screamed every single night, from afternoon until bedtime, for the first five months of her life. Slowly, surely she has improved; colic and reflux have diminished. But when she cries, it is if her life depends on it, it is with every fibre of her being, with every gasp of breath she has. She cries like crying is what she was made for.
I know I could never harm her. I still know, deep in the pit of my stomach, that I love her. But it is easy to forget, when I’m living inside those cries, that she is my heart, my soul, the joint axis of my reason for being.
It is easy to forget that she is fiercely bright, full of throaty giggles, agile and quick in wit and action. It is easy to forget the way she imitates reading, book spread on her lap, making noises that sound like quacks and clicks and shushes as she pretends.
It is easy to forget the way she rubs the backs of soft toys, seeking to comfort them, the way we comfort her. When she falls asleep on the rug after we have been shopping, a rainbow of flowers against teal, she is perfection.
When she is calm and peaceful and happy, happy just to be with me, she brings me more joy than I could ever have conceived, before she and her brother arrived. She watches and follows him all the time. When he enters a room, she smiles. I see her love for him, already, and it makes my soul sing.
This night was unusual because we were all alone, she and I. Her Daddy and brother had gone away for the weekend for Granny’s birthday party, and she, poor mite, had to stay home, as the chicken pox started just as we were all due to leave.
During the day, she had not been so poorly. We played with paints. Dressed in her brother’s dinosaur onesie, she daubed the bright colours all over herself and the paper, squealing and da-ing with delight as she discovered she could make marks by herself.
I was delighted by her company, admired the little person that she is becoming – I went to bed happy and content after a day well-spent.
But in the long, lonely night, I forgot. I forgot to focus on the millions of things that I adore about her, because the screams were all I knew, all I could focus on.
And I am so sorry, my little bean – so sorry I cannot always be the perfect mummy, the one you need, on those wretched nights that never seem to end. But I am only human, and we cannot be perfect. Even at our bravest, strongest, most worthwhile, we are flawed. But we can be bright and brilliant and clever and fierce, like you. Fierce in our loves, fierce in our courage, fierce in our intolerance of unfairness and injustice and unkindness, as I hope you will become, as I can already see you starting to be.
And so, my smallest bean, my advice for you is this:
Grow big. Cry less. Sleep more and find comfort. And always, always, stay fierce.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce.” – Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Scene ii