Words by Kathryn Boyce
I looked at the baby, an arm's length away from me in the room that was as dark as I could get it. The sheets I had tacked up over the windows let in too much light. We needed curtains, although they’d probably never be in the budget. Fog hung heavy in my head as I moved my eyes from the sheets back to the baby, screaming baby, as he struggled against his swing. I picked him up and started to walk back and forth on the pressed down carpet path in our room, again. It shouldn’t take an entire afternoon for a baby to fall asleep for the very nap they had been screaming for.
By the time he was two months old, all I could hear were his screams. They coated the insides of my ears and echoed in my brain during any unaccustomed silences. His screams. His tiny body was bright red and splotchy, rough to the touch with eczema. His stomach was constantly bloated and after every feeding, he vomited until dissolving into high-pitched inconsolable cries.
At our eight-week appointment, the pediatrician poked his distended little belly and remarked, “Wow, that’s a full baby!” and I stared at her with eyes held in by loose and sunken skin and asked, “Is it normal for him to cry a lot? I really feel like he cries a lot. He throws up a lot, too.” The pediatrician laughed and said, “He’s eating good and gaining weight; spit up is normal. Some babies cry more than others.” I heard myself laugh with her and the sound felt like rocks in my mouth. We finished the appointment with a “he’s healthy” diagnosis. I didn’t think I believed her, but she was the doctor so she must know.
I had nothing to offer him for relief. Everything I tried failed, at one point or another. His skin, his stomach, his body was in constant distress. I became accustomed to wiping stray frustrated tears from my cheeks and he became accustomed to pain.
Now, as I sat in that dark room, looking at the baby who had finally screamed himself to sleep despite my efforts to comfort him, I knew there was life going on outside my walls. I knew someone had to be walking to a mailbox, someone sipping hot coffee in a Starbucks, someone sunbathing, someone studying for a test. I knew it in my mind. I knew it because I had done all those things at one point. But I could not get my heart to understand it, to understand that my now was not my forever. In those months, it was a struggle for my heart to know anything but this broken baby, screaming from exhaustion and refusing to sleep. The rhythm of our mother-son battle was defeat.
Until it wasn't.
In that dark room, as I frantically worked to relieve my struggling babe, I had to fight the lies of NOW. I fought against the lie that my circumstances had set and would not soften, that his pain and my utter lack would be forever.
Around his fifth month, we moved and were assigned a new pediatrician. We went to see her, hopeful. I walked into Dr. Beth’s office with this splotchy, sad baby boy and offered the thoughts in my heavy-thick head and said, “Please help me.” Through her, it was discovered quickly that my son had a laundry list of food allergies. Allergies that we could address, praise God. With this knowledge, we found ourselves on a new journey. As any other food allergy mama will tell you, that journey is not without immense burden and meticulous care, but it is one in which you are able to understand and address your child’s wellbeing. There is peace in that, even amidst the anxiety of it. Today, he is the happy and healthy three-year-old that throws his arms around my shoulders and tells me, “You da, you da best!”
I would have traded his pain in a heartbeat. I will always wish we had discovered his allergies sooner. But I would not trade the intimacy I gained with surrender and hope. Or that, now, I know to hold any other mother, in the midst, and tell her to hang in. Remember when she used to sunbathe, remember when she used to sleep – and anticipate their return. Sleep and the sun will be waiting and all the more beautiful for their absence.
In the midst of it all, hope did not overwhelm me, but it did meet me in the fight. Whispering with warm breath, “Hang in, dear one.” As I held my baby a thousand times over and sang the lines of a favorite song, “peace be still, peace be still, peace be still,” I felt my pleading heard. I found a place where I could trust that my circumstances would find themselves fluid again. The process was harrowing for my careful and fragile heart; but when a new heart emerged, malleable and more equipped for life, I was thankful for that. My soil of circumstance became fertilized with hope and, though tilled with the sharp blades of strain and pain, hosted the fullest roses.
Kathryn is mom to three young boys and wife to a military man. She crams her writing time into the corners of naps and after bedtime, believing life is worth the effort of sharing. She shares more of her journey on her blog and Instagram.