I want to preface this post with a very big I AM OKAY – because it (spoiler!) deals with some new-mom emotions. I am not depressed, please don’t worry, but we all have tough bits and this was one of mine. Okay? Onward!

If you’d asked me before last week what I was afraid of, you’d probably get an answer like “spiders.” You still might, really, because eeeeeech. But until last week I had never known fear like what I experienced when I saw “the face.”

Poor, wee Isaac had a nasty case of diaper rash, and to help sort it out, we were having some quality naked-baby time to air out his tush. And, as eventually happens with babies (naked or not), he peed. Except he ended up with fresh, hot urine on his burning, exposed rash (for those without kids, baby pee & poo, when combined, create a reaction that turns caustic and eats away at tender flesh – that’s diaper rash).

And that’s when he made “the face.”

He turned bright red, his eyes watered up and glazed over, he screamed in a way I’ve never heard before. Like Clarice’s lambs. My baby was in the throes of complete, utter and abject terror. He was really hurt and so very afraid.

Even getting his vaccinations, or when I’ve taken a small chunk out of his fingertip when trying to cut his nails, Isaac’s yelling and tears are more angry and indignant than afraid. They come by accident, or for his own good. And in any case, they’re quickly forgiven and forgotten, by both of us.

But this one’s different. Not for Isaac. He has (I hope) gotten over it the way he gets over most things. He was cleaned up, made comfortable and returned to his usual smiles.

For me though, that face haunts me. Seeing it again is what I’m afraid of.

And I am not a “soft mom” – I am pretty nonplussed by Isaac’s cries, because frankly he can be an impertinent asshole. It is also one of the few forms of communication available to him, so it’s what comes out when he’s over-tired, over-wet or over-hungry. We solve the problem and move on.

But those terrified shrieks and wails, as if he really believed his little life was in grave, imminent danger and going to end in a torturous, painful way, they broke me. They are what I see and hear in my imagination in dark moments when I’m extra tired or feeling sad. The fear that he will ever feel that way again just wrecks me. Especially knowing if it does, I may not be able to prevent or fix it.

Also, knowing that I would do anything, anything, for him to not feel like that.

I suppose you may already know this fear if you are particularly empathetic. But I strongly suspect this is what the nebulous “they” are talking about when they say you do not know how fiercely you can feel about another person until you’re a parent. And frankly, it’s as overwhelmingly frightening as it is overwhelmingly wonderful.

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8 thoughts on “Haunted

  1. Nicole Post author

    Great post.
    I’ve noticed that the more I fall in love with Adele (which is crazy in itself because always, at any given moment, I will tell you that I absolutely could not love this person any more than I already do – and yet, the next moment, I love her more), the more afraid I get. My fear, is not so much the ‘terror face’, like yours (although that’s scary too). It’s that I’ll lose her. It’s that something will happen that is far beyond my control – cancer, car accident, even kidnapping – and she’ll be gone. I do everything I can, every second of every day, to give her every opportunity to have a safe, healthy, happy life. And, my biggest fear is that in one instant, that will all be gone. I honestly don’t know how I could ever survive.

  2. RC Post author

    I hope sweet Isaac is on the mend and that you never have to see that face again! It was the vaccinations that always had me crying harder than the kids. UGH!

    @Nicole – I feel the same way. It’s not so much the hurt they feel (though as a new mom it surely was). Mine are 12 and 14 now and the fear that something will happen to them is what haunts me. I don’t know how mothers of children that are kidnapped or die go on. I just don’t. πŸ™

  3. jen Post author

    Oh Jen, I understand. That face is heartbreaking. It’s horrible to feel so helpless. For months and months when Jackson was very little gruesome scenes would flash through my sleep-deprived brain – Jackson’s little body tumbling down stairs (always cement), walking in to find him lifeless in his crib, car accidents and many others. It’s impossible to un-think or un-see those things and they stick with you. There is so much love, and the horrible chance for unfathomable pain. But oh there is SO much love and while everything is fine that’s what I use to push out those unwelcome thoughts and worries. And when they are in pain, or afraid, like Isaac was, all you can do is hold them close, talk softly in their ears and let them know that everything will be ok, often that is as reassuring and comforting for you as it is for them. πŸ™‚

  4. Sue

    I read somewhere that becoming a mother opens up a part of your soul to be so much more vulnerable to the emotions of others. Fear, delight, pain, joy, disappointment… a mother, especially a new mother, experiences this with a certain rawness. I fully agree with whoever said that. “They” also said that as your child grows and gets older, that open space where the human condition gets into your soul gradually narrows so you’re not quite so vulnerable to being haunted by things, but it never completely closes itself. That’s such an accurate representation of how I have experienced others’ emotions since Simon was born. I’m no longer quite as vulnerable but still there is more rawness than before Simon was born.

    Anyways… that’s not necessarily related to your post, but it’s what I thought of when I read this. *hugs* – yes, it will haunt you and no, it won’t be the last time something hits you like this.

    Lately my “mom emotion education” is all about realizing that Simon is not an open book to me. I always thought that when he became verbal he would share with me his thoughts about the world… but nope. He’s a closed book. I think our communication is VERY good but that doesn’t mean he shares his private funny little observations about the world. Sometimes he chuckles and won’t tell me why. That kills me.

  5. Sue

    In a nutshell, to summarize my previous comment, becoming a mother “levels up” your total suck factor. I am an unabashed total suck, so re-reading your post made me verklempt. I embrace that level of suckedness because it shows me the sheer depth of human emotion.

    Yes, I think I WILL have another glass. Thank you for asking!

  6. Belinda

    Having been in the mom game for a good number of years those feelings never go away, they just change. I remember when my youngest had a period of night terrors, that scared the bejesus out of me (and his brother) because nothing I did calmed him down in his limbo between sleep and consciousness. He was seeing things that weren’t there and looking at them in abject horror but after he had no memory of it but I sure did!

    Your instinct is to try and wake them or cuddle them but that doesn’t work. I had to just make sure he didn’t hurt himself and watch and that totally sucked. My doctor said it would resolve itself and it did after a couple of weeks but man that anxiety!

  7. kiki

    One day when my usually quiet niece started screaming her little lungs out in terror my dad, brother, and sister-in-law ran outside to find out what had happened. Earlier in the day they had given my eight year old niece a pair of pruning shears, a quick how-to, and a caution to be careful so that she could help her grandparents out by cutting back some of the blackberries that were taking over their yard.

    My niece was carried inside crying her heart out and unable to talk. Everybody thought that she had cut off a finger or some other likely appendage but nobody could see any blood. Turns out that she’d been pricked by the thorns of the bush in the soft underside of her upper arm.

    My sister-in-law sat with her eight year old daughter on her lap rocking her back and forth, petting her hair, and whispering comfortingly in her ear while she tried desperately to catch her own breath and attempted to channel the adrenaline in her body into comforting her daughter.

    After a while my sister-in-law quipped that she’d once read that having children was like taking your heart, removing it, and holding it outside of your body. My wonderful father – also given too much excitement by the crying grandchild – added that it was definitely like keeping your heart outside of your body, and then somebody giving it a good swift kick every once in a while.

    That always struck me as particularly accurate: Having children is like keeping your heart outside of your body, and it being kicked every once in a while when you’re least expecting it.

    I hope he’s feeling better, and that you stop hearing his harrowing cries of pain whenever you think of your worst fears. If not? It probably means he’s got a good mom who puts him ahead of herself and who would do anything she’s capable of to make it stop. Not everyone gets that.

  8. Tara

    Ugh caustic diaper rash… the worst! Until someone shared with me the secret of no more diaper rash – lol. Works like a charm… buy plain cornstarch in bulk and throw in a tablespoon or two into each fresh diaper. It gets rid of and prevents diaper rash, I swear it sucks the redness right out of the skin and surprisingly fast too πŸ™‚

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