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A DAD'S JOURNAL - One Dad's Nightmare - Surviving a Screamer

Nathan lives in Montgomery County, PA with his wife Beth and now, much calmer son Landon.  Since becoming a dad he's begun to question his life's direction.  

 

It has been 245 days since I have had a good night of sleep.  Night should be a time of relative peace but mine has been constantly punctuated with cries.  My beautiful wife, Beth, would tell you that my sad story pales in comparison to her ninth month of pregnancy, hard delivery, and a grueling six months with a difficult child (but who’s really asking her?).

Our son Landon was born on October 24th, 2009 and sometime in the week before that was the last time I had a good night of sleep.  Landon is a great little guy—big toothless smile, a gasping laugh, and deep blue eyes that catch the attention of everyone around him.  There really is only one big problem with him: he’s a screamer.

Landon enjoys being particular about everything in his life which has made ours all the more stressful.  The last six months with a screamer like Landon have felt a bit like being taken hostage.

For the record, I am not a “baby” person.  Most often when I see babies I grit my teeth, smile, and try and find something positive to say about the child in front of me.  On the rare occasion that “how cute” escapes from my lips, parents can be confident that I have been overwhelmed by the angelic qualities of their little one.  Generally after I mire my way through these comments I move on not needing to hold or linger over said baby.  When Beth and I decided to start our family I was prepared for our child to come into the world in a moderately cute package which personality would inevitably make up for.  The bargain was turned on its head and we received the most adorable baby with a most difficult personality  

Landon is like his mother in many ways with his beautiful eyes, red-tinged hair and very persistent (dare I publicly say) stubborn attitude.  He has never been officially considered a colicky baby but when a child who can consistently scream for 4 hours without wearing himself out arrives on the scene, life is difficult.

Our first inkling that Landon was not going to be the angel we were hoping for came four hours after he was born.  We had been through the birthing and infant childcare class with our fantastic doula Marilyn and we had the expectation that at some point in the first few hours of Landon’s life he would want to sleep.  We held him, talked to him, cuddled and admired him as we prepared for bed in the hospital room.  However,
our little one had entirely different plans.

My journal entry (yes I keep a Journal – that’s another story) from the next morning describes a bleary scene where I sat up the entire night trying to keep Landon quiet as a constant flow of annoying medical personnel interrupted the few moments of quiet peace we had. Actually it was 4 am when I passed out.  I can only guess he did too.

I had his footprints placed in my journal.  I guess I’m kinda sentimental… I love looking at them now.  I placed his feet on the page the other day to see how much he’s grown.  How cool is that.

 

Reading through my journals of the first six months of Landon’s life there is one constant theme: exhaustion.  Exhaustion from not only a lack of sleep but from feeling as though I could never make my child happy.  To hold your own child and be unable to calm or soothe him is to feel powerless as though someone has bound your hands.

Three weeks after Landon’s birth I had a particularly tough evening.  Beth needed sleep so I was watching Landon hoping to find some way to bond with him.  Within a matter of a few minutes he had erupted into a cauldron of tears, ear-piercing crying, and a refusal to be soothed.  I sat, stood, walked, pleaded with him, and ultimately began to get angry. I was on the verge of tears.

What does a father do when his child does not respond to all his attempts to soothe him?  I had no ability to feed him, or provide comfort in the way his mother could—I felt powerless.

As Landon’s wails became more forceful I was intensely aware of my vulnerable position and became upset that my child had seemingly rejected my attempts to comfort him.  I was so angry that I had to hand Landon over to his mother to keep from exploding.  I walked away utterly amazed that a being weighing less than ten pounds could have so thoroughly frustrated me in so short a time.

After a few weeks of near hell-like conditions in our home we set out on a crusade to free ourselves from the tyranny of a month old child and were determined to take back our lives.  We began chatting with friends and received so many contradictory pieces of parenting advice that our heads spun.  Succumbing to the pressure from outsiders to “schedule” our little guy we launched into our crusade.  Twenty four hours later and
worse for the wear, our experiment in scheduling was over.  Landon had screamed for nearly twelve straight hours refusing food and sleep as we tried to regain a sense of control.  Secretly cursing the friends who had been able to pull off this coup with their children we tossed the scheduling books out the window and persisted down other avenues.  Finally, a glimmer of hope: gas drops.

Gas drops (aka Mylicon) are a bit like a miracle.  Screaming baby with an upset stomach?  Gas drops. Baby can’t sleep?  Try the gas drops!  Not sure why the baby is screaming?  Gas drops!  I don’t recommend this advice to the general population but we discovered that part of Landon’s fussiness was due to gas.  A combination of these drops and elimination of dairy in Beth’s diet gave us hope.  Maybe our child wasn’t so evil after all—maybe he was just a baby.  (If you’re keeping score that’s Landon: 3, Parents: 1)

Oh how quickly hope is dashed.  The drops gave us an extra hour of sleep here and there and acted like a miracle elixir for a time but failed to provide us with the silence we needed.  It’s funny that you don’t realize how silent a home is until it has been filled with noise.

After three months of begging, pleading, and throwing ourselves on the mercy of our son we realized that we were either going to have to find a way to cope or we would soon break down.  Endless nights without sleep, days of finding Beth at home crying, and feelings of failure took an emotional toll (can anyone out there relate?).

 I kept meeting other fathers who would regale me with cute stories of their tiny infant and how their child slept all night and made barely a sound by day.  They seemed happy and content—the opposite of what I was experiencing.

I asked myself a question that I was afraid to answer: “was I glad we had Landon?”  I wasn’t sure if something was wrong with me or not, but I realized I was not enjoying fatherhood.  This realization was the needed impetus to find a way to cope. I sensed two options in front of us: laugh or cry.  I chose to laugh.  One particularly frustrating evening I took to the web to vent.  The post below is from that evening.

_________________________________________________________________________

 Monday, February 15, 2010 at 8:00pm

Parenting Tips (Because of COURSE I’m qualified!)



 All right, so since I'm an official expert at parenting (with my extensive 3.5 months of experience) I thought I should start a series of notes relaying my knowledge to all you poor misguided parents.

TIP #1  The Crying Baby Scream-Down Method!   Ever wished that your baby would just stop crying? You've walked them around, changed their diaper, and done everything the child could possibly want--and they still scream! You're about to resort to duct tape over the mouth when you decide.... that might be trouble. What to do? Try my "Baby Scream-Down Method" by using the following steps:

  • Count to ten (this is for you)
  • Make sure you have exhausted all other resources for calming down said baby
  • As baby continues to scream, do something to the baby that will make them more upset! (For instance, putting Landon down when he's screaming leads to apoplexy)
  • Allow baby to scream for 5 or so minutes until they are REALLY worked up
  • Pick up baby and attempt to soothe them pretending to be their hero (babies have wicked short memories!)
  • Rinse and repeat as necessary.


Generally the baby will forget the first reason they were screaming...and suddenly, the child is happy again!

________________________________________________________________________

The following day there was a flurry of activity on my account as friends read the post and responded.  A young mother about my age read it and said responded with “you just described my night.”  The experience helped me relieve stress and in the process touched a friend who was in the same predicament.  Humor became my biggest weapon as we held on by our nails through the first few months.

The pressure began to dissipate as each day we laughed and found ways to support each other.  I began counting down the days until we approached developmental milestones (when could he smile or laugh?) that would provide us with some relief.  Landon’s smile started slowly.  His first attempt brought a curling of half of his lip upward.  Slowly but surely he began to smile at us and the thought that maybe he didn’t hate us after all snuck into our brains.

For the first few weeks of smiling we bounced him, tossed him in the air, and made funny faces and voices — anything for that elusive smile.  Soon after, the laugh followed.  Landon now has a wide toothless smile with a laugh that sounds as though he’s sucking in all the air around him.  

 

His smiles and laughs brought us untold pleasure as we continued to cope with the fact that seven months in he still doesn’t sleep through the night and continually wants to be held and walked around the room for hours on end.

Our saving grace over these last few months has been our ability to laugh.  Without this coping method we would have been at each other’s throats.  Laughing covered a multitude of hard feelings, sleepless nights, and humorless situations.  But even laughter has its limits and we soon would have hit ours had the joys of a developing child not emerged.

When we were near our breaking point, Landon surprised us with a sudden smile or his unexpected giggles and just like that we were laughing… overcome with love and genuine joy.

I used to joke with Beth about adopting Landon out or giving him away to someone who could handle the stress.  This was me trying to be funny instead of frustrated.

A few weeks ago I had a nightmare — we were giving Landon away to someone who could handle the stress.  I remember sobbing through the entire dream heartbroken at giving up our son. I awoke expecting to find my face wet with tears but it wasn’t.  I rolled over and came face to face with Landon who was nestled snuggly between Beth and me.  This was an amazing moment.

I realized that somewhere in the midst of all the screaming, tears, and laughter Landon had finally worked his way into my heart and I was glad to be a dad after all.

What’s next?   I’ll let you know.


Come on, I know you're out there...the parents who've had a similar experience.  Please share with our readers below.

 

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User Comments:
Kathy Schultz said:
I laughed so hard through this article... every parent has experienced the inconsolable crying baby. Even the ones whose babies slept through the night much earlier. I had 3... and you, Nathan, was a good little sleeper!!!
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