A Moment of Silence

“Why isn’t she crying?”

It was the first thing I asked when she was born, four terrified words shooting from my mouth like lead bullets. Exhaustion from seventeen hours of labor and an emergency C-section clouded my perception but the quiet, so cold and still, was as vivid as the spring lilacs blooming outside the hospital’s glass doors. I couldn’t see through my swollen eyes but the tension in the room was palpable and every nerve in my body felt its presence.

They brought her to the metal table, seven pounds of silence, and placed an oxygen mask over her fragile face. I asked it again but the doctor was too busy putting me back together to answer. I wanted to tell her it was no use – that until my baby cried no amount of stitches could seal this gaping hole – but I was afraid that saying it might make it so.

Then suddenly, as if ignited by an invisible flame, the newborn opened her tiny mouth and let out a ferocious wail, whispers of Shakespeare flooding the white sterile room. “Though she be but little,” they sang in breathtaking harmony, “she is fierce.”

She cried. My baby cried. And for six agonizing months she didn’t stop.

Colic is a thief, robbing its vulnerable victims of everything they hold dear. It slips in uninvited, peruses its targeted treasures with vile greedy eyes, and seizes said treasures without mercy or remorse. I remember with unrivaled clarity how blissfully he relished in my insanity, savoring every stumble and mocking every fall.

Be careful what you wish for.

Three years later and remnants of his damage linger, the worn timeout rug serving as unmistakable proof. Her last tantrum lasted almost an hour, shaky sobs echoing down a narrow hallway adorned with family photos. At one end, the baby who wouldn’t cry – at the other, her defeated mother. Daily I stand on the brink of this abyss, staring into a hole so deep it swallows even my echoes.

“Hold me,” she begs at the end of it all – an exhausted surrender, a tattered white flag – and I do.

Minutes later I watched as she climbs into her favorite chair, opens her favorite pink notebook, and writes her favorite eight-letter name with brilliant ease. Her forehead, framed by a mess of feral brown curls, is a sea of concentrated wrinkles – evidence of the relentless wheels spinning in her head – and I once again feel that this is a child too fiery for me to extinguish … too wild for me to tame. For she is a combustible combination of her two Type A parents, stubborn and combative and passionate and driven, a tornado of defiance I am both unequipped to handle and proud to call my own.

It’s an unparalleled irony that my husband and I are both high school teachers, college educated on how to teach children with defiant behavior. Every day we work with students who channel their sensitivity into rebellion and before our daughter came along we arrogantly and naively questioned the ability of these students’ parents. What were they doing wrong? Didn’t they know anything about discipline? Why couldn’t they get their child under control? If parenthood taught us anything, it’s humility.

Teaching is black and white but parenting is an impossibly ambivalent shade of gray. Inseparable connection and personal investment muddy water that used to be transparent – bloodstained missiles exploding in a thousand directions, abandoned shrapnel littering a once-unblemished ocean.

“I had to put her in timeout four times today,” the sitter says and suddenly the repercussions for an afterschool detention don’t seem so clear.

“Why isn’t she crying?” I asked that day, horrified that I’d lost my baby girl.

But nobody spoke because it was my question to answer.

She’s not crying because this is your calm before your storm, your deep breath before becoming completely submerged in foreign and hostile waters. You’ll need this heart-stopping moment when your faith is losing ground and your patience is wearing thin. When you feel like you can’t take one more minute, remember what you came so close to losing. When those waves threaten to capsize your boat, when that cavernous hole becomes too dark to navigate, this moment alone will be your saving lighthouse. You’re right – being a mother is different than being a teacher because the former involves love no heart is capable of viewing objectively. So let this moment – this silent, scary moment – serve as your new lens through which to view every precious second.

Because the reason she’s not crying is to remind you, now and forever, just how lucky you are.

Baby

Comments

  1. Cassie says

    kara, I can’t even express to you how much this touched me today. I had my 2nd beautiful girl 2 months ago. She was a tiny 4.6lbs and had the cord wrapped around her neck 3 times. She was a sickly blueish grey colour, and did not cry for what seemed like an eternity. I happened upon this as I have been awake with her since 3am trying to ease her relentless crying. I needed to hear this. Thank you thank you thank you.

    • Kara says

      Oh Cassie, I hear you completely! I’m so glad the little miss is alive, well, and able to exercise those feisty lungs (even though I know how frustrating those wails can be). Thanks for reading and keep hanging in there, mama!

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