There’s a devastating article, Emily Bazelon’s “Shaken-Baby Syndrome Faces New Questions in Court,” in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about how some caregivers are being wrongly accused of shaking babies so hard they suffer brain damage.
It turns out that what we attribute to shaken baby syndrome is often caused by something else. It’s so upsetting to think about the women who are in jail for crimes they didn’t commit.
I was talking about the article with some of my mom friends. Though the evidence against shaken-baby syndrome is mounting, many of us admitted to each other we were familiar with that dark and horrible place where a baby’s crying filled us with impatience, or even rage. But we also realized that we were ashamed of those feelings and that we don’t usually openly talk about them.
“This is all such a taboo subject that almost everybody lies about and pretends it isn’t so. Kids can drive you to your very limits. Yes, we have no societal support, but yes, we also have too little realism; we like our images of parenting to be sugar-coated. Am I the only mother of a newborn who was scared to death she’d go crazy and smash her baby against the wall? I don’t think so, but I felt so alone and haunted by it and potentially dangerous.” –R.P., Texas
“Lily was so colicky. If I wasn’t literally jumping up and down with her in my arms or nursing she was screaming. There were several times where I had to leave her in her crib for a few minutes so I could get a grip. Before that, at the hospital, I’d had to watch a shaken baby video before going home and my husband and I were like, this is a joke. Then Lily cried like a maniac and I was almost thankful for that video. My very good friend was chief resident at Columbia’s children’s hospital and she saw some terrible things, but in the end she said she totally got how it can happen. Now that the second’s almost here, I’m more prepared. At least I know the colic will end and I know how to deal with it if indeed it happens again.” –P.B., New York
“When my oldest was several months old, I remember reading an article by a woman who admitted wanting to take her baby by the legs and slam him against the wall. That article meant SO much to me as a new mother. It made the frustrations and anger that I faced feel more normal, which made me feel like I could cope a little better. I think there’s huge value in honesty about issues like this.” –K.B., Hawaii
“There were SOOO many times I scared myself by the anger and frustration I felt and by the fantasies I tried to get out of my head. I look at my boys now and wonder how I could ever have felt such crazy dangerous emotions. But then I remember the sleeplessness, feelings of being completely overwhelmed, anger over my husband’s constant travel, self-doubt, and just plain exhaustion. I wish someone had told me it was okay to feel that way.” –S.K., New Jersey
“My children regularly push me to my limits. I can see how people lose it.. I think most of us probably can (other than the parents who have these really obedient children. Mine are very stubborn and independent–not sure where they got that from–anyway.) A few years ago a mother was caught on film in a Kohls parking lot. They showed it over and over on the news and from what I saw it actually didn’t look that terrible. The child was all over the car and the mom was standing outside the car and reaching and slapping and it looked like a mess but having BEEN there I didn’t want to judge because we didn’t know the whole story. Anyway, I remember nodding along while everyone said, ‘Did you see that horrible mother beating her child in the parking lot!?’ and thinking that I hope I am never caught on film having a hissy fit…” C.J., New Jersey.
“I was a calm person before I became a mother. I even taught yoga classes. I think there were even people who admired me for being calm and together. And when my husband and I watched a shaken baby video–required watching by the hospital where we gave birth–we thought, “Of COURSE we would never do something like that!” Then we had a baby. My baby had colic. She never really slept. If I got 2 hours, it was a good stretch. Sometimes it was 1.5 hours. During the day she napped maybe for 20 minutes. Most of the time she was fussy. She needed to be held and while I was standing up. If I tried to sit down while holding her, she’d cry. I had to stand and move, either by bobbing my body or by walking. I used to push her in the stroller for hours. I would nurse her for hours. I would rock her for hours. I lost all of my baby weight in 12 weeks and ended the first year about 10 pounds lighter than I was when I got pregnant and I think it was because I never slept or sat down or rested. At some point when she was 5 or 6 weeks or so old, I was just exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep. That was my sole goal in life. But I never could do it. And her cries just set off my startle reflex. My whole body tensed up when I heard her cry. One night I woke and I swore I had just fallen asleep. I was in a rage. I stomped out of my room and into hers. I just wanted to shut her up. I wanted to throw her, smother her, hurt her, strangle her, squeeze her. I was feeling so much rage. I picked her up and the urge to shake her was so strong. I think the only thing that saved her life was that I always put her into the crib and picked her up sideways, with my palms under her shoulders and butt. Because of where my hands were, I couldn’t really shake her. She wasn’t positioned that way, and I never held her under the armpits. I just didn’t do it. So I was conditioned to pick her up in a way that prevented me from shaking her. The rage finally left me and I sat down and nursed her and sobbed that night. I was scared of myself. I didn’t know who I was. I was ashamed and mortified.” –A.B., Pennsylvania