Who screams that at their newborn baby?
Shh, Don’t Tell! stories are meant to be heard – in the person’s own voice – as well as for the original music. Please click above and listen, if you can! The transcript is also below.
Narrator: Here are some memories of motherhood that we don’t hear about so much.
Becca: Dropping my baby, screaming at my baby, leaving my baby in a car seat and walking outside and actually lighting a cigarette to cope.
Narrator: Becca is by far not the only mother who has done this stuff. Or felt this way:
Becca: The first few weeks of his life and I had failed him continuously.
Narr: Welcome to Shh don’t tell – stories of parenting usually hidden or glossed over. The thing with Becca is – she planned. She worked for years to make her life as a parent very different from her life as a child.
Becca: We just grew up very very poor. Like in 1986 we squatted for a year in a house with four men and another woman. And one of them was my mom’s boyfriend. We had caseworkers at different times. CPS (child protective services) was always a risk, always a threat, always a fear. There were good times, like living with my grandparents in southern Oregon, but there were a lot of bad times.
I spent my childhood comparing my life to my friends. I’d walk into a friend’s house and I would see how normal things looked. I’d come home and I’d look in my mom’s room and there was a mattress on the floor and you know, we maybe moved and we’d lose toys. We would put stuff in storage and couldn’t pay the storage unit rent and we’d lose all our things. I don’t think we paid for school pictures but maybe once or twice. And I would go to friend’s house and I’d see their pictures on the wall from every year… people just had their shit together. And we didn’t have our shit together. And I wanted that. So that informed how I wanted to parent. And that informed how I chose to plan my family.
So I wanted to buy a house. Then we got married. I just had systems. And beliefs. That I had to hit certain benchmarks to be worthy of having a family.
I went to work for this property management company, then I went to work for this default servicing company. This is 2008 now.
I finally got pregnant. Two weeks later the economy tanked. There were huge paring downs, so I lost about 20% of my income, and developed a perinatal mood disorder.
I lost in my mind, all financial security. And I just spiraled.
And so I started to think I had made the worst decision of my life to have children. I looked for options, considered options to get out of my family planning. Because I didn’t want to be a parent on welfare, and I didn’t want to be homeless. None of that was real. (laughs) None of that was possible. My husband’s family is very supportive. If we were ever in a financial crisis we have our primary, alternative, contingent and emergency plans in place. But I felt like we were going straight to emergency. And I just didn’t see a likelihood of that not including some kind of shame for needing help. So I just was incredibly depressed and incredibly anxious and felt so screwed over and felt like I’d done everything right and I still failed.
Then when my son was born, I was in labor for 32 hours at home. And then I went to the hospital. And I napped and woke up and I pushed for 36 minutes and had a baby And he was perfect.
Then two hours later he was taken to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) because his breathing was labored.
So you are sitting on a hard chair, next to your baby’s bassinet, and he’s hooked up to all these monitors. And you’re looking around. And I did what I always did, I compared my baby’s vitals on the screen to every other screen in the room. And babies were going home with vitals that were not as strong as my baby. And my baby was kept. Nobody looked at you, nobody talked to you, they just talked to each other. I wasn’t consulted. Everything happened to him. To me.
And I had Bell’s palsy so I looked like a freak. It attacked my facial nerve. So I lost full function of the right side of my face. I couldn’t enunciate very well. I couldn’t even say my baby’s name. I couldn’t sing to him. I thought he wouldn’t know my voice. I worried that he would be damaged because he couldn’t see me smile. And I was afraid they would take my baby away if I was difficult.
And I just felt like I failed right out of the gate. Because I was in a health care system that didn’t understand why I choose home birth. It was just really important to me to not have men making decisions about my body. Which is why I didn’t want to be in the hospital.
I had flashbacks the first two years of my son’s life every time I drove home from work because the hospital was on my way home from work. The flashbacks created terrible terrible moments.
And so I just remember having a fussy baby that I couldn’t console, and I remember screaming at him. Laying him on the bed and screaming, what the fuck do you want from me? Just shut up. Just stop crying. What the fuck do you want from me? And my baby shook in fear. My new baby shook in fear. And I just was devastated.
I didn’t recognize myself as a human. Who the fuck yells at a baby. (Laughs) And like, I can laugh now because he’s attached like glue, I mean, he’s amazing. But you know, like all of these things that happened, and now he’s got ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). So I’m like wow it’s totally my fault I have a kid with ADHD. Because I had postpartum depression and anxiety. And I’m a head case, and my mom’s a head case. Like you just can’t help but look at those things. And wonder – like you just wonder if you made the right choice to have kids. What are you forcing on your own children, you know? And I know, I know I made the right choice to have kids. But you as a mother, you go if I hadn’t screamed at my baby would he have the issues he has now? If I hadn’t dropped him, coming down stairs in middle of night, slipping and…I dropped my baby. I didn’t drop him far. I dropped him less than a foot. But I dropped my baby. In the middle of the night, sleep deprived, coming down the stairs. Who drops their baby? You beat yourself up. You just really do. And that is where I spent the bulk of my first two years of motherhood. Looking at every possible flaw.
All these things, they’re just stories now. Having an opportunity to find a therapist, I don’t relive them. They’re stories, they’re part of me, they’re part of my life…and they’ve informed how I wanted to parent, and that’s good thing. And they’ve also informed my ability and desire to be compassionate for people who go through those things. Between my first and second, I had an opportunity to have a much more clear context of what parenting really looks like. And I didn’t have all this idealism and all these beautiful books about how beautiful childbirth and pregnancy and motherhood and parenting were supposed to be. Because it’s not magical. It’s really really fucking messy. It’s ugly. It’s sad. Its never easy. And that’s normal. And nobody says it.
Narrator: Thank you Becca, for saying it out loud.
Special thanks to Baby Blues Connection for help with Shh, Don’t Tell! Stories, to Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists fame for our awesome theme and other music and to cellist Collin Oldham for his terrific compositions and scoring.