The Fussy Baby Site

Holly’s Story: Life with a Spirited Child

Our family at the beach

The first 4 months of my son’s life were filled with disappointments for me. Nothing had gone the way it was ‘supposed’ to go. My first child was not an easy baby; healthy and cute, but definitely not ‘easy’. She was very fussy, and I was always nervous going out in public with her because I was so scared she was going to cry and I wouldn’t be able to stop the crying. She was very particular in her likes and dislikes, down to the way she liked to be held (only facing out).

When our daughter was 2.5, we decided to have another baby. We found out we were having a boy. This would be our last baby – one of each. I was convinced this was going to be my ‘easy’ baby. I figured we had paid our dues with our first child, and now we would have that child that everyone else seemed to have. The child that fell asleep anywhere, that loved to cuddle, that breastfed like a champ. The one who would be content as long as mommy was holding him. Then he was born…

The delivery was relatively easy and fast, better than my first. He latched on right away, and everything seemed to be going great. That first night, I nursed him literally all night, and into the next day. Every time I unlatched him, he started crying and screaming. He wouldn’t sleep, except when he was latched on. I slept less than 5 hours total over the next couple of days because I couldn’t sleep with him lying right next to me.

Bringing Our Baby Home

The day we arrived home, my parents were at our house waiting to greet us. They took turns holding him, but he wouldn’t stop crying/screaming. We thought it was just because my milk hadn’t come in yet and he was hungry. We started supplementing with formula – about 8 oz a day, in addition to breastfeeding almost constantly.

I felt like such a failure. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I would never think it was wrong for another mom to give formula, but for me it was so incredibly important to breastfeed. We thought it might be helping, but it was hard to tell, because he was still screaming.

At night he would go about 1.5-2 hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next. Needless to say, I wasn’t getting much sleep. My husband would get up and take one feeding, but I would be so worried about what was going on downstairs during the feeding that I’d lay in bed feeling guilty.

Overwhelming Feelings Of Guilt

At the time, he was going to bed between 11 and 12 at night. There were a few middle of the night car trips, trying to get him to sleep. If he had been relatively content, I would have gladly stayed up ALL night with him, happily. But he was screaming, and crying, and screeching, and generally unhappy.

It seemed like my baby wished he had never been born. And to be honest, there were times I wished the same thing. I wondered if I really loved him…so far we had built no positive memories together. The guilt I felt was overwhelming at times – if his own mommy didn’t love him, who did? A little boy, all alone in the world, with no one loving him.

He was not a cute baby. And if I didn’t think so, what were other people thinking? He had a constant scowl on his face. A little kid actually approached me and asked me why my baby was crying. I replied, “he isn’t”. “Well why does he look so angry then?” he asked. “Because that’s how he always looks” I said.

“Why Can’t He Just be a Normal Baby?”

His crying and screaming did not endear me to him. I felt like if he would just cry like a ‘normal’ baby, it would evoke some sympathy and compassion in me. But his cry, more like a screeching sound actually, only evoked anger, rage and frustration. Many times there was no way to calm him.

As we were standing outside a friend’s house one day, she came to the door. In response to his crying, she said, “I thought there was a cat screeching out here, but it’s just your baby!”. A little boy in the neighborhood told me my son sounded like an elephant when he cried. I was embarrassed, but at the same time, ashamed that I was embarrassed of my own son.

For the first 6 or 7 weeks, we could not stay at home during the days. If we stayed at home, he would cry and scream the entire time, in between brief naps. At least if we stayed out, he would sleep (the car and stroller seemed to soothe him, most of the time, thankfully). We knew we needed to maintain some semblance of a normal life for our daughter, and trying to play with her at home while he was screaming wasn’t going to happen.

There were a couple of times when we put our son in his car seat, put him in the bathroom, closed the door, and we sat together for 20 minutes at the table eating dinner, while he screamed. We figured, better for him to scream for 20 minutes in there than to scream for 20 minutes at the table. I’m not proud of that, but we were trying to have a few quiet minutes with our little girl.

Nursing a Fussy, Screaming Baby

Although he nursed a lot, it was like a love/hate relationship. He’d eat, but then he’d pull away screaming, latch on again, suck vigorously, cry out, latch on again, etc. I felt like he hated me. Like he was trying desperately to get some comfort by sucking, but then he was repulsed by me or my milk or something (even though I knew that wasn’t the case).

See my post Feeding a Fussy Baby: Causes, Challenges and Solutions

There were times when he and I would be driving alone to give my husband and daughter a break from all the screaming. I would think to myself, “My husband and daughter would be better off if we just never made it home. At least the house would finally be peaceful again”.

I remember driving and listening to the radio, and the announcer made some comment like this: “If you have a new baby in the house this Christmas, it’s going to be a very special holiday for you. There’s nothing like a new baby to bring life and peace to a household”. I just laughed. The LAST thing our house had this year was peace.

Some Reprieve from the Screaming

We finally discovered a major cause of his screaming – a food sensitivity. Once I cut out the offending food, he became a new baby. Able to be put down once in a while, having periods of calmness and contentedness, and not screaming all the time.

7 weeks is such a relatively short period of time, but I feel like it changed me forever. The thoughts and feelings I had during that period of time haunt me. I attended a postpartum support group which really helped.

But I grieve for the lost time. I had so hoped to experience those special newborn moments with him, but I never will. Even though I have experienced those moments now, I so wish I could look back on his first days in a positive way. I feel so guilty and sad when I think that there was a time when no one on earth loved him – or at least felt like they loved him.

What kind of a mom doesn’t love her own child? I feel that love now, but it’s so hard to get past the fact that I wasn’t sure if I did at one point.

Update: 2 years later

The above was written was Sammy was 5 months old. Now, almost 2 years later, Sammy is still what I would call a spirited child.

While Sammy definitely started to become easier when he started crawling (that very day, actually), this was not the end of the crying or the hard work. The ‘terrible two’s’ kicked in full gear when Sammy was 16 months old. I remember the tantrums with my daughter, and they weren’t fun. But with Sammy, the word tantrum took on a whole new meaning.

One day when Sammy was 7 months old, we went out for a walkm and returned home around 2:00 to put Sammy down for a nap. Although Sammy’s usual naptime was 1:00, it had been so warm and sunny out, I had decided to push naptime a little later.

While getting him ready for bed, I changed his diaper (which he has always hated), and then pulled his t-shirt over his head to put on a clean one. As soon as I took off his shirt, he began shrieking. The scream reminded me of how he had sounded as a newborn; a high pitched, ear-splitting scream. I had no idea what had happened. Had I dislocated his shoulder pulling the shirt over his head? Was there maybe a hair wrapped around one of his fingers or toes?

I looked him over head to toe, but could find nothing. I held him, rocked him, shushed him, all to no avail. His eyes were glazed over, and he couldn’t seem to make eye contact. He continued screaming, barely able to breathe.

I quickly called my husband, who fortunately was only a few minutes walk away. I ran outside holding Sammy, and met my husband halfway. He took one look at Sammy, and said ‘let’s get him to the hospital’.

At the ER, the triage nurses quickly assessed him, and moved us to the front of the line. The screaming was even alarming to them, which worried me. I was terrified; had we come this far, only to find out there was something seriously wrong with him?

The doctors performed a barrage of tests, with Sammy screaming the entire time. While we waited, I held Sammy and paced around a small examination room, praying desperately that he would be OK, and that whatever was hurting him would pass. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he fell asleep in my arms from pure exhaustion.

When the doctor returned, he said the only thing he could find was a slight fever and reddish ears (a possible infection, but not enough to cause the screaming we had just seen). He asked me to wait around to see if the Tylenol worked.

After a brief nap, Sammy woke up, and seemed cheerful and healthy. He crawled around on the floor, charming the nurses with his huge smile and belly laughs. After 30 minutes of fun, he looked up at me and, you guessed it, started screaming again.

Luckily it didn’t last long, and he passed out again in my arms. When he awoke an hour later he was back to the smiles and laughs. The only thing the doctor could guess was that it had been tummy pains.

Looking back now, I can see clearly what happened that day. Sammy was just being Sammy.

Screaming episodes like the one that happened that day have taken place many times since. The next time it happened was also right before naptime. My little boy was simply overtired and desperately needed to nap. The next time it happened, I simply put him in his bed (after trying futilely to calm him).

He screamed for about 2 minutes, lay down, and had a good long nap. Some babies cry or fuss when they get overtired. Spirited babies shriek and go to the ER.

Sammy is still a handful. He is also the sweetest, funniest, most active, charming little boy I know. When he is happy, he is the life of the party and the star of the show. When he is unhappy, there is NO distracting, calming, and no easy solutions.

The good news is that over the past couple of years of building this website, and talking to experts in this field, I am learning to cope with my spirited, active little boy. Although he is more work than some kids, I wouldn’t change a thing about him.

To see how how we’ve progressed 7 years later, see my post This Is Not the Child I Dreamt of.

What’s brought you to this site? What’s your story? Share with us in the comments below!

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