For at least the two months of my son’s life, his screaming would drive me nuts. My blood pressure would shoot through the roof, my heart would pound, I’d have the overwhelming urge to run far away, and the Hulk had nothing on the rage I felt toward my little bundle of frustration. His screams, attributable to nothing I could conceive other than possibly tired (not hungry, not uncomfortable, not sick), were like an endlessly ringing phone with a really annoying ring tone.
In those days, Alex would often to refuse to sleep in either his crib or co-sleeper. For him – and us – to sleep at all, he’d often have to sleep on my or my wife’s chest. Since DW has to get up for work at 5AM, and I work at home, the burden often fell on me. That wasn’t easy. I’m anything but a back sleeper. My restless legs usually drive me nuts if I lay on my back too long. I need to sprawl out on my stomach, Spiderman style. It wasn’t easy learning to sleep on my back, but exhaustion is a great motivator. I did it because I had to. It was a minor sacrifice I was willing to make for my child.
Alex now sleeps really well – through the night, in fact. A big reason for that coming to be was the pediatrician’s advice to put him to sleep on his tummy to help with his GERD. (On a side note, it’s not easy overcoming the paranoia induced by the countless reminders from friends, family, doctors, books, etc. to make sure you put your child down to sleep on his back. The “Back to Sleep” campaign has led to me obsessively periodically checking my sleeping son for breathing.) These days, we can count on Alex sleeping about 10 hours (~9PM to ~7AM). Consequently, he hasn’t needed to sleep on a chest for a long while.
A funny thing happened about a week ago. As I lay in my bed waiting for sleep to come, I suddenly realized that I missed it. I missed having Alex sleeping on my chest. How could that be? I really do get antsy sleeping my back. It’s not a pleasant experience – at least not without him.
There’s just something special about it, though. There’s something special about the warm feeling of his body sprawled out on my chest; something indescribably wonderful about being able to cuddle him like a living teddy bear; something precious about smooching his warm, fuzzy head as it rests just below my chin.
Thursday night was a hard night for the family. For reasons unknown, Alex was having trouble sleeping. First, he fought hard against being put to sleep. Then a couple hours later, he woke up screaming. I held him, patted his back, rocked him, and shushed him, but nothing soothed him. It was like a flashback to his first month. The inconsolable screaming child who’d been mellow for so long was back, though hopefully not for long. As familiar as the experience was, it was also different. At the very least I was different. A few months ago, I would have been nearly in a rage, wanting to toss the screaming monster across the room (figurely, not literally, of course). This night was different. The sound of my son’s screaming hadn’t been replaced with sound of wind chimes or chanting monks, but it didn’t affect me in the same way. My blood pressure didn’t rise and the Hulk was nowhere to be seen. Instead, my heart broke as I wondered what could be bothering my poor boy so much. I wanted to stop his tears and make it all better for him.
Eventually, I was able to calm him by bouncing as I walked with him in my arms. Once he’d stopped screaming and sobbing, I laid down in bed with him. I put him on my chest, turned out the light, and patted his back until he fell asleep. He was cozy and content.
And so was I.