When my son was two days old, the hospital pediatrician made a special visit to my bedside — as I’m sure is the practice to do for all new mothers — to let me know if I brought my son in bed with us, I would roll over on top of him and smother him to death in his sleep.
“Just don’t do it. Awful things that I won’t even mention could happen.”
More awful than smothering him to death in his sleep? Jesus.
And so it began. The sheer terror of motherhood.
Of course, he ended up in bed with us anyway. I was breastfeeding. He was eating every hour and a half for forty-five minutes. Invariably and uncontrollably, I would fall asleep during said feedings. It was probably just for a few short minutes, but would I always wake in a frenzy — visions of that awful pediatrician floating over my head.
WHERE IS MY BABY? WHAT HAVE I DONE TO MY BABY?
He would be happily nuzzled at my boob – fast asleep – and totally breathing.
When he was six months old, we moved to a brownstone, in the middle of winter, that had no heat. Okay, there was some negligible heat, but it was freezing in that house. The fear of him freezing to death in his crib trumped the fear of one of us smothering him to death in his sleep, so he began to share our bed.
This is where my nightly terrors moved from, I’m going to roll over onto him to my husband is going to smother him with a pillow. “Never, ever, ever let a baby sleep next to anyone but a breastfeeding mother! A breastfeeding mother is the only being in tune with the baby enough not to roll over onto it and kill it in its sleep.” I shouldn’t be using quotes here, because I am totally paraphrasing, but you get the picture. Parenting books are awful.
Being the in-tune breastfeeding mother that I was, I managed to hear him ruffling around and woke up to find half of my child under my husband’s pillow. Husband fast asleep. Parental guilt ensues. I don’t sleep for the rest of the night.
The next day I decide to take a Silkwood-style shower to wash off the bad parenting guilt. You know what? No one tells you how impossible it is to shower when you have a newborn. Or use the bathroom. Or make breakfast. Or do anything that doesn’t involve being right next to that little human whom you are sure requires 100% of your attention at all times, lest he slip into an abyss and become fodder for a tragic parenting horror story: “That poor baby. If only that awful mother didn’t have to go to the bathroom. How selfish.”
Back then he was still small enough to constantly nap in his car seat — and this was before all the warnings came out that you should definitely not let your kid nap in a carseat. He loved that thing. We never had any problems keeping him in it, and we could use the adjustment strap in the front of it to rock him to sleep. I’ll repeat here — we never had any problems keeping him in it. Zero. Not one.
I wait for him to fall asleep in his seat, and I sprint to the bathroom to shower. About a minute into it, my mommy Spidey senses go off and I jump out of the shower and run through the apartment — naked and dripping — to find my son has kicked his way out of the car seat. But not all the way out. His legs and torso are dangling over the front, just enough to buckle his chin into his chest – basically choking himself.
Teenagers have babies and manage to keep them alive. Did you see the movie Babies? The Mongolian Nomads tie their toddler to a bedpost with a long string, and leave him to watch over their infant while they are gone for the day — and that infant stays alive. After those two terrifying incidents, I just kept thinking, What the hell is wrong with me?
It was then that I realized that the pediatrician in the hospital wasn’t evil. She was just instilling a necessary dose of terror. I mean how better to describe the horror of being responsible for keeping another being alive, than by implying that you may actually kill it yourself, in your sleep? Never mind the countless waking hours of keeping this little human happy and fed and thriving, you may actually kill it in your sleep. Hooray! Welcome to motherhood!
That’s enough for today. I think I just saw my toddler put a quarter in her mouth.