When Your Baby Hates The Car

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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I had no idea my babies would hate the car.

When I was pregnant with my first child, we bought him a brand new, cute little bucket seat. We carefully secured it into the car — we even brought it to a car seat inspector because god knows the car seat installation instructions were confusing as hell and we wanted to be sure we’d gotten it right.

The car seat seemed snug and comfy. The first time we placed our little bug into it, we thought he would probably fall asleep as the car quietly rocked him along. That’s what babies do, right? That’s how they look on TV and in movies. Even the baby on the box the car seat came in was grinning from ear to ear.

That’s not what happened at all. As soon as we plopped him in, he started crying. Screaming. Blood-curdling screams. The kind that made his face all blotchy. It was shocking, truly.

I decided to sit in the backseat with him. That helped, but only a little. I tried offering him a pacifier, but he spit it right out. So I let him suck on my finger. That worked OK for a second, but then he spit my finger out too. He looked up at me, piteously. He made it very clear that he wanted out — and into my arms. And if he was going to suck on anything, it was going to be my breast, goddammit. Obviously.

I couldn’t nurse him while he sat in his bucket seat (when he got a little older, I actually figured out how to nurse him in the car, while both of us were buckled in of course). And I couldn’t pick him up. It helped if I sat back there so he could see me, but that wasn’t always possible; sometimes I needed to be the one driving.

Let’s just say that having a baby who hates the car makes your life as the parent of a baby that much more difficult — or rather, hell on earth. It just really, really sucks.

It means trying to time all car trips for when your baby will be least upset. Evenings were always the worst for us; earlier in the day kind of sucked, but it was bearable. It means trying to time your outings for when two grown-ups can be in the car (one to drive, one to sit in back with the baby). Or it means stopping a lot to go and soothe your baby, sometimes every five minutes.

It means long trips are out of the question for a long time, or huge modifications must be made. For example, when my second child was a baby, we divided a four-hour car trip into two days, stopping at a hotel along the way. It sounds crazy, but that was the only way. Two hours of intermittent wailing was all I could take in one day.

And it means having everyone around you being dumbfounded, totally not getting it. My in-laws also had babies who cried in the car, but they raised their kids in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so their answer to our plight was just to take the kid out of the car seat and hold him (umm….no!).

Other people were like, “Well, he’ll eventually fall asleep.” Yeah, but that didn’t happen. My second child did sometimes if the timing was right. But my first baby? Never, no way, no how. A baby who never falls asleep in the car? I didn’t think such babies existed, but they do. They most certainly do.

Some people thought there was something very wrong with my babies, or with me. Yes, my babies were intense. Yes, they were needful. But I have learned over the years that there are many babies who hate the car, many more than you realize. Not all of them were as extreme as my babies were, but it’s something that lots of parents face, and it really can add stress to the already stressful life of caring for a baby

Frankly, I’m not sure why people don’t talk about this more — how very hard it can be when you have a car seat howler. I think back on those months and remember how awful it was when my babies screamed like that, how helpless I felt the times that we were on the highway with no exits in sight, and we simply couldn’t pull over to soothe them.

I guess I turned into a bit of a hermit for those months. I did a lot of walking. Luckily, the grocery store wasn’t too far away. There was a period of time that I even ordered my groceries online to avoid the car. You gotta do what you gotta do, you know?

The good news is that things gradually got better. Once my babies discovered toys and snacks, there were ways to keep them entertained, and the blood-curdling cries dissipated. And, of course, they eventually had no issues with the car (except repeating the phrase “Are we there yet?” so many times that I wanted to scream).

So, if you’re one of the moms like me, with a baby who really freaking hates the car, you’re not alone. You’re not such a weirdo, and neither is your baby. In fact, I would venture to say that you have a baby who knows exactly what he or she wants and has no qualms about saying it. Or, umm, screaming it.

Either way, just do what you can to get through, and you’ll make it to the other side before you know it.

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