Before our daughter had one, I had never even heard of a night terror. Or maybe I had, but my brain just translated it to a synonym for nightmare. Nightmare, night terror—what’s the difference?
Oh, there’s a difference. I know that now. So, so, so much difference. It’s like the first time you hear about an angler fish, and you think, “Eh, it’s a fish. How scary can it be?” Then you see the sucker, and you’re like, “Holy freakshow! That’s just not right!”
Our daughter was 5, and she’d been asleep in her room for a couple of hours. Suddenly, we heard her screaming, “Mommy! Mooommmy!” Assuming she had a nightmare, I went in to calm her down. She was sitting up in her bed, crying and screaming. I tried my usual methods of calming her (which weren’t even “methods,” just common sense stuff) but this was different from a normal bad dream episode. Her eyes were open, and she was totally wigging out. My husband came in to see if he could help. We figured she was maybe still half asleep or something, so we turned on the light.
Do you know how freaky it is to have your child sitting straight up in bed, eyes wide open, screaming, “Mommy! Mooommmy!” and not being able to see or hear you? I tried to get directly into her line of sight, thinking maybe if she saw me she’d snap out of it. But she sort of looked past me, like she couldn’t focus her eyes on my face, all while screaming for me over and over again.
No matter what I did, I couldn’t wake her up or shake her out of it. Then I started freaking out. “What do we do? I don’t know what to do,” I kept saying to my husband. I felt tears start to well up.
I was completely at a loss. If I believed in demon possession, I would have gotten on the horn with a priest and ordered an exorcism right then and there. If we’d lived several hundred years earlier, our baby girl would probably have been burned at the stake. I’d never seen anything like it. Eventually, she calmed down and went back to sleep. She had no recollection of it in the morning.
I told a friend about it the next day, and she told me it sounded like a night terror. Her sons had them on occasion. She said once one of them had one while camping, and she had to sit in their car holding him while he screamed “Mommy! Mommy!” over and over.
Then I had another friend tell me her child had night terrors, then another, and another.
For cripes’ sake, people! How had I never heard of this? Add night terrors to the list of motherhood realities no one tells you about, right along with round ligament pain and postpartum blood clots.
Your child may never have a night terror. Let’s hope so. But at least now you’ll recognize it if they do, and there’s no need to call an exorcist.