A stranger’s passing comment kept pulling me back to the person I used to be. It would materialize in my mind, usually at significant events like birthdays. But sometimes it would emerge at the mere sight of a baby, especially if I heard the crying. The sound would bring me right back to the moment in time when the woman said it.
I only needed one item. The display of diapers overwhelmed me with different sizes, prices and types. Which one do I choose? If only I could remember. The florescent store lights caused my sleep deprived brain to throb with pain.
They slept silently for the moment, their heads covered in the pink and blue striped caps from the hospital and their bodies bathed with blankets. The only visible part of them was their angelic faces. I couldn’t help but smile as I savored the moment and then realized speed was essential; their unreliable nature could shift without warning into a scene I was unprepared for.
My eyes scanned the array of colorful boxes with pictures of sleeping or smiling babies on the side. I recognized the Pampers brand and then heard a loud wailing sound from the stroller. Panic set in as the sounds grew louder, stronger.
Oh no, one of them is crying! Please don’t wake the other one, too. My first attempt to venture into the world with them and I feel like a failure. I can’t even go to the store without hearing the crying. How do I make it stop?
A woman materialized from behind the stacks. She leaned into the stroller to see them up close and said, “They are adorable. I miss the sound of a newborn crying. So sweet and pure. I just had to come hear it close up. They grow up fast. Enjoy it while it lasts.” She disappeared before I could even respond.
What just happened? I never knew anyone who wanted to hear a baby crying. At first I contemplated whether she was of sound mind and then considered maybe I was the one who was crazy. Did I just have some sort of hallucination? The lack of sleep affected me more than I knew possible, and now I was wondering if I was in need of therapy. I definitely needed sleep. I think that’s all I needed besides the diapers, of course.
I couldn’t get her words out of my mind I miss the sound of a newborn crying How is a newborn cry different than any other crying? Would I really miss hearing it one day? It seemed impossible. But this stranger felt the need to stop her shopping and come closer to hear it. She wanted to hear the cries. I wanted nothing more than to stop hearing it.
Once they were buckled into the car seats, the noise never ended. It was unfeasible that their little lungs could produce such loud sounds. Every two hours, like a drill sergeant, they demanded my attention with their cries to be fed. I felt like I was in a research experiment, testing how much loud sound and lack of sleep my body could withstand.
Before they were born, I joined the mom’s group. I read the parenting books. I talked with friends who had kids. I asked my own mom. But books don’t have sound and people don’t prepare you what it is really like.
Even though my twin babies had been home for a few weeks, I yearned to be back in the safe confines of the white hospital room filled with balloons, flowers and visitors. Everything was just there: an unlimited supply of diapers, laundered blankets stacked by the bassinets, nurses available with a push of a button.
What I missed most about the room was the lack of incessant crying. The serene silence reminded me of a library with everyone talking in hushed voices. It was so peaceful and comforting.
My newborn babies missed the hospital too. The tight swaddling only a nurse could master. The calmness as they were rocked to sleep by a person who knew the needs of a newborn. I was in over my head, lost, confused and distressed. I didn’t blame them for crying. If only they would let me sleep, I might be able to figure it out. I might be able to learn how to sooth them. At the very least I would know which diapers to buy.
For the past eleven years, after hearing the stranger’s comment I paid attention to the different crying sounds. The primal, high-pitched, repetitive, newborn cry did indeed differ from an older baby. Dare I admit, I now understood her need to hear it?
A song can transport you back to the significant moment in time when you listened to it, when it had meaning to you. The newborn cry can take you back to the place when they were little and they depended on you for their every need. As they grow their need becomes less and less until some days it feel as if they don’t need you at all. And for a moment you wish go back to a time when you could fix everything with a bottle, a diaper change or a pacifier.
I’m not the same mother I was then. I still worry and feel overwhelmed at times, as any mother does. But I now have patience and equanimity from eleven years of learning I can do this.
Cheryl Maguire‘s writing has been published in, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings, Twins Magazine, It’s Twins, and Twin Connections.