The Most Terrifying Moment of my Life

May 10, 2020 by

The Most Terrifying Moment of my Life

I’ve faced some scary moments in my life: hearing the words “Code Blue Room 247!: blaring over the hospital’s speaker as I sat by my husband’s bed wondering why Steve had suddenly gone so quiet; the slow, painful deaths of losing both my sister and mother to breast cancer; my first (and last) helicopter ride… talk about terrifying: there were no doors! And yes, giving birth (June 30, 1981) to my only child, my sweet Abby, ranks right up there as one of the top five scary moments of my life. Labor pains? Any women who’s ever had a baby understands the terror of suddenly realizing there’s no stopping Mother Nature.


But the most terrifying moment in my life was not the day Abby was born. It happened four days later, on July 3: the day we brought Abby home.


Until that day, things had been fine. Such a good baby! Each time one of the OB nurses brought Abby into my room, I’d stare at this sweet, soft, precious miracle in my arms and think to myself, “How did I get so lucky?”


Four days later, my luck ran out.


Steve had to work on July 3; by the time he arrived to pick us up, it was already late afternoon. “Don’t be afraid to call if you need us,” the nurses said, waving goodbye as Steve drove us home to the little apartment where we lived at the time. Both of us took turns cradling Abby in our arms as we walked her through the rooms, treating her to a little tour of her new life: “This is your bassinet; isn’t it pretty? Here’s our living room and so many books we want to read to you! See the wind-up musical mobile hanging above your crib? we’ll play it whenever you want!” Naturally, Abby, asleep in our arms, wasn’t paying attention. She was doing what babies (especially infants) do. They eat, they sleep… and they cry.


Sometimes, those cries don’t stop.


Abby started crying about two hours after we brought her home. Until then, things had been fine. She’d been fed, burped, diapered, and carefully tucked into her bassinet. All quiet on the bassinet front as Steve and I finally headed to the living room where we finally collapsed on the living room, congratulating each other for a job well done, that we were a success! We were parents!


Parents who obviously had no idea what to do when Abby’s cries began. And kept going. And going. And going. Have you ever heard an infant cry? Have you ever seen an infant cry? They turn an intense shade of red as they scrunch up those endearing tiny faces, open those angelic little mouths… and they let loose with the screams.


Abby has always been very good at whatever she does. That night, she was incredibly good when it came to her crying. So good, I’m convinced if there’d been judges, she would have won the gold medal for her screams.


What was wrong with our baby? She’d been so good in the hospital! Steve and I tried everything we could think of to make her stop crying. Another bottle didn’t help. Her diaper was dry. I shot a quick glance at the pacifier I’d purchased pre-delivery, just in case, despite the fact neither Steve nor I liked the idea of babies with pacifiers stuck in their mouths. My mother hadn’t liked the idea, either; “Start them off with a pacifier, and you’ll be sorry. It’s a hard habit to break.” she’d warned. But we had to do something, and we’d better do it fast. Abby wasn’t happy in her bassinet, and she wasn’t happy in our arms. She screamed in harmony to what we’d hope would be a soothing rock-a-bye baby song.


Abby kept crying. Steve cried (though he won’t admit it, but yes, he did). And I cried, too. July 3 had been a hot, muggy day that turned into an even more oppressive evening in our upstairs apartment which had no air conditioning. Outside the open window, people were laughing and celebrating Pre-July 4,  and shooting off fireworks. And Steve and I, stuck in that cramped upstairs apartment with Abby creating her own fireworks, started shouting at each other. Our explosions probably lasted a good five minutes, each of us hurtling accusations at the other as we both grew more frustrated and clueless.

“She didn’t cry like this while she was in the hospital,” Steve shouted (my husband never shouts). “Why is she doing this? What’s wrong with her?”


“How should I know?” I shouted back. “If you don’t know, why do you expect me to know?”


Then came the most terrifying moment of my life.


“Yes, you should!” he insisted. “You’re her mother!


Those three little words left me panicked, terrified and shaken in a way I’d never felt before. I was Abby’s mother. For nine months, I’d grown her inside me, and after twelve hours of labor finally pushed her out into the world. She’d been dependent on me for nine months, but she was still totally dependent on me… and now, apparently, Steve was, too. He depended on me instinctively knowing what to do with this screaming baby.


Simply because I was her mother.


Here’s the truth: I’ve always found it difficult being responsible for myself, let alone for someone else, too. But a baby?!? I knew nothing about babies. I didn’t grow up in a big family; I’d never done much babysitting. Now, faced with this baby who refused to stop crying, and even though all I wanted to do was to give in and sink into my own sobs, I knew I had to end my pity party. I was totally in love with my daughter, and Abby was depending on me. I was her mother, but I had no clue what to do next. I’d run out of things to try. I didn’t know the answer, even though I was supposed to.


Simply because I was her mother.


Then I remembered something my own mother had told me long ago: when you don’t know the answer, usually someone else does. Don’t be afraid to ask.


I picked up the phone and called the hospital; over the sounds of Abby shrieking, I begged for help.


The nurse was calm and friendly. Unfortunately, her words weren’t much help.


“Have you tried a pacifier?” she asked.


“No,” I said, with a sideways glance at the pacifier. What would my mother say?


“Well, if you do have one, I suggest you use it,” the nurse said. “She always had a pacifier while she was here in the nursery with us.” Her voice trailed off. “Try it, see if that helps calm her down. If it doesn’t work, and you still think something’s wrong, you can always bring her in. We’re here.”


“Thank you,” I said, hanging up the phone, and heading straight for the pacifier.


Five minutes later, with Abby snuggled cozy in her bassinet, blissfully sucking away on the little piece of plastic which was now her new best friend, Steve and I collapsed in each other’s arms, whispered apologies. For the next few hours, all was well.


Many years have passed, but our daughter provided plenty more terrifying moments while growing up. Abby choking on a clump of spaghetti strands one night at the dinner table. Abby only a toddler and suddenly going missing in a large department store (she was hiding among the coat racks). Abby waving goodbye and driving off (all by herself!) on a four-day road trip to Arizona and her first teaching job. Then one day Abby met ‘someone special’. Now she is happily married, with babies of her own, Abby knows what it is like to be a member of The Mothers Club.


If you’re a member, you know what I mean. The little joys which take over your heart; the clouds of self-doubt which continue to plague; the uncertainties and fears that maybe you should have done it differently; offered just the right words; or simply kept your mouth shut and whispered another prayer. And through it all, the unswerving knowledge that even when you don’t know, you really do. For this is your baby, and you know each and every little thing which contributes to their happiness. And no matter what, you would willingly provide it. That desire to do whatever you have to do is born out of love, pure and simple. For these are your children, your babies… and you would turn your life and your heart inside out for them. Just as I would for my Abby. She scares me, sometimes, for she is brave, and fierce, and smart, and wise, and powerful. I stand in awe of my daughter. Abby knows so much more than I ever will.


But she was, is, and always will be my baby. I am her mother.


And I will love her forever.


Happy Mother’s Day to my Abby.


And Happy Mother’s Day to all of you.

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