Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Venting Cry

Before having a child, I remember everyone talking about how moms would learn to tell the difference between a "hungry cry" and a "wet diaper cry," etc.  Thanks to my years of baby-sitting experience, I already could usually tell the difference between a mad temper cry, a tired "fuss," and a wail of sadness... but as to what was causing the sadness-- dirty diaper, temperature, sickness, hunger, lonliness, I had no idea.  Newborns don't really have temper cries yet, so that distinction wasn't much help.  I wondered if I was the only mom to have no idea why her child was wailing, and figured "No way.   Kids have been screaming for thousands of years; I can't be the very first wife to look at her husband and answer his 'Why is she crying?' with a rather distraught 'Because she's a baby?  Your guess is as good as mine!'"  Comforting as that was, it didn't help much in the moment.

Eowyn's not a newborn, anymore; she's a toddler with quite a large bi-lingual vocabulary.  She usually can tell me what she wants in her own words, or I've known her long enough to have a good guess.  So why bring this up now?  Ryan & I were reminded of a cry that every mom needs to know exists:  the "Venting" cry.  Bear with me just a moment while I offer some help to those who are where I was 18 months ago.

1. Your baby isn't crying to be mean.  This is so hard to remember at 5 am, after a long fussy day, 4 mid-night feedings, and 9 + months of sleep deprivation.  But she isn't trying to frustrate you, or to pitch a fit; she's just 6 weeks old and is going through a growth spurt.  Or she's 5 months old and getting her first tooth.  Or she's got a cold and those aches hurt.  But resist the urge to yell at her to for once think about some one else's needs, and pray for grace to sustain you both.

2. Make your own "is it this?" checklist.  Instead of first offering food, which can comfort anyone but isn't usually why a baby cries, make up a routine in your mind of things to check- like: something wrong (an arm stuck in a blanket, or a paci dropped), temperature (is her arm cold or is she sweating?), diaper messy, time (more on a flexible routine in a sec), fever or swollen gums, and last of all, food.  I would wear Eowyn in an Ergo carrier when she was having a particularly hard day (or when I was).

3. Flexible routine.  Honestly, this is what has "saved" my sanity as a mother.  Because I have a routine, I know what Eowyn is used to at any given point of the day, and what she therefore most likely needs.  From 8 weeks-ish on, I fed her on a loose 3 hour schedule (never to the point of making her cry if she was hungry or counting minutes), starting at whatever time she woke up for her first feeding.  (When I went back to work I set my alarm for 5 am to feed her so I could nurse her on my breaks at school.)  Then we did a feed-wake time- sleep cycle until the next feeding.  As she got older, I adapted it so I fed her, then she was awake until her next feeding, then slept for 3 hours until her next feeding.  Like I said, it was very flexible, and Eowyn napped in her carseat, in her crib, in her cradle, or in her Ergo while I ran errands.  Why am I bringing this up?  Because it made her cries far more predictable.  It also alerted me to something different going on if she was crying when she wasn't usually hungry, or napping sporadically-- I knew it was a growth spurt, or a tooth, or a sickness, or eventually, time to change routines (to 3 1/2 or 4 hour cycles, or to drop a nap).  Honestly, I think this is really how experienced moms read their children's cries!

4. The Vent Cry- I grew up around babies, starting with 2 baby sisters, and moving through 18 younger first cousins, innumerable baby-sitting charges, church nurseries, and nannying jobs.  This was SUCH a help in new-motherhood.  One of my earliest memories is actually of 3-year-old-me assuring our panicking baby-sitter that "it's ok; sometimes Mama says they just have to cry."  Babies get easily over-tired, overwhelmed, overstimulated, and just want to be left to fall asleep in peace.  Not so different than us, huh? =D  This brings me to the origin of this whole post:  Eowyn's behavior on our drive home today.  It was past her nap-time by over an hour, and we put her in the car seat and drove off.  About 5 minutes into the drive she was wailing, asking to be held, to get out, to get down.  Louder and louder came the cries... then up came the bo-bo (her blankie), and mid-cry, she conked out, mouth open, bo-bo to her cheek.  Just like that.  If I'd been at home and a younger mom, I might have tried to console her all sorts of ways, hugging her, patting her, singing, when all she really wanted was to go to sleep with her bo-bo.  That started me thinking ...that's something all new moms need to know!  Sometimes babies just vent.  You can't make it better by holding them, you only make it worse.  Sometimes, the best thing for everyone is to put Baby in his crib, with his bo-bo (if he has one), kiss him, and close the door.  They vent their fatigue for a few minutes, then ...blessed silence.

So, to sum it up:  Babies are always trying to tell you something with their cries.  Sometimes, it's just "can't you leave me alone!?"  Humbling, but true.

PS.  Do not try the Vent Cry on your husband.  Use your words. :)


Sharon / Markus said...

Love the last comment. : ) Good summary. There are times when my babies have had the "Vent cry" and my reasoning has been, "You can cry in my arms and we are all miserable or you can cry in bed for ___ min and at least Mommy gets a break." Usually after letting them cry for a bit on their own they are happy to see mom and are easier to comfort.

Eowyn's Heir said...

The comment about using words with hubbies, or about the babies telling us to leave them alone? :) I find I need reminders of both.

I need to MEET your precious babies someday!