My son Nico greeted this bright, wonderous world December 12, 2016. A whopping 9 lbs. 12 oz., this little moose brought with him the *loudest* screams I have ever heard.
In my whole life.
Simply put, Nico has some pipes. Sure, he fussed just like any baby. But other times this sweet, highly anticipated love-sponge would issue the sorts of screams that would make any person question their capacity (or desire) to be a parent.
“Some babies are just louder than others,” the nurses assured me.
I don’t know, people. He was my second baby and something about this nugget just didn’t seem right. When he cried (loosely used here….it wasn’t really crying) like that he sounded like he was in so much pain. Like his belly was just contorting and turning itself inside out. It turns out, he was in incredible pain. Two things. A tongue tie and dairy.
His tongue couldn’t move freely and trough milk when he nursed. He would get so frustrated he would surrender to the flood, fuss, and go back to sleep. Short nursing cycles led to his belly being full of foremilk, which in baby-land is like only ever drinking slurpies from 7-11. All the sugar, all the bellyaches. It took some time and two procedures for the tongue tie to be corrected. Although nursing significantly improved, the screaming did not subside.
“Do you think he has a sensitivity? Maybe gluten? Dairy?” I inquired during one of several lactation consultations.
“No, it’s not that,” I was assured.
Many visits. All the appointments. And finally our pediatrician said, “I think it’s dairy. Try cutting it out of your diet and see it his symptoms improve.”
I was informed that dairy would stay in my system for 10 days, and in his for another 5 beyond that. Translation: Let’s just see, if for two weeks, you stop eating the one food that brings you joy and *maybe* it will help.
It is important to note that at this point in my journey, the words “eliminate dairy” sounded and felt like “there’s no joy left for you in this world.” In my heart it felt like I had been asked to hand over the one thing that I had not yet already given away to this baby. I sobbed. I screamed. What more could I possible be asked to do?
In the meantime and in other news: my husband had left. He decided he wanted out more than he wanted in, and had left. “I don’t love you. I’ve never loved you. I want a divorce,” are the precise words that hung in the space between us just a few weeks after welcoming our son into this world.
My family and friends rallied, as they do, when the times seem insufferable and impossible. One particular evening, probably about day 7 of dairy elimination, I was crying in the kitchen while my mom valiantly attempted to get my screaming baby to sleep. My daughter, on the brink of turning four, had long since fallen asleep and this was one of those midnight, warrior moments. I didn’t have an ounce of fight left. But my mama did. And her fight sounded like a hymn. My mama can sing louder than anyone I know and she out-decibeled Nico that night. I listened as Nico’s screaming escalated and then subsided and my mom’s soprano voice remained. It was loud at first and then softer and softer, quietly drifting through my home, counterbalancing the darkness with enduring light. I don’t remember the hymn she was singing. I just know, she sang.
It was in this visceral moment that I realized in the 8 weeks this baby had been alive, not once had I sang to him. I’m the lullaby-singing sort, you might say. But this baby. This season. I had no song, not a single melody to bring forward. I had forgotten all the words to everything and lost my ability to sing amidst the ambush of real life. Admittedly, I had hardly bonded with Nico either. I had kept him alive, but that’s it. My relationship with Nico was one of perfunctory life-sustaining measures. Nursing. Diapers. Baths. Bed. No joy, no light, certainly no laughter, and decidedly no singing.
This soul-crushing realization hit me that tangled night of singing and screaming, and I gave myself permission to accept what was real and to start to mourn the loss of my dreams of a forever marriage, of my life with this new baby, and the future I was excited and proud to envision. And in that mourning, I chose to start singing to Nico. I’m not sure what I hoped that would achieve, ultimately, but I knew that I am a mama who sings to her babies. And this part of my story with my son belonged to me. It was not something that I was willing to let someone take away. My mom was the first one in Nico’s life to sing to him, perhaps the first one to bond with his tiny heart rather than merely taking care of his little body. That unforgettable night, likely without knowing, my mom reminded me of what to do when we don’t have any idea what to do. Sing.
The first time I sang to Nico, I wept. I sang a broken melody, held his precious tiny self, and wept. Singing to him opened up a corner of my soul, a part that I had neglected amidst the realities of caring for a newborn and a toddler in the context of being a newly single mom. That first song, one note at a time, started to build a bridge between this mama’s heart and the baby boy she was learning to love.
My memory of this early season in Nico’s life recently surfaced while I had the privilege of singing to my aunt as she finished her race in this world. Auntie Gayle fought a short, brutal battle with ovarian cancer that rapidly became all the kinds of cancer. News of her failing health travelled across the country and my older sister, Amy, and I arrived in time to spend some precious days with her. The day Auntie Gayle’s suffering came to a merciful end, Amy and I warmed up the room with laughter, telling stories of our goony children engaging in goony shenanigans. From the deep recesses of her sedated state, Auntie Gayle smiled. She heard us. And then, as one does, we sang a little Jimmy Buffet. Because if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s the lyrics to Margaritaville.
An hour or so later the spirit in the hospital room shifted, it moved. And we all felt Auntie Gayle’s time with us was drawing to a close. The seven of us in the room joined together, as her family and friends. We surrounded her bed, lovingly laying hands on her fragile body, and we sang sweet Auntie Gayle into the arms of Jesus. Bravely and tearfully singing her favorite hymns, our voices carried her spirit home on a sweet melody I will forever remember.
Each of us in the room experienced that tender passing uniquely. For me, I was given this image of our merciful heavenly father, ending the suffering of his precious child. And I was reminded of the healing and awesome power of song. I was reminded here, in a life event that is the matching bookend to the birth of a baby, to sing. To sing when I forget the words, when I forget the melody, when I forget the reason. Sing hymns, Margaritaville, or lullabies. It doesn’t matter the song.
Just breathe in.