Monday, August 6, 2012

Sickness and the Art of Suffering

The tables have turned.

I wrote a post recently about the first time I was sick with Claire. My month-long bout with walking pneumonia cannot compare to this weekend’s stretch of nursing a sick baby. I wish I could say that I rose to the occasion like Florence Nightingale. When Claire’s fever spiked at 103 degrees, I was sufficiently freaked out to endure things like hour-long breastfeeding sessions.

When her sickness diminished to garden variety inconsolability, the pendulum began to swing between concern for my baby’s cries to wanting to stop the sound of crying in my head.

I felt just as helpless and miserable as she did. Time was reduced to minute-to-minute increments. Victory was measured by distracting Claire longer than 60 seconds before crying returned. The golden ring was reaching nap time. Crestfallen, when nap time was taken up by screams instead of snores. I harbored no illusions about how she would sleep at night. During normal times, sleeping through the night is sketchy. Sickness blew that idea right out of the water. She wouldn’t sleep; she wouldn’t eat.

I began feeling like a failure. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make my baby feel better. But it got worse when my empathy for my baby started to wane. “Stop crying,” I implored, as if her cries were a personal attack on me not an expression on her pain. “Go to sleep,” I would plead, as if that simple entreaty would magically do the trick. Not only could I not help my baby, I was now more concerned about me than my child.

I started to worry that Claire would come to believe that she must be good in order to get my love. Now, a mountain of failure began to pile up with selfishness as the cherry on top of the garbage heap.

If I were to look at the bright side of this experience, I would say that I am thankful that Claire will get better. I do feel this way, for sure. But my generalized feeling of shell shock and sleep deprivation is trumping the “this too shall pass” sentiment right now. Claire’s sick and we all must suffer, it seems. Actually, maybe, the lesson is something different. Perhaps the lesson is that sometimes life is just a mess.

This idea is a bitter pill for me, not so easy to swallow.


  1. OH sweets...I know. I think we all feel completely helpless when it comes to our children. They don't understand why they're sick or how to convey where it hurts etc...and we don't understand either but we try so hard to comfort them and it's exhausting. So exhausting.
    You're doing everything right. You're a great mom. We all lose our fuses in these situations because you're right, when the baby suffers the whole house suffers.
    Then we get whatever they had :)

    1. Empathy is the greatest medicine. Thanks for yours!


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