Fifteen years ago, night after night, I paced the rooms of our tiny apartment with my daughter Kateri — a screaming infant — in my arms.
I ran the vacuum, bounced her on my hip, and swaddled her writhing body with flannel blankets, but nothing the books recommended seemed to work. She screamed so hard and so long that sometimes her voice even disappeared. Her tiny face went purple with rage as she opened her mouth and exposed her vocal chords, but the only sound I heard was an angry hiss.
She was all out of scream. And I was all out of tears.
Not helping was the fact that I happened to be a postpartum hormonal stew. Nursing a baby for the first time (why didn’t anyone tell me how much it hurts?) and dealing with all the physical pains and changes of the healing that follows giving birth — all while surviving on exactly seven non-consecutive minutes of sleep per night — I was a mess.
It had all started so well, too. Kateri’s birth had gone rather smoothly and without complication. I went through most of my labor at home, just as I planned. I refused pain medication, just as I planned. I kept her in the hospital room with me, just as I planned.
The moment my daughter was born, though, the nurse tossed her onto my chest and I was startled to find myself suddenly face to face with a curious infant. Her open eyes met mine with an unwavering stare and instantly, I was unnerved.
Can I do this?
Nearly two screeching weeks after Kateri’s birth, my mother stopped by for an afternoon visit. I’m sure my mom, who raised nine children of her own, knew precisely what was going on in that apartment. But she was walking the fine line of grandmotherhood. She wanted to help without being too overbearing and hesitated to step on our newborn parental toes
“Why don’t you go pick up some groceries and get some fresh air?” she gently nudged my bleary-eyed husband.
“Can I?,” he stammered, looking at me for permission to leave.
Of course he could leave. And boy did he. In his dash toward the exit, he tripped over a partially assembled infant swing, brushed himself off, and without looking back shouted, “I’m fine!” as he lunged for the doorknob.
When he was gone, I placed my howling infant on the bed and my mother stood silently beside me. My mother has a wordless way about her that speaks volumes. Her very presence soothes and comforts, making me feel safe enough to express my innermost hurts and fears.
I burst into tears.
“This is all she ever does!” I shouted above the screaming.
Mom studied the two of us — sobbing daughter and screeching granddaughter. She bit her lower lip and wrinkled her brow.
“Maybe you should try a pacifier?” she finally said.
I looked at her in disbelief. A pacifier? Was she serious? Did she not know that I had received about a dozen pacifiers as baby shower gifts and they were sitting, unopened, in a top dresser drawer because I had read volumes in preparation for this infant’s arrival and was deathly afraid of nipple confusion?
That’s right. Nipple confusion. Don’t pretend you’ve never heard of it. And don’t pretend you aren’t also afraid that your infant child will forget how to nurse and wither away to nothing because she grows accustomed to having a rubber pacifier nipple in her mouth instead of the real thing.When my mother dared to say, “Maybe you should try a pacifier,” I opened my mouth to educate her about the terrors of nipple confusion, but, much to my surprise, what came out instead was a gasping, grateful, “Can I?“
My mother only smiled as I raced for the dresser drawer, grabbed the first package within reach, and popped a pacifier in my ecologically breastfed daughter’s mouth.
Blessed silence blanketed the room. Kateri sucked silently and held the two of us in the same unnerving gaze I had seen minutes after her birth.
Was she confused already? She did not seem to be. She seemed only calm — at last calm, and accepting of this place she had been born into, this mother she had been given, this life she was meant to live. It was the first of many parental moments in which I would hear God’s voice in the quiet, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
Be still. I recalled the seeds of self-doubt at the hospital: Can I do this?
And it was only there, in the stillness, as I stood beside my mother watching my infant daughter grow both calmer and potentially more nipple confused by the moment, that I began to understand — just a little bit — that, yes, I could do this.
As my mother did before me, as my now 15- year-old daughter long ago understood, I can do this. We can do this. It’s just that some parts of doing will be different from what we had planned.