An Unexpected Gift
By Tiffany Doerr Guerzon
Before our daughter was born, my husband and I thought we were prepared for parenthood. Financially stable and in our thirties, it was the perfect time to have a baby. I was even starting out with more knowledge of childcare than the average new mom, because as a Family Practice physician assistant, my patients were often infants and children. But, just to be safe, and in accordance with our dual Type-A personalities, my husband and I took childbirth classes, read books, and meticulously planned everything from the daycare to the type of diapers we would use. We were ready.
But we weren’t ready when our daughter Mia was born severely underweight, with her umbilical cord wrapped several times around her neck. Fortunately, other than being undernourished, she was otherwise healthy. She nursed well, so the hospital sent us home with our baby, who weighed barely four pounds. The next weeks passed in a blur of doctor visits, diapers, and feeding her every hour-and-a-half around the clock. We were beyond exhausted.
At that time in my life, I was fully immersed in my career and I planned to go back to work after a generous four-month maternity leave. I didn’t need to work; I wanted to. I had toiled long and hard to gain acceptance into—then survive—the rigorous PA (Physician Assistant) Program. Plus, I loved my job. I knew that my baby would need me, but I was positive that I could balance it all.
Then, the colic began. My baby didn’t just cry, she shrieked in a blood-curdling, ear-piercing way. This auditory assault went on most hours of the day and usually part of the night.
My world narrowed to our house and our baby. I would get up in the morning, feed her, change her, and when the screaming began, I would put her in a front-pack baby carrier. Mia didn’t like to be held in my arms—only in a front-pack, snug against my chest. I would spend my day walking around the house with her in the carrier, or standing in one place, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other. Remaining in constant motion was tiring, but if I stopped moving or sat down, the screaming would begin anew.
The pediatrician told us that there was nothing physically wrong with our daughter; she was growing and gaining weight. The doctor called it colic, but didn’t have a solution… and neither did I. What kind of PA was I? I’d spent my career helping others but I couldn’t help my own child!
My husband and I tried everything: gas relief drops, driving her around in the car, many different baby gadgets. I changed my diet in case something in my milk was bothering her. Nothing worked. I didn’t have a plan for this. We soldiered on, focusing on getting through one day at a time. I did just about everything standing up—eating, watching TV, even reading. The howling never ceased for long. There were days I didn’t get dressed, didn’t brush my teeth or shower. I seldom went out, or invited others in. Both my husband’s family and my own lived across the country, so it was just us—me, my husband and a shrieking baby. I walked the house in a fog of worry. Did the doctor miss something? What was I doing wrong? I loved her so much, and all she did was yell at me!
By the time my four-month maternity leave was over, I was more than ready for a break—and eager to go back to my job that I loved. The colic had lessened, but Mia still refused to take a bottle, didn’t nap, and cried when not being held. I didn’t know if the daycare would accept her. But I was determined, even desperate, to go back to work. I needed to resume my career, not for financial reasons, but because being a PA was who I was.
The daycare director waved away my concerns. “We have lots of infants here who have never taken a bottle; but they take one here. And we’ve heard lots of babies cry,” she said. When I tried to explain the way in which my child cried, she smiled patronizingly. It was obvious that she thought I was a hysterical new mom.
I dropped Mia off at the daycare for a few hours. She screamed the whole time. The director then said that I should leave her for a whole day, telling me in firm tones that my baby would take the bottle and calm down when she got hungry enough. With that, I left her for eight hours. When I arrived to pick her up after the first full day of care, I could hear the screams as soon as I entered the building. I rushed to the infant room and took my frantic child from a wild-eyed attendant.
As I left, more than one worker stopped to inform me that they had never heard a baby scream that loud or for that long. Oh boy; I couldn’t put my child through that experience again. After much deliberation and soul searching, I decided to stay home; leaving my career—and what felt like a significant portion of myself—behind.
Certainly my experience was nothing compared to what parents of disabled or medically fragile babies endure, but those first few months of colic stripped me to my core. It forced me to live from hour to hour, and focus on the basics of daily living—on survival.
Once I was home for good, my baby thrived, but I didn’t. Being forced into staying home sparked an identity crisis in me. Until then, I hadn’t realized how much of my personhood was wrapped up in my profession. To work through my feelings, I started writing in a journal. I discovered a passion for writing, and a creative part of me that had been buried began to emerge. I slowly began to feel better, becoming comfortable being “just” a mom. Mia grew into a delightful, happy child. And I grew into the woman—and mother—that I was meant to be.
If my first child had been a “normal” baby, I would’ve gone back to work as planned. That wouldn’t have been a bad choice, but I now feel that this difficult experience was a gift. Staying home has not only given me time with my children, but the identity crisis that it caused made me re-examine what I really wanted in life.
Today I’m a writer — a career that I doubt I would’ve had the time or energy to develop had I remained on the work/daycare treadmill. Writing feeds my soul in a way that my medical career did not, and being home and able to focus on my children’s needs while putting aside my own has changed me in a fundamental way.
I don’t know why my baby was so miserable, but I do know that she needed me. And perhaps more importantly and in ways I never expected, I needed her.
Tiffany Doerr Guerzon is a freelance writer and mother of three children. Read more of her writing at www.TDGuerzon.com