During Noah’s first year of life, he had very intense gastro-oesophageal reflux. I wrote a number of posts during that time reflecting on what I was learning through that difficult and seemingly endless season (see some here). There were times during that year Sam and I struggled to stay sane. Coming to terms with a baby that spends a disproportionate amount of its days and nights screaming inconsolably is hard.
Yes, it passes.
Yes, these babies are generally still healthy.
They won’t remember it.
You’ll move on from it.
These are some of the things people remind you.
And they are true.
But to be honest, they just aren’t helpful things to hear when you are in the thick of it. Really, you just want someone who understands.
You just don’t want to feel alone in it.
That’s not just true of reflux — it’s part of what it means to be human.
As we prepared to meet our second baby, our experiences with Noah were obviously present in our minds. Will our experience be more ‘normal’ this time? Will we have one of those babies that sleeps? I am ever the optimist — but in this case the odds were stacked against Leo (as my father, myself and both of my brothers all had bad reflux when we were bubs).
Three weeks into Leo’s life and it seems fairly apparent that his journey may be similar. His early days have begun to move in a direction we are familiar with. Short patches of being settled (10-15 minutes), followed by long bouts of crying and screaming, settled by a feed, then repeat the process. When precious sleep arrives, it is often interrupted early by stomach acid coming up little throat.
I have been reminding myself that similaries do not mean same. Whether reflux this time round lasts 1 month, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months does not change the fact that Leo is not Noah. Whether or not we use the same coping strategies, or find different ones, Leo is not Noah. Leo’s first week, first month, first year of life is his own. And whilst we may find ourselves walking through similar territory we have trudged through before, we will remind ourselves that we have not been here before. This is new. This is difficult. This is beautiful. This may be familiar, but this is fresh. When I find myself wondering ‘how will we survive that again?’, I tell myself that is not what is happening here. This may stretch and test us, but this is a new path, we walk together as four of us. And it will have its own highs and lows to navigate.
Like this profound moment last night,
this memory I am drilling into my brain,
this lesson I do not want to miss.
Leo was in one of his worst bouts of reflux screaming yet. Sam was preparing some dinner and I was just holding the little guy and rocking in the rocking chair while he screamed. After 20 minutes or so of his cries, Noah came over to me, and climbed up to sit on my right leg, while Leo rested on my left shoulder. For a good couple minutes Leo continued to cry, Noah snuggled in, and he gently touched Leo a couple of times, while he watched him struggle.
In many ways, it was ordinary. It was something I could have missed. A blur between loads of washing, changing nappies, keeping little and big humans fed and watered.
But here is why I noticed it.
So far during Leo’s short life my impulse has been to want to shield Noah from Leo’s cries. Obviously this is somewhat unavoidable - but where ever possible I have tried to take Leo outside to walk up and down the driveway when he is in discomfort, or I have encouraged Noah that he can play in his room if he feels uncomfortable when Leo is crying. I know how my insides can feel after a long session of baby screams, so I can’t imagine what they feel like for a two year old who has only ever lived with two adults so far and did not have any choice in sharing life and blood and bedroom with this new housemate.
But, last night on the rocking chair I had given up trying to ‘resolve’ the crying. I just held my roaring lion and gently rocked back and forth, trying to be present with him in his pain. And Noah, chose to engage by moving closer to suffering. He climbed up to share lap with screaming brother. Without a word he gently touched Leo’s shoulder, and back and forth we rocked, we three. Authentic. Messy. Wonderful.
And moments like this speak truth deeper than themselves don’t they?
A Dad, a rocking chair, a toddler and a crying baby.
But more than that, a window into what happens when we stop trying to fix each other’s pain. When we sit together, rock together, presence ourselves exactly where we are. Awake and aware.
And even here, we will find beauty.
Even here, we will find grace.
Last month I did something I don't often do.
As in, I don't ever do.
I read a poem I had written off my phone. In front of a crowd. And it was how I set the tone for the monthly spoken word night I host.
I have so many mental reasons why I tell myself I don't do this. 'You're a professional! Real performance poets memorise everything! People expect a certain standard from you!'
And I'm not chucking the baby out with the bathwater. There are good reasons I memorise my poems. I want to wear them like skin for the audiences I share with. I want to know I can look into people's eyes while I share what I have carved out with care. I want to be able to breathe the full life I intended into the phrases I crafted.
But, in all of those reasons, what am I saying about others?
What am I role modelling to the student I urged to share,
even if it was just one shakey line from a phone,
even if it was just saying their name,
even if was just sharing their breath on a stage?
I am saying I am past that. That I am bigger than that. Above that. Beyond that.
But, here and now, I am calling myself out.
I am the student, who sometimes needs to urge myself to share,
even if it's just one shakey line from a phone,
even if it's just saying my name,
even if it's just sharing my breath on a stage.
I'm a learner. I'm small. I'm a work in progress.
So, I did this. I took my own advice. I became vulnerable.
I made a confession.