I never thought I would feel anger toward my baby, until I did

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

I never thought I'd feel anger towards my baby

Until I did and I hated myself for it

My husband and I attended antenatal classes when I was pregnant with my first child, and during the part where we watched a video and discussed the "don't shake my baby" issue, we looked at each other with raised eyebrows. 

Who on earth would shake a baby?!

At the time it seemed absurd to me that anyone would feel compelled to do such a thing to a sweet, innocent little babe.

Then I became a parent.

My whole life was filled with feeds, nappy changes, rocking baby to sleep and the constant responsibility of caring for a helpless little sweetheart who relied on me for everything. Of course, that's what being a parent is all about, but no matter how much one tries to prepare oneself, it's still a massive life change that requires a huge amount of adjustment and nothing can really prepare you for the lived reality.

I wasn't diagnosed with postnatal depression, but being a generally anxious person meant that my anxiety was heightened as I tried to adjust to being a mum. Usually, I can get on top of my anxiety with a bit of routine and self-care, but as most mums have probably experienced, you'll often find a routine that works for a little while, until baby decides to throw it all out the window and you have to try something new.

My baby wasn't the best sleeper (but not necessarily the worst) so when she started having only 20–30 minutes naps again, it stressed me out. 

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I distinctly recall one time when I'd just managed to get her to sleep when there was a knock at the door. This might not have been a huge problem given my baby's room is at the back of the house, but I have two very noisy, protective, little dogs who bark their heads off whenever there's a knock. Hell, sometimes they even bark their heads off when a car parks out the front of our house, so this wasn't exactly a surprise. 

The thing about babies only having short naps is that it often happens during what's called a sleep regression or a fussy developmental stage. For those unaware, a study was published in 1990 that identified patterns of behaviour in infants at certain ages, which led to the book The Wonder Weeks — written by the very same people who published the study. It has since become a subject of more study, more books, and an app.

During these sleep regressions, I would struggle with sleep just as much as my baby because I was often up with her (my husband up with her when I wasn't but even then I often found sleep difficult) multiple times through the night (at its worst, we would be up every half hour) and during the day nursing and rocking her constantly through her fussy stages.

I was always exhausted and tired when these regressions would hit, which aren't exactly great states to be in when trying to deal with a cranky baby and just trying to function in general.

So, when the delivery person knocked on my door, which caused my dogs to erupt, which then caused my baby to start screaming after only being asleep for 10 minutes, I was angry. 

After accepting my parcel, I yelled at my dogs and stomped into my daughter's room to try to resettle her. On putting her back down again, she just screamed and wouldn't resettle so I had to pick her up again.

At that moment, as my innocent baby's screams pierced my ears and her tiny little body jerked backwards while I was trying to calm her down, I felt like I might shake her. I was livid. The anger inside me was a living thing that kept building as if it might explode right out of me. Why won't you sleep?! I wanted to scream at her.

Thankfully, my friend's advice while I was pregnant came back to me just as I needed it. She had said, "If you start to get frustrated and your baby won't stop crying, put your baby down in the cot and go and scream into your pillow if you have to." And that's exactly what I did.

I put my baby down, feeling guilty that I was leaving her to cry, and I went and shut myself away in my room and screamed and punched my pillow until I'd calmed down enough to go back in. It was the best parental advice I'd ever received.

Later, I felt sick with guilt and shame. Guilty that I needed to be selfish and take care of my needs over my baby's. Full of shame over the rage that had engulfed me and taken hold of me so fully that I felt like I was no longer in control. I cried myself to sleep that night. 

At my next parents' group meet-up, I mentioned my anger to a couple of the mums and how surprised I was by it. One mum in particular listened and nodded along with me in agreement. Although I knew I mustn't be the only one to experience anger towards my baby, it made all the difference in the world knowing someone going through this right alongside me was willing to admit it, too. 

As time has gone on (my baby is now a sassy three-year-old), I've come to realise that I dealt with the situation as I needed to—I did exactly what was best for my baby, and as a parent, that's exactly what I strive for.