Quinn screamed the whole car ride to our first PEPS meeting. She was inconsolable during the introductions and screeched through the birth stories. She flailed her arms and threw her little head back, she demanded to nurse countless times and then immediately jerked her head away, sputtering and furious. I bounced her, rocked her, shushed her, wrapped her, passed her off gladly to my husband and our PEPS leader here and there. She never quieted for more than a minute the entire meeting and I hardly heard a word spoken by the other families.
In other words, all of my worst fears were realized. I was weary and embarrassed. Why am I even doing this? I wondered.
But something important had happened. For the first time since Quinn was born, I had stayed where I planned to be, not ducked out the back door a few minutes in.
Quinn was a tough baby, a colicky baby, a disastrous nurser. Her entry into my life brought so much joy and wonder — but even more isolation and misery. It seemed no matter how well I planned or strategized, my public moments would dissolve quickly.
Hours spent packing and readying, schedules meticulously calculated to match her “good times,” locations carefully chosen for background noise and distraction — all my hard work was quickly quashed by that tiny, squalling infant. I left my cup untouched in coffee shops, paced outside baby yoga classes, sat in my car on the side of the road, sometimes turning around before we even made it down the block.
Yet here I was in the thick of the witching hour with a roomful of strangers, and no one expected me to leave when things got rough. No one looked at me in annoyance or disgust. Our PEPS leader told me kindly that there would be rough days for all of the babies, that everyone understood.
I was grateful, but still wasn’t sure that was true. My baby seemed so much harder than everyone else’s. But I went back the next week, and then the next, gaining confidence just by staying until the end no matter how much Quinn screamed. I heard little and processed even less, but it was better — saner — than bouncing her alone at home. Sometimes other babies screamed too, I saw, and honestly the relief of that shared struggle washed over me like a warm, comforting bath.
My life outside PEPS was slowly growing along with my confidence. Walks around Greenlake with other new parents and that baby yoga class had become a weekly occurrence. I was growing braver, accepting the reality that my baby’s behavior was still largely out of my control but that I could still make plans and connect with other people.
Quinn was a little older now and she sometimes cooed and grinned at the other babies at the PEPS meetings, her little body turning to them in wonder and delight. I was participating more fully now too, hearing the words of the other parents resonate deep within me, feeling their pains and struggles, marinating in the beautiful moments and milestones they shared.
I was sharing my story too, admitting how overwhelmed I was, how different motherhood was from what I’d pictured. I knew my struggles could be spoken aloud without advice or judgement. Our stories and experiences were very different, but I was learning that that was OK, too. “Every baby is different,” our PEPS leader atoned, and I took it as divine truth. Because it is. Later, after our leader set us off into the world and our little community continued to meet every other week, we would say it to each other.
“Every child is different,” I think these days, watching our almost-seven-year-olds tear around the park, their siblings running or toddling after them. We don’t see each other as often as we’d like, and some families have moved further than the original few miles that separated us. Our own stories are squeezed in around the noisy needs of our many children.
But there is something magical borne of a friendship that comes from such an honest and open place. There is a safety that comes from having spent those early dark days supporting each other. There is a connection between these children who once squalled and kicked on the rug together, who now hang from the monkey bars with their mouths wide open, laughing together.
About the Author
Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter and just launched a new blog Critical Playdate. She is mama to Ruby, 4, Quinn, 6, and Nora, 17 months. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, reading and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.