You’ve heard a lot about Angelina because she has so much muchness. Since the very first day we met her, her personality shone through with vim, vigor, and more than a dash of vinegar. It’s easy to see and share stories when someone is so communicative, even with the vast language barrier. (Angelina is speaking in full English sentences, home only one month!)
And then there is Roman.
When people ask about him, the most I can muster for a quick response is that he is an exceedingly content child. He enjoys 5 to 6 full meals a day. He has started to make eye contact. He occasionally makes the beginning sounds for babbling. He likes the sandbox, lawn, baths, and shower. He smiles and laughs the majority of the time. He falls asleep on his own without being cuddled and rocked to bed. He never cries. Oh, and he is the cutest little boy I’ve ever met.
He sounds like the ideal baby, right? Parents dream of having a perfectly content child who never cries. And I get that, our first child had colic and ooooooooooh my goodness, how I dreamed of having a baby who only cried occasionally or not at all!
But I’ll tell you something, it is not healthy to have a baby who does not cry. For the past month I’ve maintained a constant mental vigil concerning Roman’s well-being. When was the last time he ate, slept, was changed? Is he maybe too cold, too hot, would he like to be somewhere else, maybe he’d like a walk, or a bath, or a backrub? With three vocal sisters who are all ready to let their needs be known, it is hard to know if Roman’s needs are being fully met.
At his first neurology appointment they asked if he showed signs of discomfort or pain and I said “No, but that does not mean he isn’t in pain.” The nurse got it, she’d worked with kids from Easter European institutions before. “That’s hard” she told me. “It’s really hard when a baby doesn’t cry because how do you know if they are okay or not.” Bingo. On the drive home after that neurology appointment, when the MRI thankfully showed that his shunt was working, but also showed so much vast empty space where gray matter should be, I wondered if Roman would ever be able to communicate. Up to that point I had always thought of his progress with “when” but from then on I’ve thought “if”. For example, “When he learns to communicate” became “If he learns to communicate”.
At some point in his life Roman learned that crying for his needs did not get results, so he stopped using his energy to cry. He sank into his own world, it was a content little world, a world where he did not play with toys, did not smile at familiar faces, and did not react to discomforts such as hunger. He has continued to lived in that world since coming home. Yes, he has started to actually seek out my face and make eye contact, he has definitely become more responsive, sometimes he will make vague displeased sounds and will be somewhat comforted if I pick him up, but most of the time we are living parallel lives coexisting in the same general area.
So this morning at 3:45am when I awoke to hear noises that sounded suspiciously like crying coming from his room, my groggy mind was not sure what to make of it. Timm and I had both already taken turns being up with the other kids throughout the night. Was it really Roman crying, is that what his sobs sound like? I went in to check on him. Sure enough, those strange creaky groans were his cry; even his voicebox sounded strained from disuse, as if he’d never tried to make this noise before. Turning on the light I did the quick mom eval: no blood, no poop, no vomit, change diaper, give snack, doesn’t feel hot or cold, eyes are functioning, good appetite, responds to sounds, responds to touch. Okay, so what does he need? For the next 2 hours I walked with him around the house. He was still unhappy and crying those strange guttural sobs.
Now, with one of my biological children who has a solid attachment and I really know their various cries, I would have put that kid back to bed and let them cry because clearly all my efforts were not helping the situation. However Roman has only a fragile little tendril of attachment, putting him back down to cry it out could reinforce for him that his cries do not make a difference, and he would likely sink back down into his world again, the world where he does not communicate his needs. I had to assume that if he was crying, he was possibly in terrible pain.
By this point I was starting to wonder if I should be more worried. He does have hydrocephalus and although his shunt was recently checked and was functioning, maybe I should call the pediatric neurology unit and talk to the nurse on call. He was not showing any other signs of shunt failure, but with hydrocephalus you really can’t take my favorite I’m-sure-it’s-fine approach. I took a quick video of him crying for reference, put him down in his favorite play area, and tiptoed back to my room to grab my phone. When I walked back into the living room, there was Roman, giggling and playing with his toys…
I picked him up, the crying started, I put him down, he grabbed a toy and began to babble. For the sheer novelty of this new communication, I did pick him up and put him back down a few more times, and each time he cried when he was taken from his toys, and laughed when he was put back down.
It’s 7:20am now, the chances of getting a night’s sleep have come and gone and thanks to surviving life with a colicky baby, I know what to do for the rest of the day. I’m going to put on my suckitupbiggirlpants, make a pot of tea, get breakfast ready for the family, and praise God for a son who has learned how to speak his mind.