It arrived a couple of months before my due date. I had it shipped to my dad’s house, since we were moving and I didn’t want to have to haul it with us. I couldn’t wait to see it. After all our research (and a lot of pretty pennies), I was pleased with our bright red carseat. I couldn’t wait to see our baby in it.
We made it home from the hospital with our baby hiccuping drowsily in his carseat. For the first week or so, the carseat wasn’t a problem. But after that, it became a source of agony for him (and us!).**
Our first hint of trouble was when we went to watch Jon play softball not far from our apartment (not far being about 2 miles, so truly not far). When we got there, my sister and I put Liam in the stroller his carseat attached to. He started fussing at one point, so I picked him up and nursed him before returning him to his carseat so we could go home. He screamed so loudly and coughed so hard on the way home that both my sister and I thought he might be choking to death.
I felt terrible for days at how agonized my baby had sounded. It was almost like it opened up the floodgates as colicky evenings started around this time. We hadn’t seen him cry much up until this point.
We could barely make it the five minutes to my dad’s house without a full-out meltdown. It’s weird looking back because today, if he fusses a little he usually calms down. But back in his infancy, he would work himself up into a sweat, coughing and sputtering in a way that frightened us as new parents.
I didn’t mind staying at home; it was much better than venturing out. But as in any new-mom situation, people began to increase my fears. What if he never liked his carseat because we didn’t force him to get used to it? What if this was the beginning of terrible discipline? What if, by giving in, we were allowing him to manipulate us?
Many people gave me ideas to try to get him to like his carseat better. Some said that we should just let him cry (they obviously hadn’t heard his heart-rending newborn squeal or the near-death cough that came so fast).
In the monthly updates I wrote for our families, I rarely included “carseat” under the list of things he hated because I felt so judged. Surely we were doing something wrong if traveling with a newborn was so hard for us. We had only heard of such a thing once before when a lady in the checkout line said that her nephew, too, hated his carseat.
Sometimes I think it was that he got too hot. Mostly, I think it boiled down to how much he needed constant physical touch in those early months. This combined with his stomach pains to make time in the carseat miserable for him.
When Liam was two months old, we made a four-hour roundtrip drive to meet our new nephew and surprise Jon’s family. We made it there with very little stress minus a dirty diaper that upset the poor baby terribly not far from home. (Yes, we did consider turning around.) But the trip back was terrible. He was overstimulated from being with family, and we stopped countless times.
We ran out of diapers near home (why do gas stations not sell them?) and seriously considered renting a hotel room. He was feverishly hot from screaming and kept choking so hard that we were freaked out. Nothing we did distracted him, and he would fall asleep nursing, his body still shaking with sobs, only to wake up as soon as we tried to move him. We did eventually make it home, but I don’t remember how. To be honest, I still don’t know if that trip was worth it (although it did teach me that we could survive).
Things in this department didn’t get better until he was seven months old or so when I think he mostly outgrew his hatred for the carseat. I don’t think it was anything we did or didn’t do. I think most of it is that around seven months, he began to be able to go longer stretches without eating or needing his diaper changed. He didn’t demand to be held quite so much. And we could finally distract him and entertain him before his cries reached fever pitch (most of the time).
Here’s why I tell you this. At the time, it was really, really bad. Looking back, I am tempted to offer myself advice or even wonder, “Wait… why couldn’t we just let him fuss? He wouldn’t have died; babies don’t die from crying!” But that’s not the point. The point is that we didn’t like for him to cry like that–not just for our sakes’–but for his.
Here’s what I wish I had known: If you baby hates something and it doesn’t bother you to avoid it, just avoid it (or conversely, if your baby loves something and it doesn’t bother you to do it, just do it!). People will question you, advise you, maybe even judge you. But you know the situation. You know how it affects you, your baby, and your entire family.
I kept thinking the issue was so much bigger. If we let him “get away” with this, he would become spoiled. But now I realize, he was an infant–an infant who had only known constant warmth, comfort, and nourishment inside me. He wanted to be held. He didn’t understand it when he couldn’t eat when he wanted to or when he couldn’t be cuddled. And he wasn’t ready to understand it.
This battle, like many in the first year, eventually just melted into the past. But like, the story of the wipe warmer, it reminds me that we don’t have to make everything a lesson or parent out of fear (especially in that vulnerable first year). Sometimes, it’s okay to stay home.
Meeting our kids’ needs doesn’t need to be an epic battle. Sometimes our wants and their needs collide. I didn’t mind staying home; he needed to avoid the carseat. I just wish we had done it more. Sometimes it was good for us to get out of the house. But waiting just a few more months made all the difference on its own.
Before long, Liam enjoyed our errands, and now, he even enjoys our trips in the car more (and we can plan them around his naps). Though it was hard, we even made the seven hour drive to the beach this summer.
In Kiss Me!, one of my favorite parenting books, Carlos Gonzalez talks about how modern parenting advice often robs us of the ability to comfort our kids or delight in parenting. He writes about parents who are told to get their newborns on a routine rather than holding them when they sleep:
“The child prefers being held to being given a routine, and this is also easier for the parents. Why complicate matters? According to the myth, the child must always be made to go to sleep in the same way or “he will never learn.” But life isn’t static” (117, emphasis mine).
You don’t have to believe the myth that in the first year, everything will be creating a pattern that is impossible to redo. Things change so fast. Babies are capable of handling change; they are capable of learning and growing. Every month is new; every season will pass.
I remember when Liam was just over a year old and we took a trip. Someone said, “We figured he was probably crying the whole way here.” And instead of feeling guilt, I thought (with too much rage to be warranted!), “If he was crying the whole way, we wouldn’t have come.” And I realized that I had changed. I finally trusted our parenting, our decisions, and our baby. It was total relief.
**I know it is going to be hard for you to believe this given some of the happy baby pictures in this post. I was shocked to find so many pictures of my baby in his carseat (they wouldn’t all fit in this post). What were we thinking?! (Except we took one this past Wednesday, too…)