"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!"

King Lear (video)
William Shakespeare

"Don't Worry - She Won't Remember This --"

“Don’t worry – Julia won’t remember any of this – ”

I have heard this many times in the past sixteen months, spoken by well-meaning persons trying to console my wife and I. Our baby daughter would cry and cry and our faces would assume a haggard, exhausted look.

To be a baby is hard work. Other than in the mother’s womb, at no time in life is there more rapid change in our lives than at infancy. Everything is new. The infant’s developing brain, immune system, and digestive tract are strained to the utmost to support new (and often bewildering) life outside the womb.

It is hard. Babies cry a lot – sometimes all the time. They catch a seemingly unending list of infant maladies: ear infections, “teething” pain, upper respiratory infections (and “croup”), the “HFMD” enterovirus, pneumonia, and a bevy of the more common colds and flus. In her first sixteen months of life, Julia had every one of these at least once. She had one stubborn ear infection that lasted no less than five months.

Then there are the developmental challenges of “separation anxiety” from parents. A baby learns to fall asleep by herself, and it cries. It learns to drink from a sippy-cup, not the old and familiar bottle with a nipple – she cries at the change. After three or four days of crying, she adapts to the change. The crying stops.

Babies cry and cry. Sometimes attentive parents can clearly discern why, sometimes there seems no reason to it. (The baby isn’t going to explain it to you.)

I absolutely hate to hear my daughter cry, although with time I have grown more used to it. I would do almost anything to relieve or comfort her in moments of pain or distress, but I often can do little besides hold and listen to her cry. I go through my checklist: diaper changed, baby fed, room temperature normal – everything is fine. For whatever reason, she is inconsolable. She cries and cries and cries. Another four in the morning crying session for Julia, with eyes swollen with crying and red with fatigue, she is miserable as I try and rock her back to sleep. “Let it go, little one! Just go back to sleep!” I think to myself as I watch her scream. Nothing works. Sweaty and disheveled, Julia finally falls asleep in exhaustion.

“She won’t remember any of this –“

At times I look sadly down at my baby daughter and reflect sadly – “Yes, my love –we humans are born to suffer, it is best you learn it sooner rather than later…” I think this to myself and then shower her with kisses. Maybe babies are smarter than we their parents are in that they loudly object to pain and discomfort while suffer in silence.

I am sure it is true in later life daughter Julia will remember nothing from the first months of her life. She will not remember screaming for hours on end during her raging colic, nor will she be injured by it.

But I suspect what happens in early infancy is critical for later life. A vulnerable and helpless human being as an infant learns, despite illnesses and developmental challenges, that she is loved and cherished by her parents.  In the constant affection and attention that we shower on her, Julia knows in a very basic and elemental way that the world is safe, secure, and (mostly) predictable – that it is a good place typified by good times and happy moments, merely punctuated by moments of distress and unpleasantness. One endures the unhappy, knowing that the happy is the norm and will return soon – and not vice versa.

Julia might not remember any specific moments, but she will be firmly bonded with her parents in a primal, unconscious manner. She won’t “remember” this, but it will inform the rest of her life.

One can see the absence of this in these rare, heartbreaking cases of babies almost entirely neglected by their parents. The parents may be drug addicts and ignore their children; or the baby may be an orphan, like those in those unspeakable orphanages in Romania, and experience life’s earliest and most formative years without a loving caress from a parent figure. The effects, I suspect, are lifelong. Scientists observed that baby rhesus monkeys removed from the embrace of their mothers grow up profoundly disturbed. Just like those Romanian orphans, the neglected monkeys clutch themselves and rock back and forth, as if they had autism.

My wife and I insist that Julia start the night in her crib, even as she would prefer to sleep in our bed. We need our uninterrupted sleep, and she needs to learn to self-sooth – to be able to quiet and calm herself, and fall asleep without her parent’s help. Everyone wakes up two or three times every night, but almost all of us can all fall back asleep again quickly. Julia wakes up in the darkness, cries out for her parents, and wants to be rocked to sleep in our arms. “She cries loudly at night because she knows you will come to her; if you let her cry and don’t come, she will stop crying,” it was explained to us. “She’ll be OK. She doesn’t need to be rocked back to sleep.” My wife accuses me of being “soft” and going into Julia’s room too often at night when she cries, but I see a sliding scale as she gets older – and indeed Julia cries less and less as she gets older and has more experience trying to sleep through the night. (When she is sick, all bets are off – Julia gets whatever she wants when she feels miserable.) But around five in the morning – when the sun comes up and dawn lightens up her room – Julia stands up in her crib, holds onto the bars, and cries for daddy to come and get her. I take her into our own bed, place her between her mother and myself, and we all sleep for another hour or two. If Julia is crying loudly when I come to get her, she is asleep almost the instant I lay her on our bed.

When she wakes up refreshed, Julia rubs the sleep out of her eyes and then rolls over and hugs her mother around the neck, lays her head on her mother’s, and smiles and say, “Momma!”

She will not “remember” this moment specifically, but neither will she “forget” it. The world is a safe place, and mommy and daddy are here and they love me. Julia as of yet has no words for this but still she knows.  Julia does not understand me when I say to her, “I love you, daughter Julia!” But somewhere deep inside she understands our connection.

Last night Maria and I were watching a DVD around midnight. From upstairs we heard Julia wake up from a sound sleep and start crying. We listen to the crying, hoping Julia will soothe herself and go back to sleep. Sometimes that happens, sometimes not. Last night Julia continued crying loudly and plaintively for more than five or ten minutes, so her mother finally went upstairs. As Maria walked into the room she encountered Julia in the usual pose: standing on both feet in the darkness, crying loudly, with hands on the top rail of the crib as if it were a jail bar. She was waiting for her parents to come. Maria lifted her out of her crib and sat down and tried to rock Julia back to sleep. Julia persisted in crying.

Finally, Maria carried Julia downstairs and said to her husband, “She was missing us!” Julia came down into the light and was placed on the couch between mommy and daddy. She rubbed her swollen eyes, as she squinted as her eyes struggled to adjust to the light. After a few moments, she calmed down, stopped crying, and a big smile crept over her face. She looked back and forth at mommy and daddy watching their movie, and then Julia doubled over, laid down on daddy’s leg, and made herself comfortable. She just sat there for a minute or two, eyes open and staring out to the side at nothing in particular. Julia finally fell asleep, the movie playing in the background.

Her mother eventually put her back in her crib, and Julia slept there solidly until the sun penetrated into her crib at dawn. The light awoke Julia and she stood up, held onto the bars of her crib, and cried until her daddy came. He missed his daughter and was happy to see her, and he carried her into her parent’s room where all was quiet and dark. Julia cuddled up with mommy and daddy and slept soundly through the early morning hours.

"Julia’s conscious mind is far from being able to understand the human language and reasoning wherein we tell he the following: 'Mommy and daddy love you so much! We are so happy you are here!'"