Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories  January 2013 | issue 445

Twelve Reasons To Cry

by Heather Kirn Lanier

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HEATHER KIRN LANIER is author of the memoir Teaching in the Terrordome: Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach For America and the chapbook The Story You Tell Yourself, winner of the 2010 Wick Chapbook Competition for Ohio Poets. She lives in Vermont and blogs about parenting a child with disabilities.

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I.

My friend Jeffrey’s baby wails in the stroller. Before she was born, Jeffrey showed off the baby’s first ultrasound portrait, black and white and x-ray-like, and even in the midnight blob of amniotic fluid, her ghostly profile had Jeffrey’s sloped chin. Now she’s out and about, exposed in all this garish daylight, and she’s howling. Tears roll down her fat cheeks. Her face is scrunching up into baby Armageddon, as if it’s the end of the world as she knows it.

Because I’m not yet familiar with babies and am still a few years away from giving birth myself, I say, “What’s she have to cry about? The world’s perfect for her.”

I’m thinking she has no boyfriend or girlfriend to break her heart. I’m thinking she never looks in the mirror to see any mortality-revealing wrinkles or to acknowledge her regrets. I’m thinking she has no wrinkles, no regrets, only organic cotton surrounding her soft baby skin, a mother’s breast to feed her 24/7, a stroller to take her around and someone else to do the pushing. She can sleep as long as she wants — usually sixteen hours a day. And I’m thinking she literally has someone to wipe her baby ass.

But Jeffrey looks at me quizzically. Sometimes the temperature is too hot, he says; sometimes it’s too cold. She’s hungry. She’s thirsty. She has to lie on her back all the time. She can’t walk or talk. She can’t tell you what’s wrong. Just think: She came from a comfortable womb where the word need didn’t exist. Now she’s learned that word and all the panic that comes with it.

The world, Jeffrey argues, is most certainly not perfect for her. She’s got plenty to cry about.

 

II.

There are twelve reasons for your infant to cry, a baby book tells me:

Because she’s hungry.

Because her diaper needs changing.

Because she’s too hot.

Because she’s too cold.

Because she’s bored.

Because she’s overstimulated.

Because she needs sleep.

Because she has gas.

Because she’s teething.

Because she’s sick.

Because of “something small.” Something so small you’ll never know what it is.

Because she misses the womb.

 

III.

I have just set my eight-week-old daughter down. She has been fed. She has gone to sleep. The next few minutes are mine. I pause in the hallway, believing for a moment that I might be able to brush my teeth or fix a snack or maybe even shower. But before I can choose which direction to turn — left, to the bathroom, or right, to the kitchen — she’s crying again.

“Where’s that leaflet the hospital gave us?” I ask my husband. “The one called ‘Babies Cry a Shit Ton.’ ”

It’s not called “Babies Cry a Shit Ton.” It’s something blander than that. But in the fog that followed my labor, we lost it, and now I’ll never know what gems of insight or advice it might have bestowed. It could have told me her cry is made of light. It could have told me her cry is a heaven of invisible birds. It probably wouldn’t have told me — though it could have — that a baby’s cry is the primal sound from which all art is made. Maybe it could have told me how to keep her from crying a shit ton.

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