In Defense of the Fussy Baby

"Can I hold her?" And with those four short words, my anxiety goes through the roof. On the outside, it might just look like I'm a baby hog; one of those moms who doesn't want other people to hold her baby. And maybe that's true, but it's not for the reasons people think.
01/15/2015 11:31 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"Can I hold her?" And with those four short words, my anxiety goes through the roof. On the outside, it might just look like I'm a baby hog; one of those moms who doesn't want other people to hold her baby. And maybe that's true, but it's not for the reasons people think. In fact, I would love for someone else to hold my baby and give my aching arms a moment's rest; however I know that the moment someone takes her, the screaming will begin. That's right. I'm the mom of a fussy baby.

She's particular in how she wants to be held, how she wants to be rocked. Outsiders don't know these little preferences, so my darling daughter quickly turns into a demanding diva. And with the screaming comes the anxiety that I feel watching the whole situation unfold. Moms who don't have the first-hand experience of a fussy baby often look at me with a mixture of terror and pity. "Poor young mama. Her baby must have a wet diaper or hasn't eaten for hours." Nope, she's perfectly dry and I just fed her 30 minutes ago. "What do you think has her so worked up today?" my father recently asked me. In my head I wanted to sarcastically reply, "Oh, I don't know, dad. Maybe because it's a Thursday? Maybe because it's 2:17 in the afternoon? Maybe because the sky is blue?" A fussy baby doesn't really need a concrete reason. It's just an everyday thing.

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What I would do to have one of those laid-back, "chill" babies who happily sits in her bouncer seat or swing for an hour (or more!). One of those babies who is easily passed around family functions from one relative to the next without even a whine. One of those babies who doesn't require being held -- and only by me -- the entire day. Don't get me wrong, I love holding my daughter, but hours on end become exhausting, and little else gets done around the house.

In fact, I am writing this post only minutes after an epic screaming battle, during which I sat alone in the nursery rocking my little one while my extended family enjoyed holiday festivities in the living room. And once she finally does fall asleep, I spend those blissful quiet minutes anxiously staring at the video monitor waiting for her to wake at any moment, or assuming my role as official binky-replacer.

I should be used to this experience though; my first daughter was the same way. High maintenance, needy, fussy. Chances are, if my babies aren't sleeping or eating, they're crying. Those happy, content, smiley babies on diaper commercials? Those are not my kids.

One of my best friends had a baby the same time my older daughter was born and I was so excited to have someone going through the same things as me. Only, she wasn't. While she was in the kitchen whipping up a dinner from scratch and her son was quietly entertaining himself in his bouncy chair, I was walking circles around the house with my crying daughter. I remember being so envious of how "easy" her baby was; and even somewhat resentful of how challenging mine was.

My infant daughter cries a lot. Even when all the boxes have been checked. Dry diaper? Check. Full belly? Check. Burped? Check. I'm typically the only one who can soothe her, but there are times when even mom's not enough. And if the person who knows her more than anyone in the world can't get her calmed down, then surely there's no way great-aunt Sally or cousin Jane will be able to. So, call me a baby hog, but no, I'd rather you not hold her. Because there's nothing worse than watching your baby cry in someone else's arms and seeing them struggle to make her stop. Sorry, I would love for you to hold her and have her stare up in your eyes making sweet gurgles, but that's just not how my child works.

Moms of other fussy babies have agreed with me in that their little ones exhibit similar characteristics, including being demanding, sensitive, not self-soothing, awakening easily, and difficult to put down. One or two of these features would be tough enough, let alone a baby that possesses multiple. And sure enough, my babies do. It's as if I can hear the little voice in her head saying, "Sure, mom, I'll take a 2-plus hour nap on your chest. But try to move me to the couch in this exact position? No way."

While it's hard to see in the heat of the moment, there are lessons to be learned from a fussy baby. Perhaps those traits will turn out to be positive characteristics when she's an adult. Perhaps she's just going to be a person who knows what she wants and is determined to get it. So while having a fussy baby is extremely overwhelming and tiring, I am learning to accept my kids for who they are, and stop wishing they were something they're not.

So they next time Granny asks to hold the baby, I'm going to say "sure!" And when the screaming starts, I'll just take a breath and smile. Yep, that's my girl -- she's got a voice that wants to be heard. And at the end of the day, I'm grateful that I get to hear it.

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Jennifer Craven is an instructor of fashion merchandising at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa. She lives in Erie with her husband and two fussy but sweet daughters, as well as a wonderful extended family that never gets to hold them.

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