My baby is not much of a crier. So when he does cry it feels a bit worrying. Of course a baby will have different cries. Sometimes those differences are subtle and they change a bit as they grow day by day. There is one for wanting a dry diaper, one for hungriness, one for loneliness and just wanting to be held, and there is a whiny one for a toy they can’t reach (so you give it to them and they become bored 30 seconds later but then want another one!). But there is one cry that seems very different to me. This is the one in which they are in pain or misery: maybe teething, gastric discomfort, sleep deprived and tired, perhaps an ear infection. Whatever it is as a parent you will know this cry. They wail at the top of their lungs. They are inconsolable. There is no reasoning with them because there is no way you can communicate with them except to simply hold them and hope your warmth and love eventually calms the down.
There is a helplessness to babies, especially before they can understand language well and before they can move on their own that draws us towards them, that pierces our heart so deeply that we move almost unconsciously to try and take care of them. But that cry of pain is a helpless cry for which there is no immediate solution. You must simply bear it and simply wish each and every moment that such cries will stop. Hopefully it is just a matter of the pain passing, the medicine working, sleep arriving, or whatever it is (because sometimes you just don’t know) stopping so that that helpless and desperate cry will stop. And I have to admit that the first time I experienced this cry when I was alone and I didn’t want to bother my wife who was getting some much needed time out with a friend, I despaired and felt helpless myself. Not knowing what to do. Of course this is part of what all babies go through and it’s not traumatizing for them, it’s just life. Nevertheless it brought tears to my eyes and feeling like a terrible father for not being able to take my son’s pain away. In that moment I felt utterly helpless as he wailed and wailed in my arms.
As I was able to let my mind catch up to my emotions it occurred to me how fortunate I was to have medicine, how fortunate I was to have a 911 to call, or a pediatrician that has a 24 hour answering service, or just people in my life in general to turn to. Sometimes it just takes the reminder even that all of this is just normal and that everything will be fine. Then I started thinking about all the mothers out there in the world who must listen to that cry for which there is no help. There is no medicine. There is no spouse. Maybe they are just desperately tired after a long day of work and could use their child’s smile to life their spirits, but instead the baby is sick and wails into the night. I started thinking about all the babies whose cries go unheard. Helpless as they are and even through their tears there are no arms to hold them. I have to admit I cried again, but it’s probably worth all our time to take a moment to remember this.
It is a sad reality though that “helpless” is not only something we all feel, but is sometimes the actual state of things. How many times have you felt helpless in your life? I’m sure there have been plenty. We might have felt helpless against a bully at school, a loved one dying from a terminal disease, helpless against the abuse of a parent or guardian, helpless because there is nobody to go to when we are in trouble, or helpless against a traumatic event, accident or natural disaster through no fault of our own. Maybe you have a loved one with an addiction. Whether a child, sibling, parent, or friend. In such cases no amount of help will do much good unless they want it, and the feeling of helplessness mounts.
There are certain realities that are hard to face. Perhaps even harder than facing death. As we grow we feel more powerful, we feel like there is more we can do to affect change, help ourselves and help others, but in the end we are always subject to forces outside our realm of influence. Life is a mixture of experiences both in and out of our control. Recognizing the difference between the two seems, to me, a lifelong struggle. All we can do I guess is to continue to love and care – about ourselves and others, and hope that feelings of helplessness will pass quickly for all who walk on this earth.