There are two kinds of babies…

This kind, and the easy ones.

Of course that’s a gross oversimplification. There are many, many kinds of difficult babies, and no such thing as a completely easy one. However. If you’ve had one of the first kind, you know what I’m talking about.

Our Elfling, of course, was not really a colicky baby. She was however what you might call “high needs”, which amounts to much the same thing, except that the screaming wasn’t as extended as with colic – then again, the difficult period lasted much, much longer. Refusal to sleep? Check. Plenty of crying? Check; except that, unlike colic, it was usually possible (though not easy) to figure out what was wrong and deal with it. Of course “dealing with it” probably meant giving Elfbaby our full attention, really 100% total attention, and not daring to do anything like, say, take a quick shower, or talk to another adult, or do the many little things that people generally don’t even think about needing, but certainly do. It’s actually really hard to explain – even to remember, from this distance – exactly what was so challenging… until, like the author of that NYT piece, I see or hear what other parents are able to do with their babies,* and the contrast is just completely dizzying.

Now the fact that there are easy babies, and less easy ones, is not in itself an issue. Lucky for those who get the easy ones, right? And the rest of us will get through somehow, and we do, and there’s so much good stuff, great stuff, on the other side that it’s all totally worth it and fine, in the end.


I would really, really, REALLY like for parents in general to understand this one thing: this impossible kind of baby? Actually exists. It’s not because we’re doing something wrong. It’s not something that can be solved quite simply with a visit to the chiropractor/diagnosis of acid reflux/stricter routine/less strict routine/more coddling/less coddling… it’s just how some babies are. Each in their own uniquely nerve-shredding way. If you managed to fix your baby’s problems, great, good for you, and by all means, do share that information when appropriate, because it probably can help someone else. I, for instance, found that wearing a good sling was the difference between sanity and despair. (It didn’t actually change Claudia’s personality or lessen her demands – she remained a high-needs, highly challenging infant – but it was the tool that enabled me to meet those demands in such a way as to make us both happy, at least some of the time.) So (as we all know) I got totally hooked on slings, and can’t stop talking about them to anyone who’ll listen. BUT. I do know that, as wonderful and magical as slings were for me, and while the huge variety available means there will probably be a sling out there to suit almost anybody… some babies, some few, infuriating babies, will not tolerate slings. So, while I encourage new parents to try slings to solve certain problems, if they tell me their kid just isn’t down with that? I shut up.

Some people don’t get that.

Some people truly believe that their baby sleeps when it should, eats when it should, chills when they want it to, because they made it so. Which… well. Nothing you can say to that, is there? They will always believe, smugly, insultingly, crushingly, that they are just better parents.

Some of these people then have a second (or third, or fourth) baby. A baby of the first kind.

I won’t say this makes me happy. I won’t say that. That would be awful.

It might be true, though.


* The mere existence of Parent & Baby movie screenings is an indicator of how great the chasm is between the first and second kind of baby. “Oh, she can just sleep, it’s dark in there,” say the Other Mothers. Ha bloody ha. “Oh, give her a feed, let her sit on your lap, nobody minds if she chatters a bit,” say the Other Mothers. Are you kidding me? Sit still? For TWO HOURS? What kind of alien freaks have you lot spawned, anyway?

5 thoughts on “There are two kinds of babies…

  1. I totally get you on this. My daughter was colicky & it seemed that nothing we did helped her apart from Infracol. My husband once stood with her at the end of the train carriage for 4 hours as she was screaming. He locked his arms, braced his legs against the movement of the train & held on.

    She’s now 16 & is demanding in other ways.

    1. Ugh! And of course such an experience is hellish enough in itself – *without* all the Disapproving Looks you’ll be getting from all the passengers thinking you’re doing this baby thing completely wrong. Their babies certainly never behaved like that, so naturally, they know.

      1. Absolutely! Another time when she was a bit older she laid down on the floor in Boots & kicked & screamed. I walked away. An old lady gave me such a FILTHY look but I knew if I spoke to her & asked or told her to get up she’d be worse.

  2. I have waves of reminiscence washing over me. We came up with so many reasons for #1’s general demandingness – the tough pregnancy, the forceps headache, the upper-lip tie and consequent feeding problems, our mutual vitamin B12 deficiency… Really, though, it was her essential nature – even as a happy and healthy 2 3/4 year old, she needs far more attention than her brother (3 1/2 months).

    And it’s only since her brother’s arrival that I’ve finally forgiven myself and realised that I wasn’t doing anything wrong last time. Given exactly the same handling, he sleeps, eats, gurgles and giggles, is happy to wait for his feed or change (within limits, but #1 thought she was being tortured if asked to wait any time at all). It’s very strange having a baby who smiles.

    There’s a section in Doris Lessing’s first volume of memoirs about having a wakeful cross baby when everyone else has happy calm babies that feed and sleep by the clock. I burst into tears the first time I read it, because finally someone else knew what it was like.

    1. I’m glad you’ve had a chance to experience the happy baby, and to realise it was Not Your Fault! Must be a blissful change. I hope I’m so lucky next time around.

      (I’m already lucky, though, really. Elfling was a hugely demanding infant, but became a really easy toddler. She does need me more than some kids might need their moms, but in a very sweet way, and by and large she doesn’t do the typical toddler tantrums and stroppiness. Very likely if I had a “regular” easy baby, they’d turn into a “regular” hard-work toddler.)

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