We’ve got a bedtime routine pretty down pat these days and E sleeps well till the early hours so when, at 9pm last night, the monitor registered a loud and distraught cry from E, I ran to find out what the matter was. It was a new noise – not the usual cry she makes when she wants something but a cry that sounded genuinely distressed and scared.
When I got upstairs E wasn’t quite awake but stirring and on the verge of crying, curling her lip and making little whimpering noises. I picked her up for a cuddle and after a while she settled down again and fell asleep.
I’ve watched her sleep before and obviously know that she dreams. Like all of us, babies process the day’s events in their sleep and she mutters and smiles in her sleep. But this is the first time she’s ever shown evidence of a nightmare. I didn’t know such a thing could happen. What kind of nightmares can a 3 month old baby have? Clearly they won’t come up with the kind of thing that older children/teens/adults have – serial killers, spiders, general death terrors, clowns, drowning, walking down the street naked etc. So is a baby terror more a generic fear? Learning about the emotion itself rather than projecting it onto something specific? How interesting if so. And yet it’s a stage of human development that you don’t consider when you have a baby – learning sadness, fear and distress. S and I have discussed the loss of innocence but I had that down for a while off, not quite yet. It’s a sad thing to contemplate that your child has to learn fear and suffering too.
Looking up baby nightmares on the internet, there’s lots of information and theories out there. One site suggests that baby bad dreams are them reliving birth trauma. Well, yes, that was quite traumatic. Another lays on the maternal guilt by suggesting that baby dreams are sparked by every time you don’t tend to their needs as fast or as well as they would like. I stamp firmly on this tosh – no one needs that kind of unhelpful commentary on their parenting. Several mention night terrors as being different to nightmares and occurring in the first part of the night, with the child not waking during the process. Babies can have night terrors as well as nightmares.
I’m fairly certain that this was a one-off occurrence and just another part of her development. And it undoubtedly distressed me more than it upset her. But also, if I’m honest, it was nice to be able to comfort her so easily – it made me feel like I knew what I was doing for once. Obviously I don’t want to encourage anything that makes her cry but there is a special feeling to be got from a small person burrowing their face into your shoulder for comfort.
And with that, I shall prepare for bed. Night all…