The books I read and other mothers I met were full of contradictory advice about what might ensure a happy, well-adjusted, settled baby. "Take your baby everywhere with you and he/she will get used to travel." "All you have to do to get your baby to sleep through the night is let him sleep in your bed." "Make sure she stays in her own crib and never sleeps in your bed." "If you nurse your baby on demand, . . . pick up your baby when she cries, . . . massage your baby . . . ." Adopt these approaches, or others, and you'll have an easy and well-adjusted child. I tried a variety of approaches, to no avail. A mother who "tried hard" and still had no success must be unconsciously communicating hostility or insecurity to her child, the common reasoning went. If Ryan continued to be a challenging child, there was clearly nobody to blame but his mother.
Finally, I saw a therapist. For several months, I talked a great deal about life with Ryan. My therapist kept steering the conversation to my childhood "issues" and tried to connect them to my current unhappiness. She seemed to believe that depression was at the root of my troubles as a mother. But what if my troubles as a mother were themselves causing my depression? Incredibly, we never addressed this possibility. Nor did she have any practical suggestions about how I might improve things for Ryan and me.
Like any couple, when I'd become pregnant, my husband and I couldn't help but imagine what our baby would be like, how he'd grow up, and what kind of man he might one day be. We knew it wouldn't be easy, but we expected and assumed, without even being aware of it, that we'd intuitively know our child, and that our child would reflect who we are. We were learning that things don't always work out that way. We were learning that the ricochet of genes, the mysterious exchanges of DNA, and all the million variables of the gestation process, from conception to birth, could introduce us to a stranger--a beloved stranger, but someone as different from our expectations and imaginings as it was possible to be. Fortunately, we were about to reach a turning point in our understanding of Ryan.