I didn’t know what time it was. Somewhere in the early hours of the morning because the house was still pitch black. I heard it first. Elise was still asleep. I don’t know how I knew, but I could just tell that she was in bed next to me, not aware of what was going on.
I heard it again. I strained to hear it a third time. And I did. She sounded so far away. She sounded like she was being hurt. Our youngest was screaming and crying from her bedroom on the other side of the house. And it wasn’t a normal cry out that would usually indicate that she’s scared or hungry. This was a cry out that she needed help. Something was happening to her. There was a waver in her wail that allowed my subconscious to convince me that the waver was created by her crying and screaming while she was being carried away.
I swatted Elise twice on the leg as I began barreling out of bed. I didn’t make my attempted leap over her. She was out of bed and running just as quickly as I was. We made it to Mara’s room in no time. In the seconds that it took for us to get to her room, the cries persisted. While unsettling, it was reassuring that the cries were isolated to her room. She wasn’t being carried by a poltergeist.
Elise turned on the hall light, which allowed us to see well enough into Mara’s room. Her arms and legs were curled up underneath her stomach and she was still letting out her terrified screams. I don’t remember who spoke first, but we made her aware that we were there and that everything was going to be okay. I don’t think we wanted to immediately lift her out of her crib for fear of startling her too much. I think we both considered the notion of our baby enduring some kind of night terror. While we collectively know absolutely nothing about night terrors, I think we surmised that a victim should be given room in case panic strikes.
All of this has happened within seconds.
I was as our daughter seems to be coming to. While breathing very heavily, as if fighting for her life, she tries to pull herself up onto her feet. This is the part that has burned a horrifying image into my mind. I just remember her trying to get up. She’s mustering every last drop of adrenaline to fight and bring herself to her feet in her little, safe crib. As she tries with all of her might, still crying, she legs and knees are wobbling. She looks like a newborn calf or foal, trying to stand for the first time. She looks like that video of the Iron Man triathletes when their legs just won’t work any longer. They fall and as hard as they will themselves, they can’t come up again. Physically done. Victimized. She couldn’t pull herself up and I know she was still terrified. I knew it probably seemed a lifetime before realizing our presence and feeling one of our physical touch.
I stepped before Elise and pulled our daughter up out of the crib. I couldn’t stand seeing her so helpless while trying so hard. I held her as Elise checked her over. Nothing was physically wrong with her as far as we could tell. It wasn’t long after we’d held our child that the screams and fright subsided. Apparently something was after her in her subconscious. She was scared. She was trying to escape and she screamed and cried out for help. Her mom and I were scared. The sound of your own child’s scream of fright & terror, and the sight of her physical helplessness are thankfully few and far between.
Mara slept with us that morning. She was burning up after – I guess we’re resolving to it being – her dream. I think she spiked a fever because the body’s natural response is to put off heat to “burn away the bad.” It wasn’t long before she was okay. We gave her water and made sure she was okay and comfortable enough to talk to us. I think the three of us had to allow time for our respective panic to subside. Eventually we all finally fell back to sleep, comfortably in Elise’s and my bed.
Seeing and hearing your child in that state is terrifying. It’s such a scary & unnerving feeling that sits with you for too, too long. And knowing that your child had to endure that experience is equally unnerving. Again, I’m just thankful this isn’t “normal” for us.