It’s late evening and my 18 month old daughter is starting to scream. I run upstairs and creep into her room. She is thrashing around in her bed and staring wildly around the room. Her eyes fix on me and she screams louder – I sit down several feet from the cot, tears rolling down my face.
I watch my daughter staring at unknown demons, shrieking with terror. She shouts, but I can’t make out the words. I long to gather her into my arms, hug her and whisper words of love. I cannot touch her yet, I have to wait. While she pants, screams, moans and shouts I examine her bedroom from where I sit. The walls are in pastel shades, warmly lit by nightlights. There are no big shadows, no pictures, no dolls, no clowns – nothing to scare her. I know my husband will be listening anxiously from downstairs, unable to help. My 5 month old baby stays asleep in a nearby bedroom, already used to the noise.
Finally the screams ease a fraction, and my daughter stops flailing so violently. I creep closer to the cot.
“Mummy’s here, safe with Mummy.” I murmur near her head. She is still staring at demons, but she turns towards me. “Come to Mummy?” I invite. She turns her body ever so slightly towards me and I ever so gently pick her up, still crying, still screaming.
I do not hug her, I scarcely touch her. I lay her rigid body across my legs and support her head. “Mummy’s here, safe with Mummy” I softly chant. My arms, legs and back start to scream for relief but I cannot move yet. I stroke and chant for as long as it takes for the screaming to subside. I ever so slowly ease my aching limbs and cradle my daughter a little closer.
I can start talking now. I softly talk of grassy meadows and twinkly streams full of happy fish. Soft sunshine lighting up the flowers and bunny rabbits. Always, Mummy close by, always, safe with Mummy. My daughter starts to relax and the screaming fades away as I replace the unseen horrors with peaceful, safe scenes.
Very gently I contort myself into a standing position, still cradling my precious, sleeping daughter, and just as gently lower her back into her cot. She is sleeping peacefully now.
This is a ritual that can take minutes or hours. It can happen once a week or 3 times a night. It is the most exquisite form of torture for my husband and me, but my daughter is unaware of the anguish she causes.
Night terrors are aptly named. My daughter suffered them for nearly 2 years, in an extreme form. She could only tolerate me with her when they happened, my poor husband could only listen from another room. So far, watching my young daughter scream in terror is the hardest act of love I’ve had to perform.