These words have been stirring in my heart and mind for a while. They are hard to write, yet I know that putting them to a page will be healing. If you’ve read my blog, if you are friend or family, it’s no news that this journey of motherhood, for me, has been tricky. I’ve lamented about how hard it is to be a working mom. How my heart yearns to be home with my baby, my arms ache for her weight day in and day out. I’ve alluded to the fact that I probably had some post partum blues when my sweet girl was just a tiny thing and that she had colic, which was such a trial for all of us. What I want to write about now, though, is HOW I am mothering my baby, as a result of these experiences and realities as well as much reading and learning I've done, and as a result of what my heart cries out. My body and mind feel like they are literally lapping up the wonderful things I've readon gentle/attachment parenting, as if the authors of these incredible books wrote down words that my heart didn't know it already knew. I realize the way I do things conflict with a lot of peoples knowledge and experience, and that’s OK. But I will not apologize for how I raise my baby girl.
At times, when I look back on the early days with my newborn, I am struck with grief and guilt about some of the feelings and thoughts I had. To say I had no idea what to expect from a newborn baby is an understatement, and the reality of it was so much harder than anything I was prepared for. I must have pictured early morning snuggles, wrapped in fuzzy blankets, with soft coos, and never-ending kisses. Somehow in my imaginings I left out the bags under my eyes, the fear of the unknown that would catch in my throat, the way my old life came crashing down around me, leaving shards and splinters that my sweet, unknowing new life had to land on.
The first two weeks seemed pretty perfect. I sat on the couch for hours and snuggled my sweet bundle, fed her, “played” with her. She slept a lot. Who was I to know that’s what all newborns do? I remember Jeff and I saying we thought she seemed like an easy baby. Did we say that out loud? Maybe we jinxed her! Around week three we discovered she was “colicky” whatever that is. (seriously, ask a doctor, they can't even explain it. In a world where we fly to the moon. Don't get me started...) For months there were evenings where she could not be consoled. She would cry and cry in seeming discomfort or even pain, and nothing we would do would help her. Our hearts broke as we paced the halls with her in our arms. We sang, shhhsh’d, rocked, bounced, stood in dark bathrooms under the whoosh of the fan. We tried car rides and swinging the car seat. We tried gas drops and gripe water. Our tears fell and mingled with hers. My hormones, emotions, worn out body and exhausted mind would sometimes think “I don’t know if I can do this.” I believe with all my heart that I’m not the first mother, nor will I be the last, to think something like that. Yet even typing it out has me tearing up again. I was weary, consumed with the pain of not being able to make my sweet, precious daughter feel better.
We were bombarded with suggestions that might help our girl. Everyone familiar with colic said time would make things better. And so I wished for the time to pass. I longed for days when our girl would feel better and not cry as often. I look back now, again with tears, and wonder if I wished away her infancy. Please understand, there were sweet and wonderful moments during that time. I loved her more fiercely than I could have thought possible. I did not want to trade my new daughter for anything, but I did want to trade her pain and her tears for smiles and comfort.
People were right. Time brought better days. Slowly her teeny body adjusted and she cried less often and seemed to feel better. My hormones evened out and my body adjusted (mostly!) to less sleep. Things got easier for all of us. I look back at those days now and I miss her tiny body in my arms. I miss rocking her to sleep with her little head and tummy resting on my chest. I miss her small mouth twisting into a coo and her impossibly little fingers wrapping around mine. Am I forgetting the reality? No, but it’s hard not to be swept up with guilt over wishing those days would hurry along.
That difficult beginning, along with much reading and learning, has shaped how I mother my sweet girl. As I did then, I will do everything in my power to keep her from crying out in pain, fear, discomfort, loneliness. And so, if she cries while playing on the floor, I will hold her. If she cries out when she is sleeping, I will pick her up. If she wants me near her, I will go to her. Regardless of her age and development, my belief is that she looks to me (or Jeff, or any caregiver) to provide for her, care for her, love her, keep her safe. She trusts me and I will not break that trust.
Do I mind it? How could I?! How can I begrudge extra snuggles, extra time for holding and hugs, extra closeness? Sure, it makes getting things done around the house a little tricky at times. Lists of what need to be done pile up and I wonder, sometimes with an extra measure of stress, when will they get done. But even this OCD, clean-obssessed mama can tell the difference between what is important and what is not. (Jeff, my poor, dear husband might disagree!) That these little days are fleeting and before long my precious baby won't need me to swoop her up, won't want me to smother her with kisses. Really the most difficult part I’ve run into with doing things this way is bedtime and sleep. For a while she was falling asleep so easily, nursing and rocking to sleep and that was that. Now we sometimes put her in bed and pick her back up several times before she is fully asleep and doesn’t start crying again. I confess that can get frustrating, but I pray she will never feel that frustration, that she will only feel my love and desire to help her when she needs it. She also wakes up a LOT at night. And I mean a lot. It is a sacrifice to be sure. There are times I look at those parents who have “sleep trained” their babies, whose little ones sleep through the night, and I envy them! For now, though, this sacrifice is worth it for me. It is only a stage, and someday I will wake up with littler bags under my eyes :)
I know there are people who believe I am spoiling her, allowing her to manipulate me. There are those who think babies need to learn how to become independent, need to know that they won’t get “what they want” by crying. I am a believer in letting parents and families do what works best for them as long as no one is being harmed or neglected. I appreciate advice and stories of how this and that worked for this parent or that parent. And of course I want my baby to learn to be independent, to grow strong and develop normally. However I stand by our decision to raise our daughter this way, gently, with respect and empathy. I don’t feel like I need to defend myself, nor do I want to. However if you are interested in more of the why behind our choices, (aside from what I have shared here), I am more than happy to share with you. Attachment style/gentle style parenting is a deep and wide river of experience and teachings. I have so much more to learn! This is not to refute any advice or suggestions I’ve received. Truly, I appreciate learning things that work for other families and oftentimes I will try new things I hear about. These words are more of a manifesto, to keep me strong, to show Olivia how much we love her and what we are doing to take care of her. I am excited to one day look back at these words, to remember our baby's tiny days, and to say, "look at why you are such a lovely girl, inside and out, my sweet daughter." Thanks for reading!