When I was pregnant with my first child, I was hungry to connect with other mothers so I read every magazine and article on pregnancy and parenting I could find. What I took away from this information is that parenting is hard, grueling, exhausting, and scary. This left me unprepared for the complete undescribable joy I felt when Baby Annabelle arrived. When I held that baby in my arms, even before knowing if it was a girl or boy, I was so overwhelmed with love and awe all I could say was “You’re perfect!” over and over again. I couldn’t believe the complete and absolute miracle of giving birth, that this little human body was formed inside my own body, and now I would get to spend the rest of my days being a mother. I had wanted to have a drug-free birthing experience. I figured this was the most powerful thing I would ever experience as a woman and I wanted to be fully present. I also realized that I was being transformed into a parent, a ritual by fire, and I came out with a deep understanding of what I was willing to do for this child. Due to complications, I did end up having an epidural, but at that point, I no longer cared. I realized someone else was captain of my ship now, it was no longer about me. And the complete ecstasy I felt when I held this tiny naked being in my arms was overwhelming! I’d never felt such love, such pure boundless joy. Love for her, love for the whole world… just love washing over me in huge waves. I don’t know if it was the oxytocin from breastfeeding or the after effects of the epidural, but I felt an ongoing ecstatic high for months after giving birth.
And sleep? What’s that? Who cares! I have a baby!! Coherent sentences?? What are those? Who cares? I have a baby! I bought sweats and ugg boots for the first time in my life and was warm, comfy, and carefree. Vomit away baby! I’m here for you!
To be completely honest, in my deepest most secret heart, I didn’t find parenting to be hard or grueling or any of those things the magazines warned me about. The ecastasy just wouldn’t stop. I wondered why none of the books or magazines talked about post-partum euphoria. I kept the baby right next to me all the time and lived my bliss. She never cried, I never cried, and I have no idea if we ever slept. We were truly floating along in our very own ocean of love. When she was hungry, I fed her, when she was wet I changed her, when she wanted to play we played, when she wanted tranquility, I gave her that too.
The day she was born, the nurse told me to let her cry, that she needed to learn to “self-soothe.” This went against every instinct I had. I told her, “This baby lived inside my body for the past year, there’s no way I’m going to let her cry. She doesn’t need to self-soothe, she has me to soothe her!” A few days later, the town pediatrician told me I should give the baby a pacifier and let her cry for at least five minutes before feeding her. Okey Dokey, Attila the Hun. That’s just what I’m going to do, stick a piece of plastic in my baby’s mouth and let her cry even though I have the ability to comfort her. Never! Whether she’s 2 days old or 60 years old, I’m not that type of parent.
When baby cries, I’m stressed, she’s stressed…how is this beneficial to anyone? Plus, letting her cry would teach her that she’s not important enough to me to meet her needs. What would that do for her self-worth?
I was lucky enough to study “attachment parenting” at Harvard when I got my Masters in Educatino. We learned that when a baby cries and no one responds, the baby can become “disassociative.” This means the baby will stop crying because she knows nobody will respond anyway, and it’s a very dangerous place for a baby to be. Learning at an early age that you can’t trust your caregivers can have dangerous repercussions for the rest of baby’s life. Remember that baby is learning more from Day one than we, as adults, can comprehend. Her neural connections are on turbo speed right now, and will be for the next five years. If her needs are not met, this can cause her neural pathways to connect in a “disorganized” ways paving the way for anti-social and possibly dangerous behavior in her teen and adult years. In addition to the cognitive damage that can be done, baby is releasing stress hormones when she cries. This means that all her energy is going into crying instead of optimal development. I know many of us have been taught the “cry it out” method of parenting. “They’re strengthening their lungs! Their learning they can’t always get their own way! If you pick that baby up, you’ll spoil her, she’ll become clingy.” Maybe, but according to research, there is no truth in these words.
Quite the opposite is true! Attachment research tells us that babies who’s needs are met actually grow up feeling very safe and secure, so they’re actually MORE independent and self-reliant when they get older. They feel safe enough to explore away from their caregiver, knowing they can trust and depend on their caregiver should the need arise. This is a wonderful foundation to give your child. I meet many parents who are confused about how to raise their child to be the healthiest. They want them to be self-reliant, independent, confident, kind and successful. According to best practice research, your best chance at this is through attachment parenting. And best of all, it goes with your instinct! No more stress and anxiousness as you listen to your beautiful bundle of joy wail. Pick that baby up, put her in a sling, and go about your business. You can shower—bring baby in, put her in a safe place (a bassinet, moses basket, etc.), then play peek-a-boo with the shower curtain. Your shadow moving behind the curtain will fascinate Baby more than any mobile. Baby will love it! You can exercise—put baby in her stroller or strap her to your chest and relish the fact that you’re getting an even better workout with the extra weight.
Some things will have to be put on the back burner for a while with a new baby. You may not feel comfortable leaving your baby, especially if you’re nursing on demand and baby doesn’t take a bottle. I have one word for this dilemma—surrender! Surrender into this time! Cherish every moment, because it won’t last forever. Soon enough you’ll be back drinking margaritas by the sea with your girlfriends, but for now, just revel in being Mom. Revel in those tiny clothes as you fold 30 socks no bigger than your hand, and remember what an honor it is to care for this marvelous human being. Surrender to the sacred beauty of parenthood. When Baby wakes you in the night to eat or be comforted, don’t resent her, cherish her. Drink these moments in. It is such an honor to have this little being turn to you for food and comfort. Sing her a soft lullaby and know that this precious time will end. Soon Baby will be all grown-up, and out of the house. Take this time and let her know you’re there for her, that she can trust you to comfort her when she’s sad or angry. She can depend on you for her needs, that she is safe and secure and perfect, just as she is.
Surrender into the beautiful dialectic that is parenting—pouring all your love over the beautiful head of your baby, supporting and nurturing her as she grows, all the while knowing that someday you’ll be letting her go. Nothing can change the wisdom that comes from the transformative ritual of birth—you were a woman, but now you are a mother, now and forever. Nothing can take that away. It is a badge of honor, so be proud to walk in the footsteps of all the thousands of women before you who have chosen this path. And remember that parenting is a sacrifice, a beautiful deeply meaningful sacrifice. In today’s time, we don’t get to experience too many deeply transformative experiences anymore, so relish this time.