I often find myself explaining to confused mothers asking ‘what am I doing wrong?” (as they try to follow the book on their coffee table), that books that seem reasonable before you have a child are at odds with how you feel when you meet your little being.
I was reminded of this as I read a beautiful article in a baby magazine ( My Child) by Antonella Gambotto-Burke – ‘Raising Bethesda’ – about how she had planned ‘pre-baby’ to follow the Contented Little Baby book by Gina ford. But, as happens so often, Gambotta Burke says, “But then I heard Bethesdas voice and the world changed.”
You see, nature is powerful and when she has her way, mothers discover, as Gambotta-Burke did, that mother and baby are designed to be close to each other and feel at odds when separation is enforced by rules.
Snuggling together with baby is natural and nourishing to both parent and child and clocks and strict schedules have no part of this connection as mother and baby become exquisitely attuned to each other. Non-verbal cues are easily shared so that as baby becomes slightly uncomfortable or just a wee bit hungry or thirsty, mother intuitively attends to her child. This connection is like a dance with partners becoming more and more competent at the steps as they practice – soon there are no concerns about ‘which cry is this?’ Instead there is an inner knowing by that mother of her individual baby’s own unique language.
This is not simply an ‘emotional’ bond ( although of course there is a deep emotional connection and it is vital) but a blueprint for survival that is physical and biological. Hormonal changes that begin during pregnancy and are heightened after the birth of our babies are designed to help us become more intuitive and responsive to them. MRIs have shown that certain parts of a mother’s brain light up when her own baby cries; other studies show that circulation to a mother’s breasts increases when she hears her child’s cry. Fathers too can have altered levels of hormones that aid their responsivity and these are enhanced by close contact with their child.
This is why I feel angry when I hear childless ’celebunannies’ – to use Antonella Gambotta’s term – calling babies ‘MY babies’ or claiming that they have special powers to interpret babies’ cries. Some claim they have had these ’special powers’ since they were children. Der… ? These women are part of the human race (aren’t they) – I would like to believe that every child has enough empathy to know when a fellow human feels distressed, especially a vulnerable baby. However, I feel cross that mothers are being undermined and second guessing their own babies’ behaviour as they listen to ‘outsiders’ telling them to ‘leave the baby to cry’ or that is ‘just’ an angry cry ( anger is a legitimate emotion when distress and helplessness prevail) .
This lack of confidence is detrimental to the mother- infant connection as it interrupts bonding between the person who really does know the baby best – the mother of that child. Besides, despite the outrageous claims that anybody but you – the parents – could interpret your babies cries better than you, research actually shows that babies have individual cry prints, just as we all have individual fingerprints. So although there may be a similarity between babies cries, there will also be nuances that are characteristic to YOUR baby. By holding your wee one close and doing some baby watching – not packing her away in a dark room and avoiding eye contact – you will get to know what kind of cry is this? You will also get to know your baby’s pre-cry language and you will intuitively respond appropriately.
I have a wonderful quote that I love to share from The Continuum Concept, a book written in the seventies by Jean Leidloff, an American woman who lived for a time with the Yequana Indians,
“I would be ashamed to admit to the Indians that where I come from the women do not feel themselves capable of raising children until they have read the instructions written by a strange man”
As Antonella Gamnbotto- Burke says, describing her feelings, the night her baby announced “I sleep in my own bed” , “Gina Ford and her fellow ‘celebunannies’ can never know what I felt in that moment for Bethesda. That throat-constricting love, as limitless as the horizon.The confrontation of my baby’s conscious individuation. And the understanding that allowing her to evolve at her own pace was a gift: in yielding to our babies, a reverence for life itself.”
Love, laugh, enjoy – and please, be as gentle to yourself and your beloved as you are to your child. You ARE the expert about YOUR baby!