I am the first to admit that I’ve never thought of myself as the most maternal person and while pregnant I would sometimes be struck by a sudden fear that I wouldn’t know what to do when I set sights on my new baby. I needn’t have worried; when I met my little man I felt a powerful tug of protectiveness and urge to do what ever it took to keep him happy.
What I wasn’t prepared for, when I first held in my arms, was how far society has moved away from accommodating and encouraging those powerful biological urges to nurture. Before baby, I was all for the ‘baby must fit into your life’ philosophy and hadn’t given a thought to the fact that as there are all kinds of people in the world, so too are there all kinds of babies.
I knew life would change, that much is true, but what I wasn’t banking on was having a baby who cried a lot and who’s only comfort was at my breast. This could have been due to my own naivety, as I had not being exposed to many babies before having my own, but I think it also stems from the fact that most of the common ‘wisdom’ (read clichés) surrounding babies seem to focus on the idea that the decisions parents make are the primary influence on a babies behaviour.
We regularly hear that babies are manipulative creatures that cry to make us pick them up, that they’re just ‘exercising their lungs’ but the same people can be heard saying that ‘babies arrive knowing nothing and its up to you to teach them’ and then there is the of course, the classic ‘making a rod for your own back’. I foolishly believed if I was diligent enough, that if I ticked all the boxes that my baby would be happy and content. I had never felt so much pressure, and so much helplessness.
Now almost 5 months down the track, I can look back on those early days with a bit more clarity (albeit still through the hazy goggles of sleep deprivation). Although I did everything to keep my boy happy – I held him when he wanted to be held and fed him when he wanted to be fed – all my actions were accompanied by a little voice inside my head (or sometimes outside of it by well-meaning relatives of the older generation) … “you’re spoiling this child”, “he shouldn’t cry this much, you’re doing something wrong”, “if you always feed him to sleep, you’ll never get a break”, “maybe I don’t have enough milk?” … the internal chatter and questions were endless, each leaving a dent in my confidence.
Everywhere I turned there were a list of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ that just didn’t seem to fit my baby and as I went along the journey of getting to know him I found that the times that I just surrendered to nurturing him were the times I enjoyed most. Sure, there are still moments of frustration, but on the whole I was growing with confidence despite still waking at least 2 times during the night (sometimes up to 6!).
Then I read Sleeping Like a Baby by Pinky McKay and I felt like everything I had done and everything I was doing had a purpose. And when I got to the end of the book and read Pinky’s closing lines under the title ‘What you do matters’ I began to cry, such was its resonance.
“Our culture places very little value on nurturing, or the fulfillment that we can experience as we cherish our little ones: at every turn we are bombarded with messages that imply we can ‘have it all’ – from a good night’s sleep to an unaltered waistline – if we simply follow one method or another; that we can have convenient babies and children who will not change our lives and that this is an admirable goal. It is this very pressure and denial of the value of our nurturing role that makes it all so challenging.”
“As you teach your baby that he is loved and worthwhile and special, he will also teach you about pure, unconditional love. For that is what you will find in your heart when you surrender to your feelings and allow yourself to connect unreservedly with the tiny person in your arms – day and night.”
– Sleeping Like a Baby, Pinky McKay.
It was like she had read my thoughts! In this short time, my baby boy has already taught me so much and I am now thankful he wasn’t an ‘easy’ newborn (if there is such a thing!) as through working our way through the puzzle together – him getting used to this world and me adjusting to being his mother – I feel like my heart is so overflowing for love for him that the life that I hoped he would fit into so easily is gone, replaced by a life more fulfilling and joyful. Yet another thing I wasn’t prepared for!