So I am part of a blog-list (you can see the PAIL icon over to the right) that people who have suffered with infertility and come through it to either be pregnant, or have children in one way of another, can join. Each month there is a suggested theme that you can choose to respond to on your blog, which I did, wrote this all out, spell checked it, and then forgot to submit it to the blog list. But I thought it was still worth posting, even just here. So this month’s theme was this:
What kind of parent am I or do I want to be? If you’re already a parent, what kinds of things work for you now? Did they always? Has your view of what kind of parent you are changed? If you’re pregnant or TTC, have you given this topic much thought? What is your style likely to be? Are you a structure sort of person? Will you or did you cry-it-out? Will you or did you try to get your baby on a schedule? Did you or will you demand feed? Did you or will you subscribe to a method like Attachment Parenting or Babywise or some other method? Do you think you can spoil a baby by holding it too much?
At first glance I didn’t think I could write anything. I’m 28ish weeks preggo but my mind is still caught between the infertile/pregnant-I’m-actually-going-to-have-a-baby concepts. But then I read the last question and my mind just blew a fuse I had such a strong reaction to it.
Do you think you can spoil a baby by holding it too much?
You see, we have been parents before, we’ve been foster parents to a 5 day old newborn that we raised for a year. And to a 2 month-old and 3-year-old. And this is the memory that blew my fuse:
Our newborn, who was born premature and born with substances in her system that shouldn’t have been there, was finally home with us. She was about 14 days old. She was still dealing with the effects of detoxing and she weighed about 5 pounds soaking wet. An acquaintance, who knew the circumstances of her birth, came over to drop something off and I set the baby down in her bassinet to take it. The baby started crying. Not fussing, not making little baby noises, but crying out like ‘oh-my-god, where did you go?’
I immediately went back and picked her up and held her. I turned back to the acquaintance and was met with “Now don’t you go spoiling that baby by responding to her every beck and call.”
Excuse me? I thought maybe because I was sleep deprived that I had imagined that sentence coming out of this person’s mouth. But no, no, this person continued to expound upon how I was spoiling the baby. I quickly interrupted and said,
“You can NOT spoil a newborn by holding it or responding to its cries. And even if you could, THIS newborn is detoxing, has a digestive track that was stunted from her prenatal exposure and is in pain every time she eats. When she cries, I pick her up.”
I got the look of ‘oh you dumb fool newbie-parent’. Now what many people don’t know is I was also a nanny for many years in college. And while I was doing that I read EVERY book there was on newborn development, child-raising, parenting, etc. I took extra college classes because it interested me so much. I learned sign language and helped teach babies to sign. I am still, to this day, fascinated by early childhood development.
Regardless if you have a child that is born medically fragile, newborns come into this world with only one way to communicate with you: Crying. That’s it, it’s all they got and you really want me to believe that responding to their only attempt to communicate with me is going to “spoil” them?
We often project onto infants adult-like behaviors. I don’t know why we do it, maybe it is so we can try to identify with them, maybe it is so we can rationalize our reactions to them. And I think the biggest thing we project onto infants is the adult-human tendency to try to manipulate other humans.
Because, you know, newborns are total manipulating bastards. Oh yeah, they lure you in with their ‘I’m so helpless I can’t even feed myself‘ neediness and then those cute dimples and toes that they use to make you love them. And to cap it all off they are so aware of your every move, even though they can’t see more than a few feet in front of them, that they wait until you have just sat down to eat or take a shower. Yes, your fears were true, babies can see and hear through walls so they know the exact moment you are in the other room trying to catch a nap. And that is when they cry. For NO reason, just because they want to screw with you.
It’s not because their senses are on overload after having only known the warm dark confined space of your womb. It’s not because they are hungry, or tired, or have a wet diaper, or are just freaking out at something that while we can’t sense it, is causing them distress. It’s not even because they crave your touch as you are the only person they know who seem to care about them and love them.
So what did responding to our infant’s cries get us? It got us an amazingly well-tempered baby. While we responded to her cries, we did let little “settling fusses” go on for a few minutes to see if it was going to be a real cry or not. At about 3 months of age when the baby figured out how to get her hands to her mouth, a sign that a baby is ready to learn to self-soothe, we started to let her fuss a little longer. We also started noting her sleep and awake patterns, as prior to 3 or 4 months a baby can not be ‘scheduled’ but at about 4 months you can start to reinforce natural sleep cycles. So we could now put her to bed before she got overtired.
And we adhered to one rule that I swear by to this day, no infant under 6 months of age should ever be awake more than 2 hours. If you say your child isn’t napping, or only takes short naps, that is because they are OVER tired. In infants the less sleep they get the harder it is for them to sleep. These tips I found in the book “Healthy sleep habits, healthy child” and I highly recommend it.
We also started a consistent bedtime routine. So consistent that at 9 months of age if we were out and couldn’t get home for a nap in the crib I could do the bedtime routine, sing the same song we always sang, and she would fall asleep wherever we were, instantly. I did this on a plane to the amazement of my husband and pretty much every other passenger. This bedtime routine also meant we never had a child that cried herself to sleep or cried when put in the crib.
And then we did this all again with foster infant #2. And it worked, again. And no, no you can not say to me, ‘oh you just got “easy” babies’. No, we got drug-exsposed, neglected to the point of not even being bathed (ever, in 2 months), babies.
At about 4 months of age a baby can begin to alter their crying to get an intended response. This is still not manipulation, but we did start letting the babies at this age cry-it-out a little bit so they could learn self-soothing techniques. But honestly, we didn’t have to let them cry-it-out much because they had already learned that they were safe and secure with us, and therefore didn’t need to cry to get our attention.
I know, coming soon, we will have our own biological baby with their own unique personality and needs. I know there will be days when the kid will just not stop crying and I will be at my wit’s end. The baby will be crying and unhappy, I’ll probably be crying and unhappy. But I do know and hope for this, if I can step back in that moment and realize that it’s ok to have off-days and it’s ok to admit that and ask for help, then I will have done my best for that day. And if I need to just walk away and let the baby cry so I can gather my wits for a few minutes, that is ok too.
I have been meaning to write some letters to ‘Spike’ about the family he or she is going to join soon. But each time I try I get choked up with fear that something could still go wrong. However after writing this and reviewing this post, a post that started as a response to how I want to be as a parent, it seems like a pretty good first letter to baby Spike. Because this is what counts most. Not my parenting philosophy, not others’ opinions of my parenting style, and not cultural expectations placed on me of how I should parent. What matters is that Spike comes into this world and knows without a doubt that he/she is loved, beyond measure.