Archive for Infants

Jesus Is a Baby Whisperer

Let the Children Come to Me, Fritz von Uhde (1884)

Let the Children Come to Me, Fritz von Uhde, 1884

The best way to communicate with preverbal little people is to connect with their inner spirits, in with, and through the Holy Spirit because Jesus was an infant Himself.  However, unlike human adults, I do not think Jesus has forgotten what it was like to be a preverbal little being. In this sense, God could be called the perfect baby whisperer because He is in tune with how baby’s think and feel.

If an adult wants to learn how to become a baby whisperer, it is a good idea to approach infants and toddlers in the presence of the Trinity.  Our heavenly Father is not only our Father, He is a Father to our infant’s as well; He has a real and vital relationship with them.  Jesus and His gentle Spirit will teach us if we stop and listen by approaching our baby in a spirit of prayer, yes, but most of all with a spirit of mutual respect because we are in the presence of a fellow sister or brother in Christ. If a mere horse whisperer can learn how to read a horse’s cues and respond in a way a horse can understand, using body language and voice tones, how much more can humans learn how to relate to an infant’s mind, emotions but also to their inner spirits. In fact, we can become holy baby whisperers who actually nurture our infants inner spirit.

Infants are complex little people who see, hear, touch, communicate, receive information and who above all, remember. Of course, we can readily see babies react to loud, sharp or deep voices but a newborn will even turn to look at a voice he remembers hearing in the womb. It was amazing to watch my first granddaughter turn towards her mom and dad’s voices in recognition. When her parents cuddled her, she calmed down immediately because she was constantly reassured of their love and devotion while she was still in the womb. Now out in the world, she knew she is safe and protected especially in their arms. This is why all babies are sensitive to the approach of a stranger.

The most obvious personal example of a stranger /infant situation  I can recall is my six-month-old daughter. I was holding her when a tall, slender, older priest, dressed all in black, gently reached out to hold her. He smiled and patiently waited while Mary tensed her little body, drew back and looked him up and down very suspiciously. She drew back a second time, even further, and once again glanced from his head to his feet and slowly looked back at his face again. A third time Mary repeated the process. Suddenly she relaxed, broke out into a wonderful smile and reached her own arms out to lean forward so Father could pick her up.

My baby was receiving unspoken messages from Father’s facial expression, his tone of voice, body language and emotional and spiritual ‘vibes’ which radiated from his inner spirit. In short, even though Mary was not talking yet, she was not an idiot. We tend to forget.

Michael and I were lucky because we somehow understood, right from the start, that we were relating to another human being when we communicated with our babies. I stopped and listened when they cooed and then I answered them when they finished cooing. It might sound foolish but I believe this attitude instilled respect for themselves and others. I tried to treat them as people, albeit little people.

Sometimes family and friends were critical of my inefficient way of mothering. I just couldn’t make myself mother my babies any other way. Perhaps it was because I was not used to children. Basically, I just included the kids into our life as intelligent little people with feelings, opinions, tastes and preferences. If we respected each child’s preferences, they cooperated and worked alongside us better. In the end, this impractical, slow way of doing things made our home life run smoother. It was a way of relating which began on the baby’s first day in our family.

Some people are intimidated by babies and little children. Just remember, babies are not idiots but smart little people who just can’t talk yet. However, babies are in tune with the Holy Spirit. Babies spirits are alive in god. So, the best way to communicate with preverbal little people is to connect with their inner spirits, in with and through God.

Feeding the Kids with My Eyes Closed (and Other Reasons to Love Co-Sleeping)

cosleepingNot long after my first child was born, I found myself in a discussion with another new mom about how (not so) well our babies were sleeping. Really, what else do new mothers talk about? It was inevitable that the topic would come up. What wasn’t so obvious to me – though perhaps it should have been – was the discouragement I’d be met with when I confided that my six month-old son slept in bed with my husband and me.

Other moms at the play-date soon dropped their conversations and joined ours. I was grateful for the increase in numbers. Surely, one of them would defend the choice my husband and I had made, offering further assurance that yes, it was possible to sleep peacefully with a baby at your side, and no, we didn’t stay awake all night, petrified we’d roll over on our children.

But, it seemed – at that particular play-date, anyway – that I was alone. The other moms were sincere in their disbelief and peppered me with questions. Back then, I lacked confidence in my answers. After all, I hadn’t intended to co-sleep. I didn’t even know there was a word for it. I just knew that although I’d intended for my son to sleep in his crib as my pediatrician advised, I found it didn’t work. My son hardly slept, but I got even less shut-eye than him. When I wasn’t tending to my crying infant, I lay in my own bed, down the hall, watching my son on the video monitor. I listened to his breathing patterns and watched his chest rise and fall as I attempted to will myself to take my eyes off the screen.

After a few nights of this nightmarish pattern, I flicked off the monitor, grabbed my son, and lay him beside me. The next day, I bought Dr. Sears’ The Baby Sleep Book and read up on how to sleep with your baby safely. I bought a guardrail for my bed, and placed my son between the rail and me at night (since my husband is an incredibly heavy sleeper and actually did worry me that he might roll over on our child). And, then, only a couple nights into this new way of doing things, both my baby and I got a good night’s sleep.

Those sleep-filled nights continued (barring a middle-of-the-night illness  or teething episode), and many years and another co-sleeping child later, my family was well-rested.

It’s been six years since we first let a child into our bed, and now, as I lay next to my snoozing twenty-month old, I think of all the benefits of co-sleeping I wish I could go back and share with those innocently incredulous women. I can’t repeat history, but I can share with a different audience some joys my husband and I have found in co-sleeping.

1) Emotional closeness. When my son was an infant, I joked that he was a heat-seeking missile. In his sleep, he would inch closer, eventually nestled right up against me. As he grew, he searched out my arm and used it as his pillow. Now, at six years old, he sleeps in his own room (what six year old wouldn’t prefer Star Wars bedding to a rose covered quilt?), but occasionally enjoys climbing into my husband’s and my bed when I’m putting his little sister to sleep. He rests his head on my shoulder, sweetly rubs his sister’s arm, and falls asleep right along with her.

2) Setting a precedent for our relationship. The door to the room my husband and I share is an open one for our children, just like our relationship with them. Co-sleeping has taught them that we are always accessible rather than “off limits”. It’s a lesson that translates into other aspects of their lives and that will continue to do so. Because we’ve listened and responded to their needs by allowing them to sleep beside us, our children understand that we are always approachable and available, that they can come to us, and that we will not turn them away.

3) Happy bedtimes. Because bedtime is a chance for us to settle down, cuddle and feel that awesome feeling you get when you’re snuggled up close to those you love, bedtime in our home is rarely a fight. I’ve been in homes where parents (and their kids) dread bedtime. Where kids cry and resist going to their rooms to sleep. Once, when I witnessed a particularly bad tantrum, it hit me that our children love bedtime (unless we’re having a sleepover at their grandparents’ home, where the love to stay up late). My one year-old usually goes to the steps by 7 p.m., and requests sweetly, “bed”. My 6 year-old son often bounds up the stairs to his room, then snuggles up close in his bed, where we read his chosen bedtime book.

4) Nearness in the not-so-healthy times. Co-sleeping offers the ability to read your child’s body language and respond accordingly. Many nights, because of my nearness, I discovered a fever early, before it had a chance to rise uncomfortably high. I could tell when a stomach bug was about to strike or when my son needed to use the bathroom, and in both instances, my closeness often helped my kids to avoid accidents. I soothed them through teething pain without them waking up. And on more than one occasion, I nudged my children back into a regular breathing pattern when, as infants, they had elongated (though usually normal) gaps in their breathing.

5) Less interrupted sleep. I’ll never forget the first time I woke and found my infant son had helped himself to nursing. I was initially confused. Had I fallen asleep nursing him? Obviously, I had. Had he never stopped? Being that it was hours later, obviously, he had. Had he really rolled back over and latched himself back on without me knowing? Yes to that, too. And then, once my perplexity faded, I felt relief that I hadn’t needed to get out of bed to feed or coddle him. As I drifted back to sleep, I wondered why I had ever attempted to put him in a crib in the first place.

6) Peace. It’s what all these other benefits lead to. The peace in knowing your children are safe, healthy, and nearby. The peace of feeling their bodies rise and fall with each breath they take. But, most important, it’s about the peace co-sleeping brings them. The comfort and security they gain from having their parents so close at hand. And, really, that’s the best benefit of all.

Image credit: kdshutterman (freedigitalphotos.com)

Who Mothers Mommy?

Maternal Kiss (Mary Cassatt)Motherhood is a profound blessing and should be deep source of meaning for women, but a mom also faces sleepless nights, strained schedules, and the competing needs of her kids, her spouse, her extended family, her community, and finally HERSELF! What allows some moms to thrive and to find deep satisfaction in motherhood despite the inevitable challenges while others do not thrive emotionally?

Two researchers at Arizona State University asked this question and in a newly-released study they cite 4 key factors that protect mom’s well-being and sense of satisfaction:

1.  Unconditional Acceptance

Moms who can say, “I feel seen and loved for the person I am at my core” do better in motherhood than moms who feel their value depends on their performance or appearance.  Every mom needs people who will allow them to be honest about their failures, make amends, find new hope and direction, and still be cherished for the unique, unrepeatable persons they are. And this happens to be the model of the love, mercy, and reconciliation that Christ offers us.

2.  Feeling Comforted When Needed

Moms need to be able to say, “When I am deeply distressed, I feel comforted in the way I need it.”  When you are a mom and you feel distressed it is very scary. You have these little people in your care and their very lives depend on you. We all need somebody who will really listen to us and then comfort us in the way WE need when we are struggling so we can get a little perspective on the problem. Sometimes that means somebody will just listen to us without trying to fix the problem — we just need emotional comfort.  At other times we need them to fix it in some way – perhaps through physical relief (a nap, a chance to get out of the house for an hour to clear our head).  Only somebody with some level of empathy will be capable of tuning into a mother’s real need. Without this capacity for attunement, the other person will tend to do what they think we need or what they would want themselves.

3.  Authenticity in Relationships

Feeling like you have to put on a show all the time is really depressing — literally. All mothers will have moments when her ideal for herself as a mom does not match up with what’s on her mind. You love your children but at some point you will probably feel depleted or desperate or even downright irrational. When mothers feel like they have to be perfect around their friends and family, when they can’t be honest with anyone about what they are feeling and thinking, they are at a much higher risk for depression. When you can’t be authentic, you cannot thrive.

Once when my third child was a newborn and my two older kids were still very young, my husband went on an extended work trip. At one point I was talking to him on the phone and I had not slept in two days because my older kids would not go to bed and the baby was still waking every 2 to 3 hours. I felt desperate and helpless! Well, I told him how I was really feeling not what I thought he wanted to hear. I was starting to feel a little kooky and I was not coping well. I was at the if-these-kids-don’t-go-to-sleep-I’m-going-to-smack-them point. When I shared with my husband how I felt, he cut his meeting short, got on an airplane, and came home. He didn’t shame me or say “what the heck is wrong with you?” or pat me on the head with a “you are so strong you can handle anything.”  He came home and I went to bed and then I felt better. I am grateful that I could be honest with him about my REAL feelings even though they fell short of what I hoped for myself as a mom. Because I had that freedom, it allowed him to comfort me in the way I most needed — physical relief (see number 2 above).

4. Friendship Satisfaction

Moms do better emotionally in motherhood when they have a few friends in their lives who can give and receive love.  I think particularly for women, the quality of our friendships has a deep impact on our well-being.

The bottom line: nurturing adult relationships keeps a mom “happy, healthy, and able to give or herself.” And you will notice that all four factors are essential for a child’s flourishing as well!  Children need unconditional acceptance, they need to know they will be comforted when distressed, they need to know they can be authentic in their relationship with their parents, and they need people in their lives who are emotionally free enough to give and receive love. In many ways, we cannot give to our children what we don’t have. So, if our adults relationships are impoverished, we need to find a way to build up the love and support we need in order to love and support our children.

Not the Whole Story . . .

I think this research is very important and reminds us that God created us for community. I would add, though, that clearly we can identity other factors that set satisfied mothers apart from those who suffer.  In particular, many times our perception of ourselves as mothers impacts our ability to experience joy and satisfaction. Our culture doesn’t value mothering in the way it deserves. If we feel we need to live up to the world’s definition of success, we can struggle with our identity and sense of meaning. If we perceive motherhood as a drudgery, a drag, then we will bring that perception with us into the inevitable demands of motherhood. The first factor in the study sort of hints at this – we need unconditional acceptance. But I think we need people in our lives who value us not only as unique, unrepeatable persons, but also as mothers in particular — who recognize the unique gifts that mothers bring to their families that nobody else can give.

Transitioning Your Co-Sleeping Child to Her Own Bed (It IS Possible!)

transition bed

It happened so suddenly. We’d been talking about it for awhile, but yesterday, my husband took action. He emptied our older daughter’s bedroom. We organized, we tossed, we scrubbed, and we mopped. And, then, there it was. A sparkling clean bedroom with two twin beds with coordinating pink and purple comforters. Two beds just close enough for late-night sisterly confidences, yet far enough apart to air out the inevitable future disagreements. At two-and-a-half years old, our youngest daughter, our baby, was ready to move in to her sister’s room and move out of ours.

We’ve co-slept with all of our children. It took some getting used to at first, but after 11-plus years, I’ve grown to love it. Of course, there are rough nights. There are nights when I feel like a punching bag and nights when a king-size bed just isn’t big enough. But those nights are no match for the smell of a freshly shampooed head lying next to mine on the pillow, or the feel of a snuggly little body warming mine while the dead of winter yields its worst outside, or the opportunity to gaze at my precious child’s face in the glow of the night light while time disappears into irrelevance. I’ve loved these co-sleeping years, and my heart feels sad as we transition my baby into her own bed with no promise of another little one coming anytime soon.

But, it’s time. We’ve done this before, and here are some approaches that have helped us make this time of change go as smoothly as possible.

1. Plant the idea.

We started talking to my daughter about sharing a room with her sister and having her own bed several weeks before actually doing anything. When the time came, she was excited and looking forward to it.

2.  Let them choose something special for their bed.

It might be new sheets, a comforter, or just a fun pillow or stuffed animal. Letting our children make their bed their own helped them to want to sleep there.

3.  Give them some company.

My five children have two bedrooms. And they still often all end up piled into the same room by morning. Sleeping bags, pillows on the floor, three bodies in one twin bed. As one of my friends puts it, “As long as everyone sleeps, it doesn’t matter where.” We’ve found that siblings who share rooms are much happier together, day and night.

4.  Take it slow.

 Some of our children started sleeping in their own bed for naps only at first. With all of them, I kept the same bedtime routine of nursing them to sleep, then I just put them down in their bed instead of ours. The first time they fussed, I moved them into our bed for the rest of the night. Go with the flow. Don’t force. Over time, they will gradually sleep for longer periods of time in their own bed.

5.  Remember, it’s a “conversation.”

I love this description that Dr. Greg Popcak gives to dealing with children’s sleep issues. It truly is a conversation, unique to every child. One child might show interest in their own bed at 12 months, while another might not be ready until age three. Follow your child’s cues. The process will ebb and flow. Even my elementary school-aged children experience times when they need more parental comfort at night. But I’m finding that, by middle school-age, it takes a pretty ferocious thunderstorm for them to seek us out in the dark — and my 11-year-old now says nearly every night, “I’m so tired. I’m going right to sleep.” And he crawls into his own bed and goes to sleep all by himself. No problem.

And I can’t help but sigh wistfully and remember a time when a certain downy, sweet-smelling head wouldn’t sleep anywhere but next to mine.

Pre-Natal Memories

Sleepy Baby Mary Cassatt

Sleepy Baby by Mary Cassatt

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

And before you were born I consecrated you.”

— Jeremiah 1:5

The day Ruth turned two, her godmother dropped by to celebrate her birthday. Since Ruth was articulate for her age, her godmother wanted to try an experiment she had about read in a hospital newsletter. The article stated that if you asked a young child, when they knew enough words to communicate but before they were ‘too old’, they could tell you about their life in the womb. So we decided to test this premise.

Ruth was very tiny but smart, so she startled people with her excellent verbal skills. With her attention completely on her toy, my daughter answered in short, clipped sentences. I felt a bit foolish as I asked her,

“Ruth, do you remember when you were in mummy’s tummy?

She answered, “Yaaa.”

So then I wondered if she remembered any details,

“What was it like?”

Again Ruth could only spare a one word answer,

“Warm.”

“What else was it like?” I questioned.

To which Ruth answered quite succinctly, “Dark.”

“What could you see?” I probed, but Ruth was frustrated by my dumb question,

”Nothin; it was dark!”

So I scrambled, “What did you do in my tummy?”

Ruth said nonchalantly, “Dwimming.”

I checked to make sure I understood her, “Swimming?”

Ruth nodded.

“Did you like living in my tummy?” I asked.

She nodded again.

Then I thought of a really good question.

“Do you remember coming out, being born?”

Ruth scrunched up her nose and sighed, “Yaaa.”

“What was it like?”

She stopped playing, looked up and said in disgust, “Like a B.M.!!!”

(This is how we referred to a bowel movement with our children.)

That answer shocked me into silence. I looked over at Ruth’s godmother. She raised her eyebrows and mouthed one word.

“Wow.”

Giving Your Baby a Language Boost

reading to babyGwen Dewar over at the Urban Child Institute has a terrific article on “6 Tips for Boosting Your Baby’s Language Skills.”  Read her whole article here.

Here’s a summary of  her tips with my own thoughts:

1.  Take a cue from your baby’s curiosity.

When babies reach for or gaze at objects they are interested in, we can view these as our cues to engage them in conversation.  We can name the objects or just talk to them about what they’re looking at.  When we’re playing with or reading to our child, we can pause and allow them to lead us in conversation in this way.  When their curiosity drives our time with them, they not only develop increased language skills, but she becomes more comfortable exploring the unfamiliar.

2.  Tune into your baby. 

Think about how you interact with adults, the way you affirm their presence in often subtle ways.  We respond to their questions, acknowledge their entry into the room, etc.  Dewar says, “Babies – even babies who can’t speak yet – look for the same message from us. They want to know that we will respond contingently to their signals, and when they perceive us doing it, their brains seem to flip a switch. Studies indicate that babies learn language faster when we talk with them, not at them.”  I think this is related to her first tip.  Being attuned to our child includes noticing the things she cares about, even when she’s a little baby.  This early attunement creates a strong foundation for great communication throughout the toddler and preschool years when our kids are gaining skills in communicating their needs, feelings, and interests.

3.  Be flexible and spontaneous.

Dewar says, “It’s easy to get bogged down with routines, but when it comes to family communication, we need to be ready to improvise. For instance, if your toddler interrupts your bedtime story because he wants to talk about the chair that Goldilocks smashed, go with it. Insisting that you stick to the narrative isn’t going to help your child build better verbal skills. On the contrary, it’s likely that kids learn more when the conversation veers off-text. Besides, forced bedtime reading is neither fun nor soothing. Your child might end up having more trouble falling asleep!”

This is a great tip! We grown-ups get fixated on doing things the right way, but following our child’s lead on occasion not only provides opportunities for communication, but allows our child to feel respected and affirmed.

4.  Supplement verbal messages with expressive emotions, gestures, and movements.

There’s a reason adults tend to act a little goofier when they are interacting with a baby!  Babies actually learn better when we couple our words with exaggerated gestures and a heightened tone of voice.  When we show our baby a stuffed monkey, we can name the object “monkey”, but we can also make funny monkey sounds and animate the stuffed object for our baby.  Dewar explains,  “When babies are learning to talk, they don’t just listen to our words. They also notice our tone of voice, and pay particular attention when we speak with exaggerated emotion: It helps them figure out our meaning.”

5.  Don’t worry about being perfect.

You don’t have to be a seasoned public speaker or possess perfect grammar to pass on strong language skills to your baby.  Dewar suggests that when parents stumble to find the right word, it actually engages the child even more — they pay even more attention to what we are saying.

6.  Shake things up.

Dewar encourages us to speak to our babies and young children like we would with anybody else.  She cautions that if we dumb down our conversations with our babies too much, they will have access to a more limited vocabulary.  It’s okay to simplify things when you are actually naming objects for your baby, but otherwise feel free to speak to them with words far more sophisticated than you imagine they can comprehend.  One great tip Dewar offers is to repeat back what our child says, but expand upon it with more words.  So if your child says, “FIRE TRUCK!,” you can talk about how loud it is or what it looks like.

I can’t help but notice that all these tips are easier to implement when we are using the parenting tools associated with attachment parenting — particularly babywearing, breastfeeding, and sleeping near your baby.  These tools help us keep our baby calm and close by, and they help us tune into our babies more easily.   Attached, responsive parents also enhance their child’s language development by giving her confidence that she will actually be heard.  I think a baby’s cries are really her first words.  When she is ignored or made to cry increasingly fretfully in order to get a response, then she’s not spending that time listening to and learning about other sounds in her world.

 

Nursing a Two-Year-Old: It’s Normal for Us

I could see the idea forming in her mind by the way she looked at me. She fidgeted. She fussed. She wriggled her entire 31 pounds of two-year-old chub around in my lap until she had assumed the familiar position, head in the crook of my arm and eyes looking up at me longingly. Not ready to give in quite yet, I attempted to distract her. Cheese crackers–refused with disdain. Water bottle–given “the hand”. Fuzzy bunny book–an audible “Uh-uh!” and a decisive head shake. I had to act fast, before the situation (and her vocalizing) escalated. I had choices, and it was time to choose. So right there in the pew, somewhere between the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel, I lifted my shirt.

I’ve implemented the concept of child-led weaning with every one of my five children. This means that I follow their lead in the weaning process. I allow them to help me determine when we are both ready to stop nursing. I’ve only had one particularly independent child self-wean before the age of two (he’s still a big-time Daddy’s boy), and my longest nurser required some gentle convincing from his weary mommy at the age of four.

madonna nursingI’ve nursed through four healthy pregnancies. My children’s identities have been nurtured by the intimacy and security of an extended nursing relationship. And I’ve become quite adept at nursing discreetly in public. So I never minded when people caught me feeding my baby in a grocery store or restaurant. Nursing an infant in public never seems too surprising to the average observer. I’ve often received looks of affirmation and smiles of awe as I sat feeding my adorably dependent infant.

But those looks change when I suddenly find myself nursing a two-year-old. Fortunately, I haven’t been faced with very much blatant animosity toward my parenting choices, but I do see looks of surprise, doubt, and questioning. Nursing no longer feels like the “normal” thing to be doing.

But it’s normal for me and my child. This is where she finds comfort, stress relief, and nourishment. This is what makes her body strong and her mind sharp. This is a huge yes that I can still give her in a world filled with so many no’s.

The frequency of nursing does lessen as a child grows in size and independence. Most of the time, I am able to nurse my older baby in the privacy of our own home. But there are still times when that same child poses the question and insists on an answer, regardless of where we are.

And there’s really only one answer I can give when she takes my hand and pulls me toward a chair saying “Mama, Mama.” There’s only one answer I can give when a scraped knee or complete exhaustion leaves her in a puddle of inconsolable tears. And there’s only one answer I can give when my child needs me under the shadow of the crucifix during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That answer is myself, freely and completely, until we are both ready to move forward into a new phase of independence.

Babies Are People, Too

Newborns are complex little people who see, hear, touch, communicate, receive information and, above all, remember.

Many adults are tempted to treat babies like cute little things. They forget to communicate with them as people. They forget that those cute little bodies house hearts and souls. I discovered early in my mothering career that it is important to treat infants with respect by listening to infantthe sounds they make and watching and interpreting their body language.

Most people have noticed that loud, sharp, or deep voices cause a newborn to jump, but a newborn will also respond to a voice he remembers hearing in the womb. It was amazing to watch my first granddaughter turn towards her mom’s and dad’s voices when she was only hours old.  When her parents held her, she calmed down right away because she had been constantly reassured of their love and devotion while she was still in the womb.  Out in the world, she knew she was safe and protected in the arms that were connected to the familiar voices.

Conversely, all babies are sensitive to the approach of a stranger.

I was once holding my six-month-old daughter, Mary, when a tall, slender, older priest, dressed all in black, gently reached out to hold her. He smiled and patiently waited while Mary tensed her little body, drew back and looked him up and down very suspiciously. She drew back a second time, even further, and once again glanced from his head to his feet and slowly looked back at his face again. A third time, Mary repeated the process and then suddenly she relaxed, broke out into a wonderful smile and reached her own arms out to lean forward so Father could pick her up.

My baby was receiving unspoken messages from Father’s facial expression, tone of voice, body language, and emotional and spiritual ‘vibes’ which radiated from his inner spirit.  Even though Mary was not talking yet, she was still a person with intuition and wisdom because she processed the information she received and made a decision to trust this priest.

Babies are people too, and when we treat them as such, they reward us with connection and trust.

Isaiah 49:1

Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.

Blissful Breastfeeding? When Nursing Isn’t as Easy as It Seems

“Still, the truth remains that for some of us, nursing doesn’t come so naturally. It can be work – for our children and for us. But, it’s work that yields great rewards if we can stick it out, if we’re willing to discard the not-so-realistic standards we’ve been holding ourselves to and if we adopt, instead, the techniques that work best for us as individuals, that will allow the type of feeding relationship we want with our child rather than the type of relationship other moms have.”

The first time I had a baby, I was fooled.

After days of induced labor, half a week riding the roller coaster of contractions, and three hours of pushing my boy into the world, I believed the struggle was over. The bliss of motherhood could begin.

I cuddled my baby close to my breast and waited for the magic of nursing to start, for my son to latch on and for the two of us to begin to bond in the way I’d always heard breastfeeding would bring.

But this little person who for nine months had been nourished by my body seemed to want nothing to do with being nourished by me now. After all, in the womb, it was easy. This nursing business, though, was hard work – for both of us.

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Two weeks after giving birth to my son, I sat in our living room recliner, crying. While it could have been the little sleep I was working on, my tears also stemmed from the fact that there I sat, pumping milk, while on the sofa, there my husband sat, feeding our baby a bottle of my milk.

“I’m supposed to be the one bonding with him while he eats,” I lamented as my husband gave a weak, sympathetic smile. He offered that I could give the bottle, but I wanted to keep my body on our son’s feeding schedule, to keep up with his demand. So, my husband fed while I pumped.

To say nursing didn’t come easily for me would be an understatement. And I’ve found since then that we don’t often hear the stories of struggle that come with breastfeeding. We see blissful moms wearing sweet smiles and taking selfies as they nurse their newborns, a trend especially popular in the celebrity world lately. Since giving birth to my second child seven months ago, I’ve taken more notice of these peaceful pics because, though encouraging, they also run the risk of being terribly discouraging.

It comes so easy for them, we might think. Nursing just isn’t for me. And really, it’s okay if it’s not. But, what if it is? What if we really, really want to breastfeed our child but it’s surprisingly difficult, and our disappointment at our shattered dream breaks our hearts?

That’s where I was at five years ago. In the end, it took the first full month of my son’s life to get him to nurse at all, and the second full month to get him to nurse well. For the majority of that first month, my son subsisted on bottles of pumped milk, and I kept trying, day in and day out, to wean him from them and onto me.

After four weeks of persisting, it worked. Not because my son suddenly and miraculously figured out how to work for his food, but because I finally abandoned the myriad words of advice I was given, particularly the advice to avoid giving into the use of a nursing shield (“He’ll never get off it,” I was warned). For me, the shield restored my dreams of a happy breastfeeding relationship with my child. I let go of the chidings of others and embraced what would allow me the bonding I’d been hoping for.

Medela breast shield

Medela breast shield

After a week or two of nursing with the shield (which my son took to immediately), I began to pull it away halfway through feedings. In time, he latched back onto me without it as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do. And, eventually, it was. We enjoyed a full year after that of the type of peaceful, easy breastfeeding I’d envied other moms.

Still, the truth remains that for some of us, nursing doesn’t come so naturally. It can be work – for our children and for us. But, it’s work that yields great rewards if we can stick it out, if we’re willing to discard the not-so-realistic standards we’ve been holding ourselves to and if we adopt, instead, the techniques that work best for us as individuals, that will allow the type of feeding relationship we want with our child rather than the type of relationship other moms have.

Because parenting isn’t about comparing. It’s about every mother doing what’s best for her unique child and accepting that what comes easily to one parent/child relationship doesn’t always come easily to another.

If we trust in that, then no blissful picture of perfection will ever discourage us again.

Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood

then comes babyI have a new favorite book to recommend to the parents of infants and toddlers:  Dr. Greg & Lisa Popcak’s Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood.

This is the most balanced book I have read about parenting little children:  Dr. Greg and Lisa recognize the importance of laying a strong foundation for the parent-child relationship in these early years when a child’s sense of safety and well-being is forming.  Without this strong foundation, children struggle emotionally as they face new developmental challenges.  Yet, the Popcaks also consider the needs of the parents in presenting their advice, in particular the importance of nurturing our marriage, so that theirs is truly a family-centered vision of parenting.

What I also love: The Popcaks coach both parents, not just mom.  Dad is seen as absolutely essential to the flourishing of the whole family.

The book is divided into sections:  Birth to Six Months, Six to Twelve Months, Twelve to Twenty-Four Months, and Twenty-Four to Thirty-Six Months.  We learn to understand the developmental goals alongside the potential challenges at each stage, and how to address these challenges while protecting the parent-child bond.  The blossoming spirituality of young children is addressed, in addition to discipline issues and work-family balance questions.

Check it out and buy a copy for new parents!

Carry On!

Michaelyn updates us on what’s available in the world of baby carriers.

The first time I “wore” my infant son, I was desperate. He wouldn’t sleep anywhere – except on me. I loved the cuddling, but resented feeling so stuck. I couldn’t get dishes done, couldn’t change or fold laundry, and really couldn’t do much of anything very easily. I should have relished my forced relaxation. What an excuse! “I’m sorry, I couldn’t iron that shirt; the baby was sleeping in my arms.”

But, as much as I enjoyed my reason for sitting on the couch and reading a book instead of vacuuming, I just couldn’t stand that carpet anymore. Or those dirty dishes. Or the backed up laundry. At some point, things just have to get done. But, how would I do them with a child in my arms?

About that time, my sister introduced me to the world of baby-wearing by handing me a carrier she’d received, saying, “Here, maybe this will help.” Did it ever! Suddenly, I could do things a bit more easily with my son cradled against me, my arms freer to do whatever needed to be done.

It’s been five years since then, and as I neared my daughter’s due date this past June, I looked forward to wearing her, too. This time, though, I would give the carrier more thought. As I looked at the old one, I began to recall its drawbacks. It was a one shoulder pouch sling – great for ease of use, not so great for security. I recall that every time I bent over even slightly when my son was in it, my arms couldn’t be totally free. Any slight bend risked him tumbling to the floor.

So, I spent the months before my daughter’s birth testing out other options in baby-wearing. Here, I share how things changed, even as they stayed the same.

The Sling

Interestingly, in the five years since my son was born, basic pouch slings have become quite hard to find in stores, at least in my area. When I questioned a sales clerk about their disappearance, I discovered that many of the slings they carried were recalled due to suffocation and fall hazards.  Hmm . . . exactly what I worried about when I wore my son in the sling I used to use.

pouch sling

Michaelyn with her newborn son in a pouch sling

Still, some updated slings were available, mainly the ring sling. Unlike my rigid yet basic sling from half a decade ago, the ring sling is typically made of soft, stretchy fabric that allows the wearer to adjust to fit the baby as needed. And, friends who swear by their ring slings rave about how easy it is to breastfeed in them. Though they were around five years ago, ring slings have certainly gained popularity – and style – over the years. I found myself drawn to them because between the various ring colors, vast choices in patterns, and flowing fabric “tail”, they were just so pretty.

Zolowear Ring Sling

Zolowear Ring Sling

Some popular ring slings: Zolowear, Sleeping Baby, Sakura Bloom, Kalea Baby

Buckle Carriers

Gone are the days of Baby Bjorn reigning as the “in” carrier, as it did when I was pregnant with my son. It’s the one I registered for and received as a gift . . . and the one I never used. Why? Personally, I found all the clips and buckles too cumbersome. Still, buckle carriers have a devoted following, and for good reason. They’re super secure and dads seem to like them best. On the surface, the Ergobaby Carrier (the one that was quite prevalent in each store I recently checked) resembled my Baby Bjorn, but with many improvements. Its seated positioning is better for babies, the waist belt keeps Mom or Dad from an aching back, and it comes with pockets and a “hat” to protect your baby from the sun. Still, since I had a summer baby, I wasn’t fond of the heavy weight of the material. I imagined my baby and I both getting sweaty pretty quickly! As we head into cooler weather, however, I may just need to give this one another chance!

ErgoBaby buckle carrier

Ergobaby buckle carrier

Some popular buckle carriers: ErgoBaby, Tula, Beco, Boba

The Wrap

Not the popular carrier the year my son was born, the wrap has since gained attention for good reason. The soft material is comfortable and giving – and free of buckles. It allows full control of how loose or tight the wearer needs the carrier to be. Also, the baby is fully secured, easing nerves about the baby’s safety or his dislike of anything getting between him and Mommy or Daddy! Some are turned off by the fiasco it can be to get the wrap on in the first place. To combat that problem, some brands, like Infantino, have made “wraps” you can pull on like a t-shirt, or you could actually buy a pocket wrap shirt that you can tuck your little one safely inside of. Still, once the traditional wrap is on, I haven’t found a better carrier for allowing both my hands complete freedom while my baby nestles securely against me. Bonus: some wraps are now made with built-in UV protection, so you can enjoy the rays while your baby’s skin stays safe.

Moby Wrap

Moby Wrap

Some popular wraps: Baby K’Tan, Moby, Wrapsody, NuRoo

While none of these types or brands is exactly new, where all these carriers have made great strides is in their fabric and style options. From tie-dyed to paisley, organic cotton to linen to silk, there is sure to be one carrier to fit every parent’s taste, not to mention outfit! And despite the differences in carrier types, I have found one common theme in baby-wearing: a parent’s preference in carrier is as unique as the many carriers themselves these days.

So, get out there and try some on! Then, enjoy both the closeness and freedom – and new, chic look – your purchase affords you. Don’t worry – there will still be time to snuggle on the couch with your baby and a good book…while the washing machine is cleaning your pretty, well-worn carrier.

The Great Disconnect

god-is-in-control

Our society really does not spend time preparing hapless adults to parent.

Children — especially babies — are  little and vulnerable, vulnerable to the large, often clueless adults who care for them. Put yourself in a baby’s situation. Preverbal for years, it must be frustrating to be tired or in pain, only to have a bottle thrust into your mouth or have a tense, upset mother try to nurse you when your stomach is bloated with burps.

This disconnect does not end once children can communicate. Nope, our adult reasoning simply does not always compute in little brains. Why, I have been told that human beings do not get their adult brain till they are 25 years old! Apparently, the frontal lobe that makes sane, rational decisions is not fully developed till the mid-twenties.

That means for almost a quarter of a century, humans need a special kind of love and nurturing that will not only meet them and connect with them right where they are, but guide them gently without controlling them and stunting their own growth intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

The best mothers are willing to learn from their offspring, from books, from experience and from others. Good mothers need a wonderful sense of humour to laugh at their own blunders, to laugh at their kid’s blunders. Openness to trying new tactics helps, as does creativity, but most of all they need to be intuitive, listening to their little ones’ body language and tone of voice and their own gut feelings and instincts.

The best parents also know how to ask God to parent each, individual little person in their care because, after all, He knew them before they were knit in the womb. The best parents know how to let God be in control of their parenting.