Dr. Darcia Narvaez over at Psychology Today has alerted parents to the goofy thinking behind a recent article in Parents magazine in which an author encouraged parents to let their babies cry themselves to sleep. The author of the Parents article said parents should rest assured that letting a baby cry herself to sleep won’t harm the baby, and that “whatever sleep training method feels best to you is just fine.”
Dr. Narvaez and her co-author explain:
Unfortunately, over 2 million Parents readers have just been told that leaving babies to cry to the point of distress and beyond—to the point of potential neurological damage (Lyons, 2000)—has been proven safe and even that it’s proper childrearing . . . It does this by ending with the prolific, misconception that has justified this practice for decades: “[Your baby] needs to learn the important lifelong skills of self-soothing and falling asleep on his own.” Nothing could be further from the truth for a baby.
As Parents magazine did in this case, media reports notoriously and misleadingly back up cry-to-sleep (CIO) advice with a single flawed study. In this case, the editor approved conclusions that crying-it-out is safe based on a study of babies who didn’t, in fact, cry-it-out—not in terms of what all the major sleep-training books recommend or the common understanding of the term.
This Parents piece exemplifies the glaring mistakes made regularly among reporters on cry-it-out as well as sleep training generally. Such failures lead parents to make decisions based on misinformation. Worse, these reporting failures lead our society at large, including non-parents, to think it’s “just fine” to leave babies in distress. This unscientific attitude is bad for us all—regularly or intensely distressed babies grow into unhappy and stress-reactive (inflexible, self-focused) adults that we all have to live with (Read: Gerhardt, 2005).
Dr. Narvaez and her co-author go on to outline very clearly the flaws in the media’s treatment of the cry-it-out method. I encourage you to check it out for yourself!
If you’re looking for gentle, sensible sleep advice, I recommend these resources:
Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Co-Sleeping by James McKenna
The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
I was delighted to discover that it is possible to connect with an infant, not simply with their heart but with their spirit as well. It is a gift to connect with a newborn, knowing that they know, that I know, that they are not idiots but vibrant souls who are in communion with God.
My husband, Michael, and I were blessed 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 that this attitude instilled respect for themselves and others. I tried to treat them as people, albeit little people.
I learned that we can bless our unborn child, pray over them, that we can relate to our babies while they are in the womb just like the women in the Old Testament who prayed psalms and were often in seclusion while they were pregnant. This is interesting because we now understand that an unborn child hears and reacts emotionally not only to his mother but also to the people and activity around him.
Prenatal babies have personalities before they are born. As any mother can tell you some babies move around energetically both in and out of the womb, while other infants are physically passive. Some infants are night owls both in and out of the womb and others actually sleep well at night.
Nurses will point out to new parents that their newborn quickly turns towards the voices of their mother, father, siblings, and even grandparents. So that means that an unborn child hears what is happening and remembers what he has heard while he was still in the womb. These memories are conscious for the first couple of years of a young child’s life but later they lay deep within their subconscious. For example, some musicians, when first introduced to a piece of music, already know how to play it without even rehearsing. Later they discover that their mother had practised that very same piece of music while she was pregnant with him.
Understanding the implications of these tidbits of trivia, I convinced my son to try this experiment with his pregnant wife a couple of months before the birth of their first child. Actually, this is something I did during all my pregnancies. Often my kids laugh and dismiss some of my beliefs but this time David took my suggestion and put it into action.
Daniel gently placed his hand on one side of his wife’s stomach and then talked loud to his unborn child, welcoming her into their family. He told unborn Mary that both of her parents loved her already and that they would protect her and supply all her needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually. He concentrated on pouring love into his unborn baby’s spirit. As Daniel loved his baby by talking and placing his hand on Erin’s right side, unborn Mary kicked and pushed on that side of the womb! When Daniel placed his hand on the other side of Erin’s stomach and repeated the ‘prayers’, their unborn daughter placed a few good kicks on that side instead! Obviously, pre-natal Mary heard everything and she was happy and excited by what she heard.
As a result of Mary’s parents consciously soaking her with nurturing love while she was still in the womb, she is a peaceful, content baby who is a joy and a delight to everyone she meets. None of their friends can quite understand how Mary can be such a good baby. Basically the answer to their question is that my son and his wife connected with Mary’s heart, mind, and spirit before she was born. After birth they knew how to respond to Mary’s non- verbal communication. Daniel and Erin were in fact Baby Whisperers.
In the hospital, while holding his newborn daughter, Daniel turned to his dad and said, “I think this is the best thing that I have ever done!”
What makes a good parent?
In two words? A sense of humor and humility.
Lately, I have spent more time with my five grandchildren, all of them aged two and under. I am struck by the fact that most adults are not natural baby whisperers and that our society really does not spend time preparing hapless adults to become parents.
Children, especially babies are, well…little. 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 until they are 25 years old! Apparently, the frontal lobe that makes sane, rational decisions is not fully developed until the mid-twenties.
That means that 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.
That means that the best parents are willing to learn — from their offspring, from books, from experience, and from others. Good parents need a wonderful sense of humor to laugh at their own blunders, to laugh at their kids’ blunders. Openness to try 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.
As Catholics we are called to listen to the voice of God within because those kids are His and He knew them before they were born. He knows how they tick better than you or I. And this is often where the greatest lessons in humility enter in. Listening to this voice of God is what truly makes us a “good” parent.
Image credit: Ron Chapple Studios (thinkstock.com)
I recently overheard a fellow pregnant woman comment to her husband words that saddened me. I chalked up my sadness to my hormones (the ones that have me constantly crying at television commercials). I told myself I had taken her too seriously; quite likely, I had. After all, she was very pregnant, too. And achy. And tired. And round. I know. She said so.
As we shopped nearby one another, I couldn’t help but hear her say, “It’s not fair. I’m the one who has to have my body change. I’m the one who has to work it all off. And if I’m punished like this now, it’ll be your turn later.” She didn’t say it with laughter; she said it with bite.
I assume “later” meant after the baby is born. A time when she can force equal “punishments” on her husband in the way of middle-of-the-night feedings and messy diaper changes. And before it seems I’m picking on this poor, soon-to-deliver mother, I realize it’s not just her.
I hear similar words often from friends, acquaintances and strangers. This need to “even the score” when it comes to childbearing or childrearing. I’ve been guilty of it, too. A couple of weeks after my son was born, my husband decided to go for a run. While he was gone, I sat in our house, fuming as I breastfed our infant.
“Sure, he gets to go for a run,” I thought angrily. “I would love to go for a run, but this body won’t let me! I have swollen, aching breasts that are glued to my child, and I’m still recovering from an extremely difficult delivery!” When he returned, I let him have it, telling him at one point that if I couldn’t run, then it wasn’t fair that he could. Yes, I was that childish.
And here I am, five years later, very happily pregnant again. But, I noticed that I, too, have slipped into slight self-pity mode at times during this pregnancy: about my weight gain, about my inability to exercise like I used to, about the completely blocked nose I had for two months, and about the gestational diabetes I’ve been diagnosed with for yet another pregnancy.
But, as often happens when I’m starting down a path to wrong thinking, God sets me right. He did so a few weeks ago as I sat in morning Mass. I knelt down in my pew as usual and listened to the words of Consecration.
This is my body given up for you.
These words, the words I hear at every Mass, struck me differently this time. Because this time, I was pregnant. And this time, instead of staring at the priest or gazing at the bread-turned-body or bowing my head during those words, I was staring at Mary, who was to my left and to whom I suddenly felt an urge to turn to.
As I heard those words, I found new meaning in them. I saw our Blessed Mother as a teenage girl, giving her fiat to God. “Let it be done to me according to your will.” In other words, This is my body given up for You.
I saw Mary as a mother, her son leaving home to dedicate himself to the world. A mother, unlike others who try to keep their children close to home, or who have difficulty giving their sons over to another woman in marriage. Mary, giving her son freely to the world. Talk about letting go!
I saw our Blessed Mother years later, walking her son’s path, watching him be tortured, and then keeping vigil at his cross. I saw a mother giving her needs up for her son’s. Freely and without complaint.
And I saw myself in a new light. As I looked at my bulging belly and felt the tightness of my pants, as I imagined stretch marks and the stack of sweets I can’t eat, I whispered to my unborn child, “This is my body given up for you.”
As I thought ahead to delivery, one that I have been terrified about thanks to the arduous delivery of my son, I changed a prayer I’d been reciting for much of my pregnancy. Instead of pleading with God for a quick, easy birth this time, I began to ask for strength to endure whatever type of delivery I will have. And then, I ended that prayer with, “This is my body given up for you.”
I’ve even begun to find greater peace in the daily grind of raising my son. I recently sat with him in the middle of the night as he whimpered about his belly hurting. Bleary-eyed, exhausted, and desperately wanting sleep, I thought, “This is my body, my sleep, one of my body’s greatest needs right now, given up for you.” I thought it not in a way that patted myself on the back for such little sacrifice, but simply, with gratitude that God would grant me the gift of motherhood so that I could offer such tiny, humble sacrifices.
So that I could, as St. Therese of Lisieux pointed out, follow a small but no less important path to God.
Yes, my new title is “The Bathing Grandma” because I know how to bathe newborns without making them cry.
How I move and speak and handle newborns is automatic after mothering nine children. I learned intuitively, by trial and error and of course from books. In fact one of the biggest jokes in our family is about the time I bathed my oldest child for the first time.
I was nervous about bathing a newborn. It is hilarious to admit now, but I actually had a book propped open with one elbow awkwardly holding it open to the right page, while my baby was in a bathtub on the table. The book was my security blanket, I guess.
My new husband, who was the second oldest of ten children and completely relaxed with babies, walked through the kitchen, shook his head in disbelief and said quite wisely,
“Melanie, there are some things you just can’t get out of books.”
How to bathe a newborn . . .
First rule is not to bathe the baby like the nurse showed you in the hospital. My son tried that, wiping the baby from back to front just like the nurse had and the baby cried just like he cried in the hospital. Nurses are wonderful people but they have a lot to do and are efficient. Babies do not like efficient baths. Don’t treat babies like objects or bath time like a chore. Relax, talk and relate to this new little person in a soothing, calm voice that reassures him that he is safe, loved and protected.
My daughter-in-law asked me to do the next bath and she was thrilled that her baby did not cry. She ran downstairs to tell my son all the things I had done differently than the hospital. I am delighted to have some claim to fame. So here are my time-tested strategies for a happy bath time for infants.
The bathing room should be draft free and warm, even hot. A bathroom is the easiest to close off and warm up, even if it is with shower steam. Make sure the water is deep enough to cover the baby’s entire body because when the chest and tummy are exposed, the baby feels vulnerable and is also cold.
The main trick is to move slowly and keep body contact with the newborn. That means bending over in slow motion as you lower the baby into the water, still hugging him, even when his bottom touches the water. You can place either a very warm face cloth over his chest or a hand on his tummy as he slowly relaxes in the water. Also the water should be quite warm. This sounds crude, but think how hot your own urine is . . . that is how hot the amniotic fluid was in the womb. When the water does not feel warm enough, babies stay tense and don’t relax in the tub.
So basically my advice is to relax, enjoy your baby, move slowly, and keep him warm and he will love his bath time almost as much as you do!
Image Credit: Jupiter Images (Photos.com)
I was up late the other night with my teething baby. We thought we had her asleep. She was snuggled with Daddy, her little body was limp, her lips puckered in anticipation of the first middle of the night nursing.
But as soon as my husband gently lowered her onto our bed, she seemed to remember her sore gums and aching head with a fierceness that was manifested in an equally intense fit of crying.
The pain seemed to make her forget who she was, who I was, and what I could do for her to make her feel better. There was really nothing I could do, and so I decided to just be.
I’ve been told before that if your baby is crying, it’s always better that she cries while being held in loving arms rather than alone in a crib or play pen (unless, of course, your tension level requires that you take a short break in another room while baby waits in a safe place.)
So we walked, and she cried. We rocked, and she cried. We bounced, and she cried. And finally, little by little, the wailing lessened to sobbing, and the sobbing lessened to those little sniffles that, in spite of the injury they convey, can’t help but be supremely adorable. Her little body started to relax and she seemed to realize who was holding her, who was being with her–her mother!
Her sun, her moon, her stars–her mother.
In her world, I am the reason the earth keeps spinning, I am the reason the sun comes up each morning, I am the reason her life is worth living. Because God gave us mothers the ability to convey His love and strength to our children in a more intimate way than anyone else can.
In her book, What Mothers Do Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, Naomi Stadlen says:
Perhaps it is because our humanity has been touched by the hand of God, and when we comfort one another, when we love one another, a glimmer of that Divine Presence shines through.
Our babies know it. They know they are our gifts from God and that we are theirs. This is why they demand that we fulfill our end of the reciprocal relationship even when it doesn’t appear very reciprocal. This is why they require that we put aside everything that the world says is productive, powerful, and lucrative in favor of a busyness we can’t describe, a revelation of our own weaknesses (especially when sleep deprived), and sacrifice.
Because when we push through the sleepless nights, the tests of our patience, and the trials of every ounce of our physical and emotional strength, we reach a point one day when our baby looks in our eyes and smiles, our child hugs us with an impulsiveness that could only be propelled by real love, and our pre-teen says “I love you” just when he seemed to be getting too cool to do so.
These are the moments when we see what God sees. These are the moments when we believe that passage in Genesis 1:31, “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” These are the moments when we realize the importance of our vocation–when we are filled with hope that perhaps we are sending forth beacons of God’s love into the world–that perhaps all of that being will create people who can make this world a better place.
As Naomi Stadlen says,
Whenever someone asks me what I do all day, I find myself rather tongue-tied. After all, how do you find the words to explain days seemingly filled with doing nothing but being everything for another person? How do you explain work that is completely defined by relationship? How do you define work that is so intertwined with our hearts that one moment it reflects the drudgery and despair of our own earthly sinfulness, and the next it lifts us up on the wings of angels to kiss the very gates of heaven?
I guess you can’t explain it, really. But as I nestle my baby close to my heart in the still of the night, I know I have it right. I know that all of this being is the best thing I could ever do.
There is a universal image stuck in our brains of a screaming toddler throwing a tantrum on the floor of a grocery store. Even the best parent becomes a helpless victim in these situations because nobody is as miserable and disagreeable as a hungry and irritable baby, toddler, or small child. This so-called temper tantrum is really a baby breakdown; they are over-stimulated, under nourished and physically exhausted without any tools to vent their frustration and anger.
Think about being in a position of total submission to another person’s control, unable to meet your own needs, and the person in charge is not doing his job. When I ignored the warning signs that my kids were reaching their limits of endurance, I created either a clinging, whiny wimp or a screaming monster. Then nothing I did or said seemed to help the situation.
I might have looked like a self-sacrificing mother but I was merely acting out of a sense of self-preservation when I put my kids’ needs first. No time for resentment because happy and satisfied kids were worth every “sacrifice” I made. The peace was worth any compromise. One niece once told me that many people had given her advice when she became a new mother but the only thing she always remembered and practiced was,
Our guest, Jana Thomas Coffman, writes with raw honesty about her pregnancy and post-partum depression, and how she found strength in her friendship with the saints.
This is a hard article to write. Talking about post-partum depression and its effects on my life and the lives of the people close to me sounds easy, but it is very difficult, even over two years later. When we write about our weakness and sin we open ourselves to judgment and censure, and we admit frightening truths about ourselves. Yet I will start my story at the beginning, and hope some other woman will read this and know she is not alone.
The story starts when two happily married youngsters, both Catholics and practicing NFP, decided God was telling us we were ready to have a baby. As someone who had long struggled with depression and anxiety, and had more or less been on some sort of medication since I was 19, I went to the doctor to safely and slowly get off my anti-depressant medications and make sure I was 100% healthy and ready to have a baby when the time came to try. Shortly afterward, we were excited to see two little blue lines on an early detection test.
Thus began the most terrible nine months of my life.
Pregnancy was horrible for me, both physically and emotionally. Depression set back in, made even more potent by hormonal changes. Completely forgetting how we had wanted and prayed for this baby in the first place, I railed angrily against God for changing my life forever and vacillated between anger at the baby and paralyzing fear the baby would die. I worried constantly, obsessed with the million ways I might miscarry, terrified to do something wrong, yet contrarily feeling anger and hatred toward my innocent baby.
As I was struggling through this period, the church calendar that year changed to Lent. I had always given up something for Lent, but for the first time, I truly experienced the spiritual wilderness we Catholics observe during Lent. Although my senses told me God had abandoned me, I clung to my faith, which tells us God will never abandon us. Praying became harder for me, so I turned instead to snatches of a hymn, singing “We walk by faith, and not by sight…” under my breath as I moved about the house. This song spoke to me in those dark times.
After I had finally struggled through all of my pregnancy, I arrived at the hospital to give birth thoroughly mentally, spiritually, and physically exhausted, feeling a sense of doom. Labor was hard and terrible; I had a panic attack when the nurse gave me my IV and then again with the anesthesiologist. After 30 hours with no sleep or food, I finally gave birth to a perfectly healthy redhead, but when I looked at her I felt none of the joy and love new parents usually describe. I felt… scared. I did not want to hold her. She looked strange and wrinkly, not pretty at all. I was in so much pain, requiring over two hours of stitches, and so, so tired. When I was finally wheeled into a bedroom at 2:00 am, all I longed for was sleep. When the nurse curtly told me to set my alarm for two hours so I could feed the baby, I almost wept.
My hospital stay was equally difficult. I cried almost constantly. I was afraid to hold the baby and afraid to be separated from her. I had never imagined being in such pain; after five rows of sutures, I could barely move, could not walk alone, and could certainly not use the restroom or shower alone. Still, I refused pain medication, paranoid if I took anything it would hurt the baby. I was overwhelmed by all the visitors, and just sad, sad, sad. My husband helped me limp around the hospital wing and I burst into tears when I saw the room where we’d given birth. The nurse told me it would take three weeks for my stitches to heal and I started to cry. At one point a nurse found me, bleary-eyed with sleeplessness, wandering the halls forlornly in my gown, petrified the nurses would give formula to the baby or think I was a horrible mother for letting her go to the nursery so I could try to sleep.
When we got home, I was paralyzed with fear. I could not sleep because I was convinced the baby would die. I sat awake, exhausted, while my husband and the baby slept. I was so anxious I could not eat a bite, but tried futilely to gag down one bite of bread and butter to help my body support my daughter. When I tried to sleep, the nightmares came, and I saw my baby killed a dozen different, horrible ways. Desperately in need of sleep though I was, I became afraid of night time and the nightmares, having horrible panic attacks when it got dark and fighting sleep with every ounce of power I had. My parents, divorced, put aside their differences and both stayed several nights with us, taking shifts at night to sit up with me and hold my hand through my panic attacks or sleeping in the chair next to me while I stared zombie-like at the clock and could not sleep.
To say my faith was all I had left at that time is no exaggeration. In the throes of despair, I lost sense of time and reality. Family members who tried to help me could only look on as I struggled. I became suicidal and so sleep-deprived I feared my husband would have me committed.
I was in the worst spiritual crisis I had ever encountered. I realized what I needed now were friends—faithful people of Christ who would pray for me, lift me up, and plead before God for my case.
I had never been a Catholic who prayed to saints, and I wasn’t even really sure how, but I knew I needed an army of prayer warriors on my side. Yes, I had people here on Earth praying for me—but what about people in heaven, people who had already successfully overcome Earth’s obstacles and were right now in the throne room of God, ready to pray and interceded for me? People whose example I could follow and whose faith I could emulate. I knew I needed all the prayer I could get.
One night, a few nights after the baby was born, I was limping out of the car and preparing to head into the house while my husband unbuckled the baby from her car seat. Suddenly, I felt another attack coming on. Terror flooded through my body and my eyesight went black. I was still conscious; I could hear the sounds of night and feel the concrete of the driveway under my feet, but I could see nothing. Waves of panic began to envelope me.
Still blind, I groped out and felt the car. Leaning against it for support, I called out into the darkness, “Mary, mother of us all, pray for me!” She is a Mother; she will know what I’m going through. She has been here before. “Saint Joseph, father of us all, pray for me!” He was the earthly father of Jesus and our spiritual father; surely he must care for me. “Saint Michael, leader of God’s armies, fight for me!” He fights for God’s people; he will defend me with his sword.
A woman lost and alone on a chilly night, I reached out my hand into the darkness and called out blindly to friends when I needed them, friends I had never called on before but whom my faith told me I could rely upon. And I trusted my faith.
With the intercession of Mary, Joseph, and Michael, I was able to make it into the house and calm down. I can’t say that night was the end of all my depression, but it was a turning point. Slowly, the anxiety subsided and gradually became manageable. I was able to sleep, first just in snatches, and eventually more and more.
Through God’s blessings, I had a wonderful OB who, thankfully, realized what was happening was not just a normal case of hormones. When he visited and found me sitting in bed next to a perfectly healthy baby, crying my eyes out while my husband and parents looked helplessly on, he diagnosed me with post-partum depression and referred me to a psychiatrist. She listened to my story, diagnosed me with not only post-partum depression but also post-partum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and prescribed me some nursing-friendly antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.
Life wasn’t easy for the first several weeks of my daughter’s life, and I did not return to normal for several months. But I was, at least, able to cope with my worries and fears. As the Bible says, “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), and as my anxieties slowly melted away, I began to have room in my heart for love: love for this tiny baby girl, healthy and beautiful and glowing, things I had not been able to appreciate before when I was so unhappy and worried.
Moreover, my newfound prayer warriors have never left me. Grateful to the first three saints who’d so generously helped me, I began to turn to saints more when the need arose. When my daughter had her first bout of illness, I looked up the patron saints of children, illnesses, and throat maladies and prayed before her crib. I looked to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for help with family members, St. Giles for increasing my nursing supply, and St. Francis for my ailing cat. Now, St. Anthony helps me find lost phones or keys and I call upon St. Christopher during my travels. I’ve gotten to know St. Joseph as the giver of a happy death and St. Mary as the wife and mother I ask for advice when I’m ready to scream.
If you are a mother-to-be or new mom and you think you might be struggling with depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. Do not let Satan lie to you: you are not alone. Others have been there. I have been there. I have been lost and blind and weak and alone. Yet in my weakness and sin, Jesus conquered. As He says to us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Jana Thomas Coffman lives near Kansas city with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Kaylie. Jana and Chris serve in their parish as marriage prep counselors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, and they are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. She holds a B.S. in Spanish with a minor in religious studies from Missouri State University, as well as a M.S. in Spanish Education and a graduate certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Jana teaches high school Spanish and college ESL.
It’s almost toddler time at our house again. Faith is nine months old and already exhibiting traits of a true Tierney toddler. I expect that very soon, no cabinet door will be left unopened, no “childproof” bottle will truly be safe, and no countertops will be left unscaled.
My children have always been of the inquisitive, into everything all of the time to the extreme variety, and impending toddlerhood always brings a sense of urgency–a sense of needing to childproof everything swiftly and securely.
My goal is to create a “yes environment” for my toddler–a home in which she can freely explore without fear of injury or a constantly hovering mother. A home where she can pick up anything within her reach to look at, feel, and even taste. A home where instead of a constant barrage of no’s, she hears, “Yes! Please explore, learn, and grow to your fullest potential!”
Now, this type of environment isn’t always entirely possible to achieve in a home full of Lego building, Polly Pocket playing older siblings. But we do our best. We do our best to keep all that could harm her out of her line of vision, and to be vigilant about what might be inadvertently left within temptation’s reach.
And when I do find her sitting quietly, Lego figure in hand, poised to meet its demise in her open mouth? Instead of a panicked “No!”, I simply divert her attention to something else. Something suitable for her. Something that is a resounding “Yes!”
So, too, are we called to divert our hearts to all things good and holy during these final days of Advent. We have entered the O Antiphon days. The days in which we should feel a sense of urgency to make sure our hearts are swept clean, ready to embrace the fullness of God’s grace at the glorious Christmas Mass. The Mass where the Salvation story is laid before our very eyes, as we gaze upon the babe in the crèche while consuming the flesh and blood that died to save us.
Create a “yes environment” in your heart during these last few days of delightful anticipation. Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation with your family. Recite the O Antiphons each night and reflect on our history and how desperately we need a Savior. Remember to take time out from the busyness of Christmas preparations for daily prayer and family time. Look forward to receiving Our Lord in His great gift of Holy Communion at Christmas Mass. Guard your heart against Satan’s lies with the power of the Rosary, holy water, and spiritual reading. This is real freedom–when the bad is shackled so the good can overflow with the abundance of an authentically joyful life.
Create a heart in which God can say, “Yes! Please explore, learn, and grow to your fullest potential!” Create a heart that is so full of good, there is no room for evil–a heart that is truly prepared to behold the miracle of the birth of Christ.
To learn more about the O Antiphons:
“I would wrap the newborn tightly in a warm blanket and let each child cuddle up to a living and breathing teddy baby.”
A newborn can see clearly for about eight inches, just far enough to focus intently on his mother’s face. It is almost as if the initiative to bond comes from the baby first, especially when I consider the fierce hand grip they are born with. To ensure an infant is fed, he is also born with an incredibly powerful rooting reflex. These traits help to draw out strong protective love from both parents. For me it was almost a magical transformation from an exhausted woman in labor to a glowing mother adoring her newborn.
Even when all the kids were still little, I decided to share this magic with them. It was one of the best decisions I ever made to enable mutual respect and love to flourish in our family. However, at the time I was forced to literally watch the clock to make sure everyone would get a chance to hold their new sibling . It seems to me that the children bonded to each other because even our toddlers were given the privilege of holding the baby. With excitement twinkling in their eyes, barely containing their joy long enough to sit still while I propped up one of their little arms with a pillow, they looked extremely proud and pleased as they too held the baby.
Bedtime became something to look forward to for about three months after the birth of our newest addition. I would wrap the newborn tightly in a warm blanket and let each child cuddle up to a living and breathing teddy baby. This quiet time, to be alone with their sibling allowed warm, nurturing, love to flow between both children and it eliminated jealousy. The focus was no longer just on the baby but attention focused on an older child and the baby.
As I nursed, it was easy to give the older children my mental and emotional attention by listening, talking, reading books to them, helping with homework and even playing with play dough with one hand. I can honestly say that no one resented all the time each newborn demanded because we were all part of caring for the baby. Little ones were proud to run for diapers, clothes or blankets and older kids would choose rocking or pushing a colicky baby in the buggy over washing dishes any day.
One of our family jokes concerns the day I managed to relate to five people at once! I was laying down on our bed, back to back with my husband as he read and I nursed a newborn. A toddler lay curled around my head, playing with my hair, I was fixing a knitting mistake for a seven-year old and talking to a ten year-old.
I am pretty proud of that statistic.
I had decided to write an article about someone who deserves to be commemorated when the first person to pop into my head was my five-week old granddaughter, not some famous person who has accomplished great deeds.
What I found most startling about this little person, called Lila, was a look of utter surprise as she surveyed the world. When Lila turned at the sound of my voice and looked at me for the first time, her eyes widened suddenly in recognition. It was if she thought, “Ah, so this is what you look like. I remember your voice.”
She remembered the sound of my voice from her time in the womb, and at 6 hours old, finally put a face to that voice. Lila has been thrust out from the safety and security of the womb into a huge, cold world, with bright lights and loud abrasive sounds. She is wise, an old soul who connects with my spirit when we look at each other. It would be an unnerving experience, if it were not so profoundly sweet. The words of C.S. Lewis reverberate within me:
“You do not have a soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body.”
Although Lila’s body is helpless and fragile, she is a person, albeit a little person with a definite personality. The looks we exchange with each other are not fleeting, but penetrating, because our eyes truly are the windows of our souls. Without words, we recognize each other as sisters, fellow travelers who have come from God, who are made from the same stuff. This soul knows I see past appearances, right to her true self, just as she sees past my appearance right to my core, my inner spirit.
So I salute this brave person. In fact, I salute all infants for bravery, in the face of powerlessness, as they begin their life on earth.