Monday, October 5, 2009

Read the Baby

Some people go with their gut. Others prefer to follow popular opinion. I research obsessively.

When I was pregnant, hardly a day would go by that I wasn’t pouring over a book about what not to do, what the clump of cells in my womb was doing, or what to expect when I was done expecting. I received weekly email updates preparing me for parenthood. I attended earthy, anti-intervention Birthing from Within and standard, medical-model hospital-birthing workshops. I took Breastfeeding and Baby Basics classes. I interviewed every woman I knew who had given birth about her birth experience.

But nothing I read or heard about prepared me for my post-birth trauma, my breastfeeding difficulties, and my utter feelings of incompetence when it came to caring for an infant. Much in the way that love can feel totally new…as if no one could have possibly ever felt this way before—the process of becoming a parent felt invented. Every new caretaking experience was like a high school biology experiment. What happens when I submerge her body in water? What happens when I feed her solids? What happens when she gets a fever?

And with each experiment, I scoured the Internet looking for answers, trying to do whatever it was the RIGHT way. But I was always doing something wrong according to someone: Letting her cry herself to sleep. Not feeding her enough. Hovering on the playground. Still, I couldn’t stop reading articles, as if I just hadn’t found the ONE.

I was telling one of my dearest friends this when he turned to me and said, “Melissa. Stop reading the books. Start reading Sophia.”

I wanted to pretend like I didn’t know what he meant. But I did. She’s happy. She’s healthy. (Not to mention: She falls asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow. She’s is growing and developing fine. And she wants me to accompany her on the slide.)

This is what the books should say: trust yourself, but take cues from your baby, If she’s sleepy, put her to bed. If she’s not hungry anymore, stop pushing food on her. If she’s resisting another layer, maybe she’s too hot. If she wants to be carried, maybe she’s tired of walking. Stop trying to impose your beliefs about what she needs on her. You with your head filled with voices that aren’t your own.

I think there’s such a fear among parents of indulging…or letting the child run the show. But there’s a real difference between reading a child’s desires and reading a child’s needs. It requires listening to both the child and your own instincts.

I feel like I have wallpapered over my intuition so many times with pages from Leach and Weissbluth and all the other “experts,” that my instincts are barely audible. I'm working on listening to that voice deep within. But it is Sophia who is peeling these layers away, telling me what she needs with every giggle, every smile, every satisfied sigh.

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