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The last fading beams of sunlight filter in through the window as I sit here holding the tiny body of my first grandchild. The warmth of her body envelopes mine, and I cuddle her close to my chest, her ear pressed against my breast, the beating of my heart a soft and gentle reassuring song playing to her in the land of dreams.
Memories dance across my mind of her mother, a tiny newborn, a toothless grin, wobbly first steps, her joy at riding her first bicycle, her first hockey game, teaching her to drive, her first broken heart, her first dance, her first date, the midnight hour she burst into the room to share her engagement, seeing her in her wedding dress, watching her take the hand of her new husband, and driving away to her new home. Seems like it was only yesterday she confided she might be expecting, then the months rolled by as I watched this tiny miracle grow, and then emerge into the world, a tiny mirror image of her mother.
I caress the tiny hand that lay gently cupped around my own, feeling the softness of her skin, the dimpled knuckles, the tiny fingers. I revel in this magical moment, the emotion so strong I have to swallow back the lump that has grown in my throat. I blink back tears as I think of how proud I am of my daughter. Of the kind of mother she is, of the strength she has to listen to her instincts and ignore the advice of others or the ridicule for being such an “attached” parent.
I am thankful that my granddaughter is held in loving arms, even at 3 am, that she is rocked, and cuddled and snuggled. That she is nursed when she indicates the need, regardless of how long it’s been since the last time, that she is never left alone to cry.
My heart swells with pride for my daughter, this woman, this mother – that she is committed every hour of every day, to the needs of this tiny child, that she faces the world bravely and fights for what she believes in.
My heart aches for the young mothers out there who strive for these very same things, with little or no support, little or no praise, little or no encouragement. They are hit at every turn with “expert” advice on feeding, on sleeping, on nurturing their babies, on when to wean – “advice” that goes against every fiber of her being. They are told that breastfeeding is not “that” important, they are told that unless they teach the baby “who’s boss” they will never have a moments peace, that their child will be a “monster” – they are told to ignore the heartbreaking cries of their babies who just seek the comfort of mother’s arms in the dark of night, to drift off to sleep within the security of her love.
My heart aches for the baby left alone to learn to “self-comfort”, to “cry it out”. Experts have told moms “not spoil their babies” and to “let them cry”. This is a good thing? What are we accomplishing? Babies need nurturing and it is not spoiling them to provide it. Spoiling means “ruining” and you cannot ruin a child with love and affection.
We are made to “respond”, to nurture. Call it “instinct”, call it “intuition”, call it being “tuned in”, call it “natural” – it is the core of the relationship between mother and child… a “bond”. If you steel yourself against your baby’s cries, you damage the core, you begin to lose the “instinct”, you’re not “tuned in” to your baby’s needs as easily, or as quickly, and eventually… you break that bond. You stop responding. The very life-force of the connection between mother and baby is being suppressed, and occasionally, snuffed out.
We are told “it works” because the baby stops crying. But what has worked? Has baby really learned to comfort himself; or he has only learned that he might as well give up, that he will not be responded to. Is this a good thing?
In the 1970s Dr. T. Berry Brazelton studied newborns to see whether they could feel hopeless or depressed. In the following quote from Suzanne Arms’ book Immaculate Deception II, page 186, Arms tells of a study that Dr. Brazelton did in which he videotaped babies crying in order to get the attention of their moms:
In a heartrending series of videotaped sessions, each baby can be seen crying to elicit a response from its mother and, failing to do so, working even harder. After a number a minutes of making all kinds of faces and trying to make eye contact, each baby finally reaches its level of tolerance and begins to look away from the mother, finding it too difficult to continue making an effort with no response. The baby eventually turns its face away from its mother’s face. Then it turns toward the mother again and tries to rouse a response. Each time it turns away for longer and longer periods. Finally, each baby slumps down, drops its head, and shows all the signs of hopelessness.
I remember seeing these segments on TV, and what an impact the end result had on me. I wish every new mother could see these. Perhaps it would make a difference for those who are feeling pressured to parent in a way that goes against what lies in their hearts. Perhaps it would give them the courage they need to “stay the course”, to hang in there, even when things seem to be the most difficult, and most of all… to respond.
I wish every mother could know how important she is, and that the sleepless nights, the pain and difficulties she might encounter now, with babies and later with teens – are all part of the gift of mothering. For without this, how can we give true measure to the beauty and importance of being a mother?
The last fading beams of sunlight filter in through the window as I sit here holding the tiny body of my first grandchild. The warmth of her body envelopes mine, and I cuddle her close to my chest, her ear pressed against my breast, the beating of my heart a soft and gentle reassuring song, playing to her in the land of dreams. Arguments “for” and “against” may come and go… but I am glad that I am an “attached” grandparent.
Copyright © 2002 by Paula Yount. No portion of this text may be copied or reproduced in any manner, electronically or otherwise, without the express written permission of the author.