Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 7-13 June 2021 Part 2

Babies are Humans! or An IBCLC lactation consultant, breastfeeding counsellor and mother’s free associations around Infant Mental Health Awareness Week

Part 2 Babies… Who ARE they?

I, for one, am a great believer in antenatal preparation for… what exactly? Giving birth? Breastfeeding? How to change a nappy? Where to buy baby clothes? What to do if our little one throws up or has a high temperature? Sure enough, these issues can occupy a LOT of a new parent’s mind. And they are indeed important.However, they are entirely dwarfed by the BIG QUESTIONS that inevitably enter our minds when we become responsible for raising another human. Who are they and where did they come from?How does every little thing I, as a parent, do impact on my child’s long term health (mental and physical)?How can I possibly know how to respond to my baby, in the middle of the night, being woken up from my deepest sleep, when there are a 1000 thoughts whirling around my frazzled mind, including late night Google searches, THE parenting book my best friend gifted me, my mother in law’s stern words, and my just about faintly audible inner voice?And many more. (What are yours?)

So, based on all we have discussed above: our upbringing, our state of mind shortly after receiving our ‘little bundle’, all the well meaning advice we have received, the last thing we need to hear is that our behaviour can harm our babies, that we are ‘making a ‘rod’ for our own backs, or that we are damaging them for life!

One extreme will tell us to -let our babies ‘cry it out’, it won’t do any harm, (after all we ALL NEED SLEEP, don’t we?)-get our bodies back as soon after birth as possible (to squeeze back into those size 10 jeans)-get our boobs back (as they belong to our sexual partners)-get out there and date and socialise (aka ‘get our lives back’) as soon as possible -get back to work (to our ‘proper’ jobs, to get back to being a useful member of society once again)… and more.

The other extreme:-you’ll never sleep again now you have a baby-you’re responsible for another human being now, so your needs are secondary, stop moaning-Your boobs are your baby’s-give up your life and career now and become Earth Mother, as surely this is enough fulfilment for the rest of your days now… and more.But how about if we reframe the whole idea of babies just generally being either an inconvenience or the centre of our attention 100% of the time?

Who are they?

What do they want?

What do they need?

My children are 11 and 6 now and I wish, wish, wish it hadn’t taken me all these years to begin to grasp the idea of what it’s about raising humans. I think I always had the right instinct (sometimes louder, other times quieter) thank goodness. Due to parental absence for multiple reasons, we have had the mixed blessing of not having any grandparents’ or family members’ ‘noises’ drowning out the inner voices we, the parents, wanted to follow. And we’re still learning. Every day.

So how about if we reframe the whole conversation around ‘babies’?You might have noticed me referring to these little creatures as ‘humans’ most of the time. I have always hated the expression ‘toddler’ with a vengeance. My eldest daughter is soon entering the phase we call ‘teenage’ years. All these expressions DON’T just refer to a time period in a person’s life. They come with a barrage of connotations. Because who hasn’t come across the term ‘the terrible twos’ or those awful teenage years, you as a parent are hopefully going to endure, but definitely not enjoy? Where does that leave us as parents, always bracing ourselves for the next unbearable phase?

Sure enough, challenges come and go. Life with children is a continual rollercoaster. But every family has its own roller coaster to ride. And it’s like no other. Sure enough, it’s invaluable to talk about, share, listen to and learn from, offload to and cry about the frustrations, the challenges, the achievements and the ecstatic moments of this journey, with others at a similar (or at a different stage). So how about if we started these conversations and built our support network with other humans BEFORE our baby arrives? (More about this later.)

What IMHAW and the First 1001 days trying to do is make us aware that our babies are born fully fledged humans! I can’t agree more with their mission statement. Please read: https://parentinfantfoundation.org.uk/…/F1001D…

How can we achieve that “every baby has loving and nurturing relationships in a society that values emotional wellbeing and development in the first 1001 days, from pregnancy, as the critical foundation for a healthy and fulfilling life”? (quote from the above-mentioned document)How can we shift our thinking into a new ‘gear’ by learning about our new arrivals with their own set of thoughts, feelings, instincts and communication skills, preferences and temperament. How can we mould our parenting approach (away from a robotically prescribed list of dos and don’ts) towards a more child led and mutual RELATIONSHIP? Relationships are there to be enjoyed.

Our kids are not robots to be programmed or manipulative little beings to take the better of us. In the exquisit words of Gabor Mate (and if you haven’t heard his name, I would urge you to look him up asap), world renowned addiction expert, speaker and author who is sought after for his expertise on trauma, addiction, stress and childhood development:

“When we are born, our lungs are an expectation for oxygen. In the same way, our nervous systems are an expectation for love, for nurturing, for being held, for being valued, for being enjoyed. That’s what the infant is born with: the expectations! And whether we develop well or we don’t depends on how fully those expectations are met.”

(Gabor Mate on How We Become Who We Are | Conversations with Tom on YouTube)

Gabor himself, and other trauma informed approaches (including the wonderful Hand in Hand parenting with its main book: Listen by Patti Wipfler) talk about helping adults find their true nature. But surely our true nature is with us from birth, or even from conception? How have we lost it? Who can help us find it?The good news is that with the right approach anyone can make an attempt to encourage their child’s true nature to be nurtured from the moment they are born!I can’t say I have succeeded at this, but I can say I am learning every step of the way, and I am better at it now that my children are 11 and 6.

I am certainly continuing to learn about tools I can use to support me on the way (I will share these with you later). I find that you don’t love your children THE SAME WAY, even if you love them EQUALLY. This is because they are completely different humans and hence you develop an intricately different relationship with them, with its unique patterns, tapestry of emotions, forces and connections, reactions that you can hopefully tame into responses as time goes on. (This ongoing work never ends, but it’s never too early AND never too late to start.)

THIS is what can guide us and motivate us as parents, for what can be more important, uplifting and life changing for us and our children, then to truly feel into who they are, what’s important to them, where they want to be, what their preferences are, what they love to do?This is easier said than done, and one main strand of this work is to work on OURSELVES as adults (since not many of us had the good fortune of being brought up in this way, which can of course majorly impact on the full presence of our own parenting). This would be a subject of another whole essay, but listening to and reading Gabor Mate may be a good start.

To be continued. …

Your reading list

  1. Naomi Standlen: What Mothers Do (especially when it looks like nothing)
  2. Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufeld: Hold on to your kids
  3. James McKenna: Sleeping with your Baby & Safe Infant Sleep
  4. Sarah Ockwell-Smith: Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters
  5. Amy Brown: Why Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma Matter
  6. Amy Brown: Let’s Talk About the first year of parenting
  7. Emma Svanberg: Why Birth Trauma Matters
  8. Why … Matters series including Why Babywearing Matters from Pinter and Martin Publishers
  9. Lyndsey Hookway: Let’s Talk about your new family’s sleep
  10. Carlos Gonzales: Kiss Me
  11. Anna Le-Grange: The Mindful Breastfeeding Book
  12. Meredith F. Small: Our Babies Ourselves
  13. Jean Liedloff: The Continuum Concept
  14. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Sweet Sleep by LLLI (La Leche League International)
  15. How Do Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood
  16. Patti Wipfler and Tosha Schore: Listen
  17. The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality by Kimberly Ann Johnson
  18. Zainab Yate: When Breastfeeding Sucks
  19. The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill
  20. The Positive Breastfeeding Book by Amy Brown
  21. Philippa Perry: The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read
  22. Amy Brown: Informed Is Best
  23. Daniel J. Siegel: Parenting from the Inside Out
  24. Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson: The Whole-Brain Child

Similar Posts