Now, down to this main post. It has taken me a little while to come back here and share this with you. Mostly because it's been emotional and it has needed my focus, and also because I wanted some time to see how it all panned out.
After the day that I came to a new understanding and acceptance of the 'stuff' between the Wildflower and I, I felt SO much more at peace, and no longer sad. That was a good day, a great day really. I am thankful for the experience.
That new peace gave us another gift. The opportunity for me to view the challenges and issues with a clearer mind and lighter heart - all the better to see things m'dear.
A quick recap:
The Wildflower has serious sleep issues (waking every 45min on average, never sleeping for longer than 2hrs, light sleep predominating, waking fitfully, suddenly and agitated).
She is a very smiley gleeful baby. A lot of the time. Ready to be happy. very easy to get her laughing. But spends most of her day irritable. At first, I put it down to her personality. I accepted her whatever she was like. At around 6-7mths of age I started to realise that it was likely due to lack of sleep. And as she has grown I have become convinced of it.
This irritability has been turning into mild aggression recently. Again, something I first put down to personality (being a strong, willful Aries girl). Hitting toys, hitting herself, and finally pinching me.
Also, she is never still. Even when feeding she is kicking her legs or waving her arms about. She has never played alone for longer than 5 minutes. What many people refer to as a 'high-needs baby'.
On Wednesday morning, we woke up as usual. We normally cuddle and have a Moment together before starting our day. This morning she woke with a smile as usual, but then started to pinch and squeeze my face. I react to this by simply pulling my face away, then returning to her. She kept at it, really hurting me. So we got out of bed and carried on with our day.
As I was at an emotionally better place, I was able to not become upset about this. I fed her and then we sat together on her mat to play. Her calmness lasted about 30 minutes and then she started on her irritable sounds. I thought to myself, this isn't right.
She has been like this for so long. Her days consist of tiny periods of peace (usually after a sleep) and then are filled with irritability. Poor baby. It's not enough that I accept her and accept our situation. I have never wanted to run away or have more time to myself or whatever. But she isn't happy, so it needs looking into.
So we sat there and I watched her play and it's impossible to describe the thought process. It's like when one tiny thought bounces off others and one leads to another and another, you know. But somehow I was thinking about my last blog post and about how I cried and felt better, and then one thought to another, I got to thinking about her lack of tears.
You see, as an attachment parent, I have responded to her every need. Whether it was hunger, thirst, frustration, discomfort, whatever, I have always actly promptly. So promptly that in 9.5 months, I have only seen tears from my baby 2 or 3 times. Not because she isn't a crier you understand, because she has had ample desire to cry what with so much irritability. But because I have soothed her every time.
And this got me wondering about whether she needed a good cry. At first I thought I was just grasping at straws, but as I allowed the idea to take root, it began to make some sense to me. Not in a - I have found the answer to all her problems - type of way, but just in a - it might be something she needs, way.
So the laptop was right there and as she seemed focused on her current game, I started googling. Lots of 'cry it out' stuff came up, which I wasn't interested in of course. Then somehow I landed on a page mentioning aware parenting and I followed it just because it sounded like something I would be interested in and lo and behold, there was a whole thing about crying!
I mean, it is a theory people! You all probably know all about it and I am the last to discover it, but there it is.
So the digest version is that crying is a necesity that we all need including babies. Yes, we know this for ourselves (and crazily, I know this about toddlers too!). Crying releases stress hormones which is why having a good cry makes us feel calmer. We have literally released the stress.
When a parent soothes a baby's cry that is NOT a call for food or other basics needs, we are stopping our child from releasing stress.
It wasn't that I didn't accept my baby's tears. or that I couldn't bare to hear her cry (although I couldn't), but simply that I thought that was my job as a parent - to sooth her. When the crying stopped I took this as a sign that she was better. Never thinking of the crying as HER way of healing HERSELF. Crying is healing and I was not allowing a vital healing to take place.
So there I was. I had come to a vague thought intuitively, now there were experts as well as many parents saying how this worked for them. Was I game to give it a try?
So many questions. When do we stop? Do I let her go purple in the face? Do I let her rage?
She was moving towards her first nap, was very irritable by now and it was time for a diaper change. These changes have become increasingly difficult. Not staying still for a second wasn't a problem for me, but when she started protesting and seemingly hating it, I couldn't understand and felt bad for her. So as I knew she was likely to start becoming upset, I figured that this was the time.
I changed her, she become upset. I didn't distract her with a toy, singing or anything else. I allowed her to become upset. I finished and placed her in the middle of the bed rather than scooping her up into my arms as usual, which always stops the upset.
Oh dear me. She started wailing, screaming, and then crying. I lay beside her as she kicked about. Then I hugged her. She protested and pushed away. I persisted. Hugging firmly but letting her go if she wanted. Then when I knew holding her up would not quieten her as it normally does, I picked her up and sat back against a couple of pillows. She sat on my lap sideways. And she cried.
When she stopped for a moment I gave her the gentlest kisses on her forehead. I focused on remaining relaxed and sending out thoughts of love to her. And so she alternated between crying and wailing and quietly offering her forehead up for kisses.
When she was at that point, oh my, how can I express to you how right it felt? It felt so right. I wasn't freaked out by her crying, I felt she needed it, I felt her release.
Then after an eternity (okay, probably 5 minutes) she threw herself backwards and I felt that she might have been done with it. Either way, I didn't have the courage to continue or allow it to worsen. It was our first time and it had gone well enough.
So I stood up and went out of the bedroom and just held her. She had stopped crying. I didn't sing, just rocked her gently now. And within 5 minutes, with not a peep, she was sound asleep. She slept for 1hr 40mins (40mins longer than usaul at that time), and woke with a beaming smile.
Be still my heart.
Since that time, I allowed her to have a cry when going to bed. I normally ply her with water or milk as well as offering her favourite soft toy. So she wasn't hppy. I offered only my hugs. I held her firmly and with my arms enveloping her. She cried, and she grabbed me back and snuggled up close, and cried, and and then she slept. Yesterday, I gave her the opportunity for a cry and she had only a little cry and yell.
So, you're wondering, what are the changes? They are subtle. But knowing my baby girl as I do, I see them.
The most noticeable is the lack of her 'going to sleep sound'. It's this protesting sound, not really a whine but like a mild groaning, that she makes when she is working up to a sleep. Instead, I have picked her up when I think she's ready and walked her and she has fallen asleep quietly in my arms. This is amazing. She has done it every time since her first cry. In 9 months, she had only done this a few times.
I have seen a dramatic decrease in aggresion.
She still wakes often during the night. However, her sleep feels a lot deeper. And when she has woken, it hasn't been fitfully, but a slow awakening.
We haven't had much of a chance to see if she is happier playing on her own, but I will be able to test that today.
The theory says that babies can hold within their little bodies, the stress from a traumatic birth experience or even from a mother who was stressed during her pregnancy. Both issues of ours. So there is deeply-rooted stress. Then there are the everyday stresses, such as developmental milestones, or just being unable to work a toy correctly. If the stress isn't released, well, it remains stored in the body of course. And so the Wildflower is carrying all this stress around with her all day, and then taking it all to bed with her.
DIY Dad and I had sensed that she needed to release energy. So we always gave her some time in her bouncy swing every evening. The problem with that, is that it isn't an emotional release. We had sensed something intuitively, just hadn't made the needed leap to crying.
It's totally common sense. When I nannied toddlers, I stood beside them or hugged them when they had a melt-down. I understood that 'tantrums' were their way of coping with pent up frustrations. I knew they needed the tantrum to release. But I had somehow managed to break that connection for babies. I just saw babies as vulnerable and totally dependent on us and therefore needed soothing always.
Just needing comforting for a baby IS a legitimate need. But I can see now how stopping a baby from crying, when all their basic needs have been met and they just need to cry, is NOT comforting at all. I may as well stop her from sweating because it's somewhat unpleasant. Crying is a physiological tool for releasing stress. But for babies, it is their MAIN tool. What do we do when we see a crying baby? We rock, talk, sing, make cooing sounds, offer a toy, food, everything to stop the crying. If a friend of ours did the same to us when we were upset, wouldn't we just feel more frustrated?
The fantastic thing about this, is that lack of crying can be made up. Apparently. So although I've stopped her from crying all these months, future crying can make up for it.
And although it is somewhat a miracle 'cure', it isn't the end to all problems. New frustrations and issues will arise. But the point is, that once a baby feels safe to cry, they are able to regularly release tension and thereby deal with new problems.
I don't mean to sound like I have it all figured out or that I'm 100% confident about this. I'm not. I still wonder about how far to go with it, if I will always know whether she just needs to cry, and so on. I also know that this is just one piece of the puzzle. But I feel it's the piece I've been reaching out for.