Aware Parenting The Second Time Around
Pregnant and pondering about practising Aware Parenting with my new baby, the one thing I wanted to avoid was breast-feeding becoming a control pattern again. I had fed my daughter Lana very frequently for the first three months, even though I loved the idea of healing through crying in arms. She cried in total for only for a couple of minutes in those first months.
After three months we held her in our arms every evening as she cried, usually for half an hour to an hour. But for several months I was still unsure whether she was hungry or needed to heal from stress at other times. In retrospect, I fed her many times when she actually needed to cry in my arms. Breast-feeding was quite a control pattern for her, and at18 months, she would agitatedly pull at my top and ask, “booby, booby,” whenever she was upset. At times I felt very frustrated knowing she needed to cry (from observing her other behaviours) and seeing how she had learnt from me to stop crying with feeding.
Crying to heal from birth trauma from day one
In comparison, Sunny had his initial cry in arms on his first day out in the world. I probably would have waited for longer, until my milk came in, or for the first week or two, but his two-hour posterior birth had left him with considerable tension in his jaw. Whenever he tried to feed he simply clamped his jaws down tight and it hurt me! After he had cried in my arms, his jaw was no longer tense and he could feed easily. For the first couple of days, he would cry in my arms before he could feed. From then onward, he cried several times a day and for longer periods.
A different pattern of crying
With Lana, there had been one main cry in arms in the early evening, with an obvious completion – when she would gaze deeply and calmly into our eyes or fall into a deep sleep. With Sunny, his crying in the early days seemed to mirror the surges of his birth. It was several months before his crying had obvious completions.
Feeding and crying
I used time as one of my guidelines for Sunny’s hunger - starting off with about two-and-a-half hours between the beginning of one feed and the beginning of the next. He would often start crying to release feelings about an hour and a half after the beginning of one feed and still be crying an hour later, when he might possibly be hungry. I often felt confused about whether he was hungry or whether he needed to release more stress, or both. Mostly I erred on the side of hunger and in retrospect, I think that many times I stopped his crying prematurely when he was not hungry but still had more feelings to release.
Gradually I increased the time in between feeds, based on his feeding behaviour, such as his sucking pattern. If it was sporadic, or he came on and off the breast, or he soon went to sleep or drifted off, then I assumed that he had probably not been hungry, and although I would continue that feed, I would observe the next few feeds and if most of them were like that I would add perhaps 10 minutes to my guesstimate guidelines for the next feed.
The control pattern comes in!
At about three and-a-half months he started to suck his fingers a lot instead of crying. I think this was because I had fed him all those times when he had not completed a chunk of crying. Despite all his crying, he got the message that not all of his feelings were acceptable to me. I felt really upset, as I had so wanted respond to him accurately depending on whether he was hungry or needing to cry. Looking back I think it was also because I was feeling overwhelmed myself, and my feelings and unmet needs meant I wasn’t creating enough emotional safety for him to cry. For a while he did a lot of sucking on his hand and I felt torn – I wanted to respect him and not take his hand out, and just connect with him, but I felt so frustrated when he still didn’t cry or take his hand out. I did sometimes take it out and I had the sense that when I did that he suppressed his feelings even more deeply. I was more and more careful about only feeding him when he was hungry, and at about four-and-a-half months his finger sucking stopped and I didn’t notice any other control patterns coming in.
Feeding never became a control pattern for Sunny, which I am so delighted about! Of course, there are periods of time when he does not do all the crying he needs to do, and becomes less relaxed. This is usually when we are doing lots of stimulating things and I am not feeling relaxed myself, or when I am not giving him enough present attention. When I get into a more present state, and he cries for longer and more intensely, and catches up with his healing.
How much crying?
I was amazed how much more crying Sunny did than my daughter. She cried for about half an hour to an hour a day; he cried from two hours a day, but usually about three or four, and sometimes more. I had only a few times heard of babies crying that much. I was on a breast-feeding diet and was confident that he did not have wind pains. As for stress, I did have some stress in my pregnancy, particularly the first trimester when I was worried about miscarriage, but the birth was very calm, albeit fast and posterior, I had had a six- week baby moon, carried him all the time, and there was not a lot of stimulation although I was interacting with my four-year-old daughter a lot. In retrospect, I think that his posterior position during the pregnancy and fast birth was the main trauma he was healing from. I also realised how much I had stopped Lana from healing by feeding her so much. Many of her behaviours, like clinging, wanting to be carried most of the time as a toddler, and rarely entertaining herself as a toddler, indicate to me that the breast-feeding control pattern had stopped her from feeling confident to explore her world.
My presence during his crying
Another difference was the way I was with my babies when they were crying. With Lana, I would always give her one hundred percent attention. For the first several months my husband and I took turns having dinner whilst she cried in the other one’s arms. But with Sunny, I was usually helping Lana do something (we are home-schooling), and because he cried so much during the day and evening (never at night), I would often be giving him only half of my attention – and he was in my arms or on my lap pretty much 24 hours a day. I felt confident that he could feel my calm presence holding him and that that was meeting his needs for emotional safety.
Sleep and crying
As for nighttimes, I was definitely feeding Lana when she needed to cry. Sunny would generally not wake for about two hours more than the gap in between his day feeds. Since he was doing so much crying in the daytime, and never did anything to help him sleep apart from hold him in my arms and give him the opportunity to cry, I felt confident that he was hungry when he woke at night and would always feed him. (although, we were practising Elimination Communication, he would stir when he needed to wee, and I would offer him his little potty bowl and he would go straight off to sleep again.)
The relationship between crying and sleeping seemed much clearer for me the second time around. I would generally hold Sunny when he slept for the first several months – and once I did start to put him down (on the couch beside me) when he was asleep, I found out some interesting things. He would always have a cry before going to sleep, even if only for a few minutes (I avoided doing anything to him to get him to sleep, including feeding!) Once I put him down, if he woke up again and started crying, or moving, or waking up if there was any noise, it told me that he hadn’t finished his chunk of crying. Instead of feeling frustrated, and trying to get him to go back to sleep again, I would see it as an opportunity for him to finish healing that collection of feelings, and would hold him whilst he continued to cry. I loved reframing the waking from a problem to an opportunity for him to complete his healing.
Eye contact and crying
With Lana, it was very clear to me when she needed to cry and would avoid eye contact, gazing all around the room looking for everything she could to distract herself. After a cry, she would make full, present, eye contact. As she became a toddler, her eye contact became an indication of whether she had finished that piece of healing. With Sunny, eye contact was also a key indicator of whether he was present or needed to release. If feelings started accumulating, he would make less and less eye contact and would also smile less.
My response to crying changes once my children could crawl
Once Lana could crawl, I would always pick her up straight away if she was feeling upset, and she would often stop crying. Later on I realised that my own feelings from being left alone when I cried as a baby had prevented me from just getting down to her level and letting her choose how close she wanted to be. When I had picked her up, my subtle communication was, “stop crying.” As a consequence, as she got older she would usually only cry when being held before sleep, and would repress her feelings at other times. So I had been stopping her at some times and trying to help her cry at others. This, as well as my body becoming a control pattern, meant that she often held her feelings in. It was much easier for her to cry with my husband than with me. For the first three years, we would hold her every night before bed, and she would have a cry. There were a few times when she would cry spontaneously, say over a broken cookie, but they were in the minority until I got pregnant again.
When my son was 10 months old and had been crawling a while, I remembered that I did not want to do it the same way again with him. I wanted him to be able to express his feelings at any time of the day with my loving support rather than suppress them when he was with me. So, sometimes I would just get down to his level when he was upset. Sometimes I would hold his hands – once I did this, with a little gap of floor between us. He was frustrated and upset and I sat down and held his hands. He cried half-heartedly for about twenty minutes, then the cry became more intense and he climbed into my lap. He cried for another half an hour. That night he slept very peacefully and went longer than usual between feeds.
Increasing ease and joy
Looking back now that Sunny is 19 months old and Lana is 6 years old, my needs for ease and enjoyment are being met “big time”!
The most challenging time was during the pregnancy, when I no longer held Lana to help her release and needed to fine-tune my ability to help foster the conditions to help her cry without holding her.
I also felt pretty overwhelmed when Sunny was about three months old, when he was crying for several hours a day, and I was doing the majority of the parenting.
But after that, things got much easier… I got clearer about his elimination cues, which meant a lot less washing! He healed from his birth trauma and needed less releasing. We all started having more fun!
After Sunny was a year old, the two of them began playing together a lot. At first, when he got upset during their play, I would always think that Lana was doing unwanted things to him. It was only after some time that I learnt how to come to them both with equal compassion; wanting to understand what each of them needed. The more compassion I reconnected to with Lana, the more harmonious their play became. I learnt how to work out whether they were needing support with their play, or whether one of them needed to let out some feelings during their play. So now I intervene if I think they need help finding strategies to meet both of their needs, or if I think one of them needs to do some crying – if it is Sunny, I will move in close and just be with him as he cries, and with Lana I will often set a loving supportive limit, like, “I see you really want to play with that right now and he doesn’t want you to. I’ll be with you and help you wait.” This is usually enough to help her descend into her feelings. .
Since they get their needs for connection met with each other a lot, that means I also feel comfortable doing other things whilst we are all together in our home. I get my other needs met and so I have plenty of attention to give to them.
At some point, I started doing Special Time with Lana when Sunny was asleep. Sometimes this happens every day, sometimes we will leave it out for a few days. I am amazed at what a difference Special Time makes – just giving her my full attention for a period of time whilst she chooses what we do. I love spending time with her, and also am delighted seeing how much care and consideration she has for Sunny (she is particularly like this when I am giving her plenty of loving care and consideration!)
I love being a mum of two. I feel joyful right now to have found a way of being with my children the majority of the time whilst also getting my needs met, contributing to their needs, and finding lots of ways to help them heal. I have great joy watching the presence with which they go about their days, and gratitude for how they are helping me become a more present mum and a more fulfilled person.