Barbara's storyMy journey with aware parenting started before my daughter was born. I attended a Calmbirth workshop and was excited to be ready to bring her into the world without drugs or medical intervention. My Calmbirth booklet had Marion’s description of Aletha Solter’s ‘The Aware Baby’ which I read and had some kind of understanding, but it wasn’t until the day she was born that it all seemed to make sense.
I had an awesome birth. Calmbirth enabled me to feel relaxed, as I felt no pain, and I was able to spend the day at home, going to the hospital twice for monitoring. It was beautiful and calm. It wasn’t until the second stage that I encountered any difficulty. She took her time to crown as the cord was wrapped around her neck and the doctor had to cut it before she was out, resulting in her need for oxygen when she was born. She cried that whole first night. I didn’t sleep much, but I was on a high anyway after such a fantastic birth. I guess that she was releasing her fears and stress from her difficult and painful time when she had the cord around her neck and lacked oxygen.
In the beginning
Despite the fact that we had decided to practise Aware parenting from the beginning, the first few weeks were difficult for us to know when she was crying to release or if she was actually hungry. It was most obvious when she was tired, as I knew she didn’t need a feed and all her other needs were met. I tried to use time as my guide, as well her behaviour at the breast; if she didn’t want it she wouldn’t feed as calmly. This was also made more difficult with my fast flow and forceful let down reflex. I also sometimes allowed her cry in my arms for a little while before feeding just to be sure that she was hungry. I believed that it wasn’t doing her any harm to release any stress, and I held her whenever she cried. Actually, I held her most of the time. I carried her in a sling, and she slept on me through the day, so I felt that I met her need for physical closeness.
I did struggle with reading her signals a lot when she was a newborn, as I had nothing to compare her to; but as she started to form her own feeding pattern, I could read her hunger signals much more easily. I did wonder sometimes if she had wind, as she would wriggle around in her sleep beside me in bed. I often patted her to sleep, as she lay on my stomach, not realising that I was probably preventing her from releasing tension. Sometimes I really felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, and that I was guessing her needs, but as we always held her (and still do) when she cried, I don’t feel that if I got it wrong that it was a negative thing.
She has always been such a happy, contended baby, so I am certain that I my presence is making a difference in her life. People often comment on her calm and happy nature, and her eye contact and alertness is noticed by other as well.
It was amazing to see how she would fall asleep after a big cry. She would cry for about 30 minutes in those early months before bed at night, as well as a smaller 5-10 minute cry before her sleeps in the day. She would really scream and thrash her legs about, and then she would become all relaxed, and let out a few relaxed sighs, close her eyes and sleep. We always hold her for all of her sleeps. I love it anyway. I don’t see it as a chore as I love to be close to her and hold her warm body in my arms. Those early days when she released every day all felt so easy!
The control pattern
Much to my concern, she developed a control pattern of thumb sucking at about three months of age. She also stopped releasing in my arms, and would only release with my husband. This was around the time I faced some personal issues and also our first family holiday, so there were times where she had big feelings to express and I wasn’t able to be there for her. I have struggled with my acceptance of her control pattern, but with Marion’s gentle guidance and understanding, I have learnt that she used her thumb to cover her feelings when I couldn’t be there for her. I felt that I had neglected her, and that’s why she no longer released with me. Marion helped me to understand that I haven’t neglected her, that I have in fact been present with her in many ways through my carrying her, responding to her cries, co-sleeping and breastfeeding. She explained to me that ultimately my daughter wants connection, so I have been focusing on connecting with her.
Age 9 months
Now she is older and has been crawling for three months, the fact that she can come to me when she needs me has really changed the way I respond to her when she cries. I have found that she uses my body as a sort of control pattern; she snuggles into me and sucks on her thumb so I have been experimenting with my proximity to her, helping her to release with my presence, but not actually holding her. and if she is upset, or hurts herself, and cries, I don’t pick her up straight away as I used to when she couldn’t move herself. I come in close and let her know I am there, talking to her, telling her I am near and that I am listening to her, holding her hand or touching her in some way, and she lets her cries out without her thumb preventing her from releasing.
I have also realised, with Marion’s help, that I have probably been feeding her at night when she has needed to release. As it was the norm to feed at night, I had continued to do so when she woke, every night. It wasn’t until I spoke with Marion that I realised that my feeding her every night was preventing her from releasing as well. This has become obvious only in the last few nights, as she has woken beside me crying, which hasn’t happened in a long time. I took this as a sign that she needed to release, so I sat with her and she cried, screamed and released for an hour, two nights in a row. It was difficult the next day as I was tired, but as she hadn’t released with me for so long, I welcomed her crying with open arms as she finally felt safe to share her feelings with me. I noticed though, that I still needed to sit her on the floor away from me, with me still touching her, in order for her to let her tears out. When she crawled back to me, she would snuggle into my body and suck her thumb, so there was a little dance going on between us, as I helped her move through her feelings, talking to her, letting her know I loved her and that she was safe with me. I didn’t mind being awake in the night as I was usually up feeding her anyway, and it was amazing to see her so calm and relaxed, and fall asleep lying on my leg on the floor without her thumb in her mouth. This was clear to me that she had released everything she needed to at that time, and didn’t need her thumb to fall asleep. After two nights of this, the third night, she slept all night. I’m not expecting her to sleep all night every night, as I’m sure there will be more upsets and I know I can never guarantee when they will come out, but I accept that this is part of the journey, and I am prepared to be present with her whenever that time may be.