When my eldest son was born, I was unskilled at mothering. I had been until then, under the misconception that once I give birth, I would instinctively know how to care for my baby. It could not be any other way, the rest of the animal kingdom do not have the luxury of parenting books, let alone parenting classes! But I would live to learn the contrary.
Looking back into the past, I now realise where my failings came from. The first day, I held my son in my arms, I was already prejudiced against his little being. He was expected to cry when hungry, be content after a feed, sleep when tired, settle quietly in his cot, cooed when cuddled, love baby massages….The first day I held my baby in my arms, I already had an image of how he should be.
The baby I was to bring home, was definitely not, the baby I had imagined him to be. Born full term, alert and gorgeous, smiled at birth, all the great things that should fill a mother’s heart with exhilaration were present. I certainly felt blessed to have a healthy baby, but my elation was overshadowed, by the incessant crying, feeding struggles and minimal sleep. I was already depleted by a thirty six hours labour, followed by a traumatic emergency c-section. Now I had a ‘strange’ baby. A baby that did not fit the box. A baby who bawled incessantly. A baby whose only consolation was to be breastfed. A baby who only napped while being held in my arms. A baby who screamed as soon as he was put down. A baby who fussed when held too tightly. A baby who shrieked when bathed. A baby who hated to be massaged, which was even stranger, as almost all who knew me advocated how baby massages would work magically, at soothing him!
I felt totally inadequate as a mother. I felt miserable about myself and angry that I was failing my baby. I was thoroughly incompetent in this substantial task entrusted to me. During my emotional turmoil I started asking myself, “Should I have become a mother in the first place?” But how did I reach here? The answer : the idea that parenting should be a one size fits all. Browsing through the magazines and pamphlets given to me by my NHS nurse during my pregnancy, I had inadvertently ingrained the ethos of these writings. I had come to believe that there is only one way of caring for babies and the way to do it, is the way advised in these prints. I had corrupted my maternal instincts, despite myself.
I spent days and weeks, trying to figure out what I was doing ‘wrong’. I visited the doctors countless times, they too had no answers for me. Then one night, out of desperation and exhaustion, I let him sleep in my bed. I can still remember the amount of times I woke up in a fright, less I might have crushed him to death in my sleep! My learning journey about parenting him started that day. I noticed that he had slept soundly and was less restless the following day. I realised that he needed the constant mother-baby contact to feel calm, so I started carrying him without the guilt of spoiling him. We started co sleeping and breastfeeding on demand. I stopped trying my best to massage him and instead, made sure not to let him become overwhelmed by over stimulations. We avoided daily baths and spaced them apart by 3-4 days and opted instead to top and tail. I conceded that my baby was going to teach me how to parent him.
My baby grew up, the intensity of the infant years magnified. As a toddler he was rather unconventional in his demeanour. He walked and talked early, was always on the move, slept little, approached everything and everyone with extreme gusto. The task of parenting him was a challenge. He had a strong will and a mind of his own. He processed the world around him differently to us. He grew a little older and it was time to go to school. School tried to squash his exuberant nature. He tried his best at controlling his quirks and when he failed, the attempt to control him by taking away privileges and using time out strategies proved unsuccessful. He did not care enough about the privileges to be vexed!
He is a free spirit. I often falter in my resolve to follow his lead and the older part of me always try to ‘teach’ him what to do and what not to do. This always lead to parenting catastrophes, as he has always been intrinsically averse to being dictated. He however welcomes negotiations. He is by no means intentionally confrontational, he just needs to question everything. There is an overpowering need to see the logic behind every request. He needs to be heard, just like he needed to be heard as a baby.
The day my baby taught me how to parent him, was the day I chose to trust my motherly instinct. The day I was brave enough to admit to myself, that just as every child is unique, so my parenting should be too.