"She's acting like I just dipped her in acid. Is that normal?"
I had just shown up for the night's postpartum visit, and bath time had just ended. The baby was not calm, relaxed, and ready for bed like the book said she would be.
"Is this how this is supposed to go?
"The book is telling us to set up a routine. Do we have to go through this every night?"
Mom and dad are trying to do the right thing. It is evident in every move and every choice they are making.
The baby gets dried off. A diaper is put on. A bottle is given. Baby is bright red from the night's activities. Massive tears, high shoulders, and tight fists.
Dad looks down at her and looks horribly worried. "She already hates me."
This is part of the trials of being a parent. Making choices, seeing how they go and adjusting. There are no manuals for how to care for your child. Sure there ARE manuals, but no guarantee it's for your model of baby if you get what I mean.
DOC doulas can show you how to swaddle your baby, and we can talk about more comfortable ways to bathe and dress your child. And of course, we can help you understand how to help calm a fussy baby.
There are predictable developmental stages most children experience, and having an understanding of what your child is learning, can understand, and is experiencing can help make better-informed decisions.
But it can still be hard even if you know what is happening. Some days you are banging your head against all those parenting books. Some days it's almost impossible to remember that you are the adult and you are supposed to have the answers.
What I've learned as a parent of two and doula, is that making choices, trying to meet your children where they are at, and trying again when things don't go to plan are what matter.
Being a safe place for your child to rest and show love is essential, being deliberate and consistent are crucial as well.
Regardless of age, kids need quality time together with you.
When your child is an infant, quality time looks different than when they are older, but this early foundation is so important. The bond you form with your child in the first three years is what creates the connections that are tested - wait for it - when your child is a teenager.
You've heard parents complain, "My baby wants to be held all the time!" or "She is asleep, and as soon as I put her down she starts screaming."
Building trust, letting your baby know that you will be there to provide and care for their every need, even if it is just to be held, is the beginning of a trusting relationship.
So no, your baby doesn't hate you.
It's that she has no idea what is going on. She has no way to control her emotions. And she is easily overwhelmed.
One possible thing is your child can form trusting relationships with multiple caregivers. There will be no way to replace you, but there are people that can help make it a bit easier.
For breaks, affirmation, tools for transition, and sleep let us help. We may not have the specific manual for your baby, but we have the tools to help you get started with writing your own.
A bit ago we got a surprise visit from my Mother-in-Law. She had recently had a small gathering and had some leftover snacks, and she is smart enough to know her son is always up for food.
It was in the evening, and I had started getting my youngest prepped for bed by putting together the bath. His sister had knocked on the door and asked if she could jump in too. So there were two kids in the tub and a tired mom squatting on a stepstool when grandma knocked on the door and asked if she could come in too.
The holidays are trying on me. I am not a grinch, but I am not Cindy Lou either and it lingers. I am just a sad and tired mom. And with one child on the verge of bedtime, I was very excited to be non-responsible. I wanted to power down. I wanted to go to a room and shut the door and just...not.
Grandma stayed in with my oldest while I dried, jammy-ed, fed, booked, and put down the baby, and then very shortly later, Grandma was off spreading more cheer to the next on her list (I imagine.) I didn't see her leave.
The next morning, my daughter came downstairs gave me a big hug, and shared the couch cushion with me, saying it was starting to get too small for us both. I said, "nonsense."
I pulled her in close and rested my head on her head, and smelled her, and told her she smelled good.
"Did Grammy help you wash your hair?" Cause I know I didn't.
"Yep, and I used Dad's shampoo, and I like the way it smells."
"Me too. Did you have fun with Grammy?"
And she went on to tell me how much fun, and how great it was she came over and how she loved showing her the decorations she put up in her room and how she helped her get dressed and, and, and...
It was just a few moments. But it was special.
My daughter felt loved and cared for. And especially in these days when I'm battling my own holiday demons and trying to hang on with tears just below the surface, it was a huge gesture of kindness and support that I don't take for granted.
My mother-in-law came over and washed her grandchild's hair, and it was the sort of gift that could never be wrapped.
There was so much energy, so many lists and suggestions for giving experiences this past holiday, and I'm all for it. Memberships to museums, movie or theater tickets, trampoline passes, or trips to places and events. Give to your heart's content.
I just hope that we recognize that our kids need experiences, eye contact, uninterrupted attention, and quality time on a consistent basis. Our kids need support from more than just their parents. Us and our kids need community, to belong, to lean on, and to celebrate with.
For the majority of the last year, I've been seesawing between extreme joy and extreme sadness: feeling like a mess as I watch my young child move through all of his milestones in his first year of life, and coping with the unexpected loss of my own dad just a few short months after his birth.
When I was prepping for my second child's birth, I wanted to do my postpartum differently. I wanted to ask for more help. I planned to hire more help. I planned to rest more. Planned to have more honest conversations with my partner. I expected to look at my life after birth with experienced eyes and kinder expectations, all as a way to ease the grip postpartum depression may have on me if it came again.
I worked less. I took time to enjoy my baby. I helped my first born adjust to the changes in her life, and I thought things were going quite well. I had prepared, and I was ready to have a newborn in my life again.
Last December, I got several phone calls one night that didn't wake me up. And then I got one that did. My sister, who was living in Vietnam was the first person to get word that our dad had been rushed to the hospital after a fall. It was 2am. He had already undergone surgery.
By 6am my 4-month-old baby boy and I were flying to the West Coast to say goodbye to my father.
I have been saying goodbye to him since then. Milestones my son reaches are events he'll never see. Holidays and traditions are now heavy with the shadow of his missed contributions. His photos, belongings, and gifts are treasures and reminders of how he saw me, knew me, and loved me.
This year of firsts.
I have found a great deal of comfort from not being scared of my grief. What has been surprising is my grief has felt like a friend. I have imagined grief to be a horrible and wicked part of death, but for me, it isn't. And I don't know why. And it's not that I'm not sad. I am so sad. I say this feels like friendship because I'm not hiding. I'm not masking my life as it is now. I'm not afraid to explore how low it will take me.
My children have seen me cry huge sobs that come from amazing memories or waves of the enormity of his leaving. And they have seen me laugh and tell stories of him that are silly or adventurous. My grief really does feel like a seesaw, where the highs are surprising, and the lows are shattering, but both are never for very long. It is so odd to rebound between the two so often.
But in the way many moms do, I have been doing what I need to do, as things come along. My son has learned to crawl, walk, and now climb in the months since my dad died. He has kept me on my toes, kept me present with his small and significant discoveries, and been the daily reminder that my time with him is precious and finite. While I have not shielded my grief from children, I have also not irradicated any possibility of joy. It has been a year of harsh juxtapositions with death and new life overlapping for me to untangle.
This year of first steps, first eulogies, first words, and first deep goodbyes is not a story I would have picked if I were to choose. I do not wish it for anyone.
But it is my story.
I am trying to find ways to navigate life without one of my foundational pillars to offer support. I am trying to heal. I am trying to mourn. I am trying to honor.
As I was returning home after his funeral, I had a candid conversation with my dad on the flight. My son was sleeping in my lap, and we were somewhere over Iowa, I think.
And I shared with him all the things I was afraid of and all the things I was going to miss, and all the stuff I wished I could have said to him before he left. And he told me he loved me, and he was proud of me, and that I had hands and feet to do things I didn't even know were possible yet. That my brain and my heart were incredible, and that he wasn't actually gone. And I believed him.
This year of first has been the beginning of a new relationship with myself, and the people I choose to let into my life. I don't wish this story on anyone, but this year of firsts has given me an incredible amount of hope and purpose.
My dad would have turned 77 today.
He loved German chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce. He was capable and lived in service to others, and gave the most incredible hugs. His hands were like baseball mitts, and he enjoyed two-stepping and being a cowboy. And he loved me. And that love is still felt so well even now.
It is a love that has taught me a new part of the power that comes as a parent. We get to give our children an unconditional love for as long as they need it, even after we're gone.
Ariel Swift does most of the writing around this blog, but we love having guest writers and visits!