You are walking the floor with a crying baby. Tears are streaming down your face.
Why can’t I comfort my baby? You wonder. Is my baby sick or hungry again? Why am I crying as well?
Unfortunately, this is a scenario many mums of newborns will recognise. It’s the reason why former nurse, parenting author and mother of five, Pinky McKay, has written a book about crying babies and how to cope with them. It's appropriately titled 100 Ways to Calm the Crying.
The book is a guide to help mums learn that there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” baby – there is just your baby. And crying is the only way he or she can communicate with you.
100 Ways to Calm the Crying attempts to help mums learn their baby’s language – and reinforces Pinky’s message: “Don’t blame yourself for your baby’s crying”.
In the following excerpt, Pinky urges new mums especially to keep things in perspective.
Coping (and not coping) with the crying
You need strength, energy and a (relatively) clear mind if you are to meet the unremitting demands of caring for a crying baby – for any baby, in fact.
For your baby’s sake, you also need all the practical help and support that is available.
Yet your urge to protect your baby can isolate you from the very people who could be your greatest support – even possibly your partner, because you are convinced he will not be able to pat your baby’s bottom just so.
The irony is that often mothers of crying babies feel so inadequate that they dare not tell even their closest friends that they are having a difficult time, lest they are judged and fail to measure up.
This conspiracy of silence that you must enter to convince others (and yourself) that you are ‘coping’ (whatever that means) can mean that you neglect the most important person in your baby’s world – you!
Here’s how one new mum explained it:
“I think it was the fact that I had always been so independent and successful that made it so much harder for me to surrender to these feelings of vulnerability. I was a health professional – I felt I should have known what to do. I couldn’t see how normal it all was to be tired, to cry more and to need help.
“I felt that everyone was always watching me – testing me – waiting for me to slip up. Even amongst my girlfriends with babies, it felt like we were all competing as to who was the “Perfect Mum with the Perfect Baby”.
“The more your baby seemed to cry, the more points you lost and the more your confidence seemed to disappear. I had one girlfriend who even refused to come to our playgroup because she desperately didn’t want the others to see her baby “lose the plot” – interestingly, I don’t ever remember her baby uttering more than a squeak in all the times I saw her.
“ Others would come, but leave swiftly as soon as the baby even started to fuss only a little. It became evident to me that these women felt that it was not acceptable for others to see you or your baby get upset or lose control.
“To be seen with a crying baby was to be seen as an unsuccessful mother – and nobody wanted that.
“What is interesting is that at a recent dinner we all shared we got a chance to talk out these feelings, two years on. Most of the mothers felt safe enough now to admit how vulnerable and embarrassed they had all felt handling their “out of control” babies in front of each other.
“ It was interesting how many of us had no idea how bad others in the group had been feeling at the time – we mourned the loss of both intimacy and support we could have shared, if we had only felt safe enough to be vulnerable with each other.
“It was a huge relief to hear that others had felt the way I had.
“These were women who I greatly admired and respected as mothers, and so to hear them admit to similar feelings somehow made me feel like I had done an okay job after all.” – Melinda, mother of one.
Keep things in perspective
How did you imagine babies to be before one came to live at your house? More importantly, how did you see other parents before you became one – did you divide them into those who ‘coped’ and those who had allowed a baby to ‘take over their lives’? Unfortunately, parenting is one job where effort doesn’t necessarily equal outcome – which can be one of the hardest things to accept. As unfair as it may seem, some parents get the lucky dip when it comes to baby temperaments, health and well-being, while others face a much greater struggle.
The unpredictability of a crying baby’s constant needs can make you feel out of control. It is logical, therefore, to expect that trying to solve your baby’s problems, making plans and setting goals, will lift you out of the chaos. After all, this is the way we all work most efficiently in a child-free workplace.
The problem is that being solution-focused doesn’t equal efficiency where babies are concerned: you can’t ‘solve’ a child. And even when we do find a solution to the current situation (that is, something that calms the crying for now), we tend to forget that infant development is a continuing process and so what works today is unlikely to be the answer tomorrow.
Furthermore, what works for somebody else’s baby may or may not work for yours. This, of course, means a lot of trial and error, which is neither efficient nor likely to provide an instant solution.
Even if we accept this current state of disorder, we promise ourselves that it is temporary – and the definition of temporary can often be very short indeed.
As the reality sinks in and changes take longer than we anticipated (they said it would be easier at six weeks, three months or whatever), it is easy to become frustrated and to feel that life will never be the same, ever.
The fact is that having a baby is a life-changing experience, whether or not you have been ‘blessed’ with a high-needs child.
Whatever your own feelings, your baby’s needs have to take priority over yours. It is important to rationalise this and accept, it so that you don’t let resentment ruin the bond between you and your baby.
One way to get the present phase into perspective is to take a piece of string and tie knots along it to represent each decade of your life.
When you realise what a small portion of your lifespan is actually going to be involved in this intensive parenting, you may find it easier to accept that although chaos reins now it is really only f or a short time in the overall scheme of things.
100 Ways to Calm the Crying is available in most good bookstores. RRP $24.95. You can also visit Pinky McKay’s website at www.pinky-mychild.com