Monday, August 1, 2011

Parenting as a lesson in presence

“Why didn’t I have kids when I was younger? I am too old for this! Too old! There’s a reason why people have kids when they’re younger!!!!!”

Yup, I said it. I actually cried those exact words at 4 am about two months ago.
Aria was about three weeks old, and she had woken up to be 3 am. Well, she had also wanted to be fed at 9 pm, 11:30 pm, and now at 3 am. She would probably wake up again at 5:30 am, her favorite morning wake-up time.

I stumbled around the house to get her bottle, and fed her as I always do in the middle of the night. Somewhat zombie like. She is a really good eater, a champion, but back in those days, she had trouble going back to sleep after a feeding.

I felt helpless trying to figure out how to get her to sleep.

We thought she may have day/night confusion. It very well could have been. We spoke with nurses and doctors. I read books about healthy sleep for baby. She would cry and cry and cry. We thought it may be colic. But she was fine as long as either Lior or I held her.

I didn’t know all the ins and outs of newborns yet. I didn’t realize that gas and poop actually hurts them and can keep them awake until it passes. I didn’t realize that babies need swaddling, swaying, soothing, sucking, and sounds to help them fall asleep. I didn’t realize that they need to be held and loved to sleep soundly. I was a newcomer to the world of parenting, and my mind was not letting me ease into it gracefully.

And I really, really, really wanted to go to sleep! No, wait, it’s more like I needed to go to sleep. Not only is sleep important for all humankind, but I also needed to keep some level of sanity during a very stressful time. We have one newborn at home and the other at the NICU (Newborn ICU). I was also recovering from a c-section, managing Type 1 diabetes, and adjusting to a big change in lifestyle. I was really losing it, and I needed sleep to help keep my inner peace.

The next night after the “I’m too old” cry, I prayed. Boy did I ever pray. I prayed for sleep. And then I heard the words: Presence. Be present with her.

So I tried it out. I swaddled her tightly after her 3 am feeding (in a Velcro swaddle, a parent must-have), held her, rocked her, and placed a pacifier in her mouth. And I watched her. Smiled at her. And did my best to be present with her.

And she smiled in return.

I asked her: Aria, what do you need to fall asleep? And I heard a little voice inside my heart say: Love.

I rocked her for ten or fifteen minutes, and I was present with her. And she fell soundly asleep and has been every night after the 3 am feeding ever since.

Newborns are so pure. Their minds have not been encumbered by the world yet, by our mind’s chattering. And Aria constantly reflects back to me whatever she can sense in me. If I’m frustrated or angry, she cries. If I’m upset, she’s upset. If I’m smiling and loving, she is too. Newborns are a mirror to our own souls, our own hopes and fears. And they are an incredible lesson in presence, mindfulness, and intention setting.

This lesson is definitely one that translates to relationships with other people as well – adults and kids included. People want to be heard, and they can sense when they’re not. Or when you are judging, frustrated, happy, and/or loving. I have often felt that when I enter a conversation with someone else that I bring my energy, my sense of self, my intentions, and my state of mind at that moment. If I bring clarity and compassion, then I find that the person across from me responds in a similar way. If I smile, they smile. If I am agitated, they become agitated or become even more so.

I set an intention before Aria and Ethan were born to be present with them, to listen to them, smile at them, and to let them know they are loved and they are heard. I do the best I can, and I’m not always there. Sometimes they remind me with a whimper, a smile, a coo, or a cry. And then I remember that the best I can do is be there with them – through it all.

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