Everything about a baby, right from birth, is designed for the baby to be physically on their adult. I mean everything. Their reflexes, their brain, even how their bodies regulate their own body temperature, heart beat and breathing rate. They are little primates and they are supposed to be portable and close by at all times.
A lot of the problems I see with parents who are struggling with their babies stems from the fact that parents are often trying to separate the baby from themselves, and the baby knows it. Oh boy, do they know it. Anyone who has tried to put down a sleeping baby only to have baby’s eyes fly open again, you know that they know.
Babies aren't stupid. They know that they can't survive on their own. They know that they need a trustworthy adult to care for them. Their parent is their safe place - on a parent’s chest there is food, warmth, security, comfort. They can relax and sleep there and they know that they will be taken care of and protected. A baby who is skin to skin can even populate their own good bacteria inside their bodies, collecting little smears of good bacteria from their parent’s skin.
Right now, my daughter is five months old. She has two older sisters who are in kindergarten full time. At school, kids trade sickness like baseball cards. Her sisters also love her – very physically, in-her-face-smothering-hugs love her. They never run out of kisses for their baby. They cough directly on the baby. They pick their noses and then touch the babies face. It’s just what happens. So it was only a matter of time before they shared their most recent viral buddy that they got from school. Enter to this household, ‘The Big Cold’.
So today, baby Thalia has a fever and is plain old miserable. She just wants to be close to me. Specifically, she wants to be physically touching me. She knows that I will take care of her and I am her safe place. In my arms, she can doze and nurse and doze and nurse and doze and nurse, exactly like she should be doing when she is sick. She doesn't have much appetite but I can ensure that she is getting a little bit to eat if I keep her on me. I can monitor her temperature on me - if she starts feeling really hot, I know something is up. If she remains feeling just slightly hot, I know she still has the same low-grade fever. I can feel if her temp rises or if her fever subsides. When she wakes up to cough I am still there for her, reassuring her that it’s going of be fine and she will be cared for. She can have a little sip of milk to soothe her gunky cough and go back to sleep.
All of this means that she is calmer. Much calmer than if I was repeatedly trying to lay her down somewhere away from me instead. If I took her to bed and laid her down, she would wake up and cry when she couldn't find me. How is that going to make her feel better? Make her feel safe?
So, today may be a bit of a write-off. We are hanging out together. There's nothing I really need to get done right now thankfully, so I can afford the time to just sit and get some work done on the computer or watch TV and have a slow day. And I’m not going to try to put her down anywhere, because part of caring for her is helping her feel comfortable and keeping her close by today. And there’s so many good reasons for me to hold her today, and every day.
- Kyla, Doula at Sisterhood Wellness Collective