Monday, November 3, 2008

Be Still My Heart

In our family, we've treated Dory, essentially, as though she's the first baby in the whole entire world. Rightly so, I think. Every baby, be it the first or the tenth in a family, is a miracle. How could you not stop life and fall into worship when a miracle arrives in your arms? However many have come before this is your miracle.

While many, many, many, many babies have come before her, she is her own unique, perfectly individual little person. And she is still a baby, with lots of typical baby behavior. Fussiness that can't be immediately soothed isn't something we've escaped- what Dr. Sears might call "inconsolable crying." While occasionally this will happen in the middle of the day, on days it happens, it usually starts in the late evening. I think she hits some tiny baby wall, done with the day, exhausted beyond exhaustion, hungry to the point of ravenous and it comes out in the form of this red-faced, wide-mouthed, eyes scrunched, doleful, wailing baby.

In Perfect Mommyland, I would gently soothe her back to her typical state of cheerful, sweet-faced, smiling baby. Unfortunately, as soon as they saw how much spit-up I'm comfortable wearing on one or both shoulders, my Perfect Mommyland card got revoked.

Sometimes I get frantic along with her, hitting my own mama-wall of tired and worn out, wanting nothing more than to put my feet up, pour a large glass of wine, and laugh at something totally inane on television. At that point, my face starts to redden, my voice rises a few notches, panic creeping in, as I try to sway, rock, jiggle and shush back to some state of calm, just settled enough for her to nurse and fall asleep. And when this happens, at this point in the evening, a pair of hands appear in front of me, and a deep, kind voice says, "Let me take her."

Burp cloth over his shoulder, baby blanket in hand, Daddy has come to the rescue.

Into his arms she goes, and he begins his own soothing daddy-dance, his own rocking, swaying, jiggling, and shushing. The first few times I watched, still a little desperate, convinced this would fail as magnificently as my own efforts have. Instead, this wailing child settled almost immediately. Her mouth closed, her breath evened, her face returned to its normal, lovely fairness, and her bright little eyes opened and revealed the bright little eyes they are.

How this broke my new mama heart! What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I soothe my own baby girl? A few days into her little life and I'd already failed miserably. Forget Perfect Mommyland; they were going to revoke my whole mama card.

Once, that initial panic passed (I thank my hormones for returning to some level of normalcy) I recognized this time for what it was. This was Matthew and Dory's time to fall in love with each other. Of course they do this all the time, when she's smiling and cheerful, when he's changing her diaper, when he's changing her clothes, when he puts her in the carseat, when she falls asleep on his chest. They have the same experience she and I have, all day long, every day, of becoming even crazier about each other.

Yet I have this experience of feeding her. I cuddle her to my chest, she nuzzles against me, latches to my breast and we are in the most natural, perfect world. She has a deep, innate need and I easily fulfill it for her. This is exactly what Nature intended and, at its most primitive, skin-to-skin contact, is strictly available to Mama and Baby. Nature at its finest. How could I ever doubt, Nature had the same plans for Daddy and Baby?

So Matthew takes her in his arms and, as she cuddles close to him, his touch says, "I am safe, I am strong, I am solid; you can lean on me." And Dory, with the very same instincts that tell her I will feed her whenever she is hungry, knows her father will hold her whenever she is hurting, lonely, frightened, or simply needs to be held.

Dory does not always settle instantly. Sometimes it takes patience on his side, trying new moves, new sounds, new steps in their dance. But every time he stays with her, he keeps rocking, keeps cuddling, keeps talking gently to her, he assures her, no matter how upset, how cranky, how inconsolable, he will never stop holding her. He will never stop comforting her. His love is completely trustworthy. His love is unconditional.

And finally, he returns a calm, peaceful baby to me, who easily nuzzles up to me, nurses, and falls asleep. When I watch them together, I remember, again, Nature created a perfect system. And when we trust it, life flows beautifully and perfectly for us. There are no mistakes. A fussy, unhappy baby is not wrong. She is only one more step in the perfect dance all parents learn the steps to.

I think Matthew is a remarkable dancer.


Kristine said...

That's really fantastic. Robb never had that kind of father, so he's having to learn how to be that kind of father, and unfortunately, when I most need him to be is when I am least equipped to help him learn. But last night, he came home from work, worn out to his last threads, and he saw that I was too, and he plopped down on the floor with the little girl who had woken up, peppy and full of fun at 10:30pm (hey, god, what's up with that??), and played with her while I finished dinner.

He's learning.

Ann said...

Steve would do the same thing for Bruce when he was so colicky. That's how we came to have an autographed picture of Wayne Newton on our fridge. They would dance and sing to his version of "Dankescheon". That song continued to calm him down for years afterward. No joke. It's great that the dads can have some special time with them like that.