Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mom Power

I guess I've always liked babies more or less about as much as the next girl. But I always preferred the older children I came into contact with - the ones that could walk by themselves, and talk well enough that I could have some semblance of conversation with them. I think my comparative disinterest in young babies developed after only a few exposures to them. For my entire life, whenever I've held a baby, it would inevitably start to cry within minutes. Each time, I'd try bouncing it, distracting it with colorful or moving objects, walking with exaggerated steps - anything. And those tricks sometimes worked for a short time. But my ultimate solution was always to just hand the baby back to its mom with a defeated expression, and apologetic smile. I had to admit that I was just not what the baby wanted. And then I would watch in awe how as soon as the mother put out her arms, the tears immediately stopped. A look of pure contentment returned instantly to the child's face. The baby felt "complete" once again. I was SO jealous every time! Because those women all had something magical. Something I've come to term "Mom Power." It's that special ability that only a mom has, able to instantly calm her child and make him feel happy and safe through nothing but her mere presence.

When Sly was born, I was so excited to finally posses the long-coveted Mom Power. I'd read about how he should be able to recognize my voice and my smell, and the rhythm of my heartbeat. And I knew I would have that one sure advantage over my husband in the baby-pleasing department: my ability to feed him and comfort him at the breast! My baby might cry, but I knew I would always be able to comfort him, just by being ME. Finally, it would be my friends and family bringing the baby to me when their efforts were insufficient to calm him.

But the Mom Power didn't kick in right away. Sly came out a totally adorable, but amazingly fussy little boy. For the first four or five days, it was basically impossible to get him to nurse. When he wasn't sleeping, he was SCREAMING. His little tongue and lips were so dried and chapped because he wasn't getting any nourishment or hydration from me at all. I realized that I wasn't producing any milk, and barely any colostrum. I knew it usually took a few days for a new mom's milk to "come in," but by day four with nothing to eat, I could tell he was getting hungry. I couldn't sleep that night because I was so plagued worry and self-berating. I was convinced he would die of starvation during the next whole day we had to wait until his pediatrician appointment. I felt so completely insufficient as a mother, unable to perform this most basic function of feeding my baby. The milk finally arrived, though, the morning of the doctor's appointment. And he drank it up gratefully. And I was grateful too.

For his first month, I still hadn't received my Mom Power. Every other person seemed as acceptable to him as I was. The only advantage I had was that I knew his individual personality better, and so knew certain "tricks" to try right away that sometimes worked to calm him. My husband was actually better than me in those first weeks, having quickly mastered the perfect bouncing rhythm and "shushing" combination.

But as the weeks passed, Sly started to be more aware of everything in the world around him. Slowly, he got used to me and began to associate me with something safe and comfortable. It was clear that mom was usually the only thing he needed to be happy and settled. Now I am the one who can calm his major meltdowns. And I do it just by virtue of being me. I finally have Mom Power! I now realize that it's not something you are endowed with at the birth of your child - rather, it is something you have to create, through the genuine and consistent love you give to your baby day after day.

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