I get to fall in love every day. I work with people of all ages, but the most tender ones are the newborns. They don’t come by themselves and get on my table. They are brought by (usually) frantic parents: exhausted new mamas and daddies who have a child who isn’t eating well or is colicky or won’t ever settle well on their own.
I bring a lot of different experiences to my practice. And one of them is my own life as a parent of small children and as a member of a large community of families who raised our kids together over the years. I was a La Leche League Leader and a childbirth educator. I taught in a private elementary school for two years and in a Waldorf program for a year. I have been around a lot of pregnant people, birthing couples, newborns and small children. In other words, little people don’t make me nervous. I find babies and small children fascinating.
Working with new parents over the years has its own fascinations. Watching a person become a parent is glorious. It’s a metamorphosis. I experienced it myself: the realities of being a parent are unfathomable until you are doing it yourself.
I often find myself with young families undone by a newborn’s needs. Usually the parents are people accustomed to preparation and success. They are almost always in my office because an obstacle has been encountered: a breech presentation, a long difficult birth, a tongue that can’t make a good latch, a nervous system that can’t transition from alert to asleep, a tummy that can’t digest comfortably.
And they marvel at my “magic”.
Let me tell you a secret: There is no magic. We may joke about “Grandma Dust”, the stuff that makes a shrieking baby settle on an older lady’s forearm or shoulder and fall quiet, but there is no such thing. And sometimes that myth leaves new parents feeling inadequate.
I had a new couple in the office with their newborn a couple of months ago and I felt sad when they left. They were struggling with how to handle their sensitive little one. I put her on the table, followed her movements and had her calm and sleepy in minutes. The parents looked utterly defeated. They wanted to know why I could that and they couldn’t and here’s where I made my mistake: in my desire to make it seem like they could comfort their baby, too, I told them that it was easy, “Just follow what her body wants to do.” Big smile on my face. But I had read them incorrectly. They looked crestfallen. Here was another way they were failing their baby. And, of course, they didn’t come back.
What I should have said was the truth: “I have had 28 years of practice holding babies. I have had 27 years of training in childhood development and bodywork. I have been moving with babies this way as a professional bodyworker for 12 years. Of course you need some help learning how to soothe your sensitive little one who had a rough birth.”
Grandma dust is just shorthand for “person who has held a lot of babies and is holding a baby that she can hand back to a parent whenever she wants to”. That makes me a lot more relaxed when I am holding a newborn. New parents are often told to “just relax”. It is never a good idea to tell anyone to “just relax”. Let me repeat that for those of you in the back: IT IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA TO TELL ANYONE TO “JUST RELAX”. Ever.
Because it makes them more tense. This is something I know and yet, in that moment with those parents, I inadvertantly said it in a different way: “It’s easy; just do this thing I’ve been learning to do for almost thirty years.” Smack my head. Hit me with a wet noodle.
Regardless, I do get to fall in love every day. And on some days I get to watch myself fail miserably, not as a bodyworker or doula, but as a people reader. A lot of my job is sorting out different personality and learning types so I can meet people where they are. It’s a good part of the fun, the puzzle solving. When I am successful it is glorious and when I fail it is like the wrong answer buzzer is ringing in my ear for a few days.
Believe me, I want to send all of my families home with fairy dust that will guarantee their baby will be content, able to suckle and colic-free. It is hard knowing that they will have nights like I did when I wasn’t sure there was an adult in the house (just two exhausted people who were supposed to be responsible but wanted to act like whiny babies themselves – “I’m not an adult, I just play one on TV”).
And yet, that frantic desire to take care of our babies is hard-wired in us for a reason: so we won’t let them die from neglect. We are desperate to get them feeding well because we know their lives depend on it. We want an “easy” baby because easy babies get better care from their community. We want a calm, content, charming baby because we know that will make our baby successful at charming good care from their care providers. These are instinctive responses that need to be honored in parents when they are desperate for solutions. Of course, they can’t “just handle your baby like a seasoned pro.”
The truth is I have no fairy dust to give you, and I promise never to pretend it is that easy again. I love you and you are not alone. Even at three in the morning. You are frantic because you are trying to do a good job and that makes you a good enough parent. Hang in there and text me when the sun comes up.