I was so blessed to be able to talk to a group of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) this week. What a welcoming group of ladies! They had so many questions and I had a few too many answers (time ran out). What I saw though, was so encouraging! Moms from every background just seeking to be better moms. They wanted to learn and grow and like most of you, just needed someone to say, "this is hard, but you are doing it well. Keep going!" It is so good to have support. There is such temptation to doubt yourself in this challenging thing called Motherhood. So many choices in parenting, all saying they have it right, lead to not being able to choose anything. There is no script. There is no manual. There is hope. You are the exact Mom for your baby and God made that baby for you. You will absolutely have stellar days and then again you won't but your love for that baby will override the worst days.
The moms of MOPS gave me some real questions to think about and I want to share some of my answers here.
Here is the first topic of conversation: Journey of Motherhood:
The question was, what things did God use in your of motherhood to bring you closer to Him?
I think God made me a nurturing person from a young age. I had 7 younger cousins and a brother, 4 years junior, who all came in quick succession. Basically I was the nursery worker at family functions and I loved it.
I entered the field of daycare. I was in the infant room of the best quality day cares for all of my twenties. There I got to watch all the mistakes parents were making and all the good things they were doing to nurture their kids. I learned so much from this with an amazing Christian woman to guide me. She was the senior teacher in the room was a strong but kind older woman. A mentor used by God to teach me a lot about life and relationships. Changes in my late 20's :Salvation, marriage, a move far from my family and a new baby all happened in within 2 years.
I studied and sought out older women and learned all I could about my upside down life. I felt a little proud that I had so much knowledge about infant care. But I was a baby Christian raising a baby. God showed me many of my own sin and hurts through this time. But he tempered that all with my joy of having my own baby, not someone else's to hold. Because of my strong need to protect my child, a memory surfaced of abuse at 5 years old that was long buried. God put me in a place with a Pastor's wife that had experience with this. It was only by grace because I had to fill out a form to help with the nursery there and I had to hand this paper to the Pastor's wife that asked if there was any history of abuse in my past. So I admitted that I had just had this memory and she offered to talk about it. God used her to heal me of that hurt.
Though I had felt I knew so much about childcare and parenting, nothing at all could have prepared me for that memory. I have learned so much about relationship. From birth each of my children was a mystery to be discovered. There was no script. Each one is so different. Inborn temperaments were so very distinct. The way that God can take your own sins and struggles and show you them tangibly through your children is astounding. And not often pleasant. Whether it is nature or parroting you are guaranteed to see something in your child that you really don't like about yourself. I'm sure each of you has already seen it.
The last 4 years God transitioned me so gently from being a stay at home mom to a nanny. He blessed me with positions where I could bring my children along and they have learned a love for children and nurturing that I believe will be part of the legacy God brings them through me. I am embarking on a new phase of my journey. I recently became certified for a career as a postpartum doula, which as you can see I have been doing my whole working life, but now I have a paper. I am helping new moms to learn to do what my mom did not know how to do. If that isn't the work of God in a life, I don't know what is. He is amazing.
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You have had a rough day. You want to cry as long and as hard as your baby is right now. You have done all you know how to do to calm her. All her needs are met, what could be the reason for this?
Let's start with an important statement, ALL BABIES CRY. It is useful for many things. Like us bigger humans, crying can be a way of stress release. If we look at this as a natural state and not as something we need to quickly find an off button for, we can proceed with care and skill.
Let me encourage you, good job Mom and Dad for responding to your baby. “Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated that in societies where infants are held, massaged, rocked, breastfed and carried, adults are less aggressive and violent, more cooperative and compassionate.” (1 McClure) For many years, people thought that letting your baby cry it out was the best to avoid spoiling a manipulative child. Research has proven this is wrong. “Proof abounds that babies who are neglected and punished suffer bonding breaks and without intervention often grow up to be troubled if not antisocial and sociopathic individuals.” (2 McClure ) A baby who can relax and depend on his needs being met begins to know the people in his life will respond and therefore learns to relax more quickly.
Next, take a minute for some deep breaths. Its ok to talk to that baby as if she understands, saying, “I'm trying to figure out what you need, my little one.” They will hear the love and kindness in your voice. They will feel it. “The deep emotional bonds formed in infancy lay a foundation for a lifetime of trust, courage, dependability, faith and love. (3 McClure)
The sense of touch is developed early in the womb. Eyesight in an infant is clearest from 7-12 inches, the EXACT distance from your loving arms to your eyes and face. Babies are made to search for the bullseyes of your eyes and your nipples. They need both food and interaction to thrive. So, the best thing you can do, after her physical needs have been met if to make some eye contact. Here is a good place for swaying and singing while holding the baby close. Skin to skin contact may help too. Even if you are quietly singing in her ear as she screams (even a song about how you wish you were on a quiet desert island).
Another choice for touch and eye contact is infant massage. Prior to meltdown mode, familiarize yourself with some good videos on youtube, like this one. https://youtu.be/jjiQMf77kGY Sometimes just a change of environment or the lack of clothing and a warm touch can turn things around. As you use the massage techniques, check for sore spots (especially where diaper elastics are or velcro of cloth diapers might scratch), check each toe for a string or even a hair that has wrapped around a toe, check for a diaper rash or a budding tooth, anything that might be making her uncomfortable. Continue to use your relaxed and higher pitched singsong voice that babies respond to so well. Did you know that infants were wired to respond to mother's voice (and father's if they heard him in vitro.) “Even before we were born, we knew our mother's voice and could distinguish it from other voices. That's one of the key findings of an ongoing research project by Canadian and Chinese researchers who are studying infant development. The research suggests that while still in the womb, our brains were learning speech patterns and laying the groundwork for language acquisition. "Before birth, the brain is being set up to learn language," says Barbara Kisilevsky, a nursing professor at Queens University in Ontario, who conducted the research with a team of psychologists from Queens, and obstetricians in Hangzhou, China.” (4 DYE)
Many times an infant that cannot be soothed is experiencing gas or other tummy trouble so the tummy strokes of infant massage are so helpful. These touches will tone the intestinal system and relieve gas and constipation. As you rub the abdomen make sure the strokes are ending at the babies lower left belly (your right). This is where the end of his intestines are and you want to promote gas leaving the body. Use a downward stroke from the ribcage and use a clockwise motion. A small drop of lavender oil mixed with coconut oil as a massage oil can calm and relax both of you.
I hope by now you have a calmer baby. If your baby cried non-stop for an extended period of time or the greater part of a 12 hour period it is time to go to the doctor. You may choose to go sooner, trust your intuition. If you think something is wrong, it is better to come home from the doctor assured that baby is fine than to sweat it out at home in worry.
Your baby comes out of the womb ready to bond with you. Take every opportunity to encourage that. You will reap the benefits for at least 2 lifetimes.
1-3. from the book, Infant Massage. Vimala McClure
4. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97635 by Lee Dye
My dear tired and unsure mommies, come sit with me a while. Here's a steaming cup of decaf tea with fall flavors. Take a deep breath in. aaand out. You are alive, so is your baby, you survived. Yes, today was most likely hard, as was yesterday. If you had a blissful day, thank God for your hormones and expect that a hard day is coming but you can face it. I was going to do some teaching today but I feel that the better route today is encouragement. Something that I feel is crucial for all moms to understand is this.... YOU are the best mom for YOUR baby! This baby is not accidental and it isn't someone else's. As a mom, you are perfectly made for child and vice versa. Your quirks and imperfections are exactly what they need to grow. You will always know your child best. So I want you to trust yourself. If you are reading this, you want to be a good mom. Most likely you feel like you are stumbling in the dark. WHy? because you don't have the support you need to grow. You are extremely blessed (and unusual) if you live around a nurturing mother figure who wants to help, has the knowledge to help and has time to help you. Keep coming back because I so want to help you grow into the mom you want to be.
I have struggled for a long time with negative self talk. That voice in your head that constantly tells you that you are not good enough and why would anyone allow you to be responsible for another life. This voice can be oppressive and get in the way of relationships and bonding. Try to remind yourself this: you can make new pathways that say, "this is hard, but I can do it." I have success over negative self talk by reminding myself that I am in Christ and I have all His help and strength. I therefore can do all things. Replace the lies and defeat with truth and practice it daily, moment by moment. And return here so I can teach and encourage you in all things postpartum and baby. You can do this and I can help.
Paula is a wife and mother of 3. Follow along on her journeys of motherhood and her fulfilling work as a postpartum doula