When a child is born, our parental goal is to let go and accept that life is not in our control. We cannot help but accept this. The dramatic shift that occurs once one becomes a parent is truly life-changing, whether we want those changes or not. I remember before I became a mother, I would hear parents talk about the sleepless nights and how they were too tired to go out anymore. “That won’t be what’s it’s like for me,” I thought. Once I became a parent, I laughed at my pre-parent self so many times. All of the things I thought I knew or had control over dissolved. I still laugh at myself for all the ways I thought I would be. I imagined I would be that mother who goes about her pre-baby life as usual, not slowing down, dressing my child in cloth diapers, sweet hand-knit baby outfits, everything organic, the perfect lullaby, the perfect crib, the perfect shoes, peaceful and quiet nights, adventure-filled days. Of course, there is no perfect, she didn’t even sleep in her crib. Shoes? What shoes? Hand knit baby outfits? Too impractical. Perfect is not only impractical, it is inauthentic. To keep this idea of perfection going would be exhausting, and I was already exhausted, so I let go of those fantasies of parenting and embraced the gritty, real earthiness that is infancy.
In many ways, when our baby is born, it’s the death of pre-parenting life. In as much as we may be able to embrace the joy of our new child, we also suffer with the death of who we once were and the freedoms we may never have again. There is a natural kind of “postpartum darkness” that most parents experience, when the fantasy bubble gets popped. We must let go of what we thought parenting would be, let go of commitments that aren’t absolutely necessary, let go of our life as it was. This re- alization doesn’t always occur right away. Often, it takes years to realize that life will never be what it was, which is wonderful, of course, because our children are amazing, but also difficult to digest. I joke about “my past life” before I became a parent. My life changed dramatically, in ways I could not have predicted, which is true for almost every parent I’ve ever talked to. If only we could speak more freely about this loss and be able to share more of the difficulty that is required in this “letting go,” I believe we could help prevent some postpartum depression and the emotional and physical isolation that occurs with new parents. Instead of saying “congratulations!” to a new parent who looks like they haven’t slept for days, we could communicate something like “Congratulations, hang in there, I know the first year is difficult” to allow the parents authentic expression of their feelings. Many parents feel there must be something wrong with them when they do not feel overjoyed about caring for a newborn or becoming a parent overnight. In truth, mourning the loss of pre-baby life is authentic and natural.
So what about the newborn? Neurologically, a newborn’s brain is the most active it will be in his or her entire life. In this tender age of just being born, the most essential skill for babies to develop is a secure attachment. That means that your baby needs to bond with you, to know that he or she is safe with you. One of the more common mistakes I see parents make is to be on their phone when feeding their baby. This is a unique time in a child’s life as the parent has their full, undivided atten- tion as you feed them. Your baby’s eyes lock on you, looking deeply into your eyes, sometimes even their tiny hands reach up to touch your face, connecting to you in the deepest way. This is one of the most essential types of bonding, building a secure attachment that will last a lifetime. It needs to be consistent and repeated. When mothers who are breast- feeding cover their child’s face when the baby is nursing in order not to expose their breastfeeding, the opportunity for bonding is reduced, as there is no eye contact. Eye contact is more than nice, it is essential. And you’ll notice as your baby is looking into your eyes that they are also reading your energy. If you are anxious, stressed, lonely, etc., your baby picks up on that and it can become a part of them. This starts when you are pregnant and is true throughout your life.
The implications for a child whose parents don’t manage their negative emotions are not only unfair and unjust, but also unnecessary. A pure, innocent soul enters the world and becomes tainted with unresolved negative patterns from their parents. The power of parents’ influence on infants is profound. Babies have not yet built up defense mechanisms or energy blocks to be able to protect themselves from the energy of their parents and people who are caring for them. This can be a beautiful time where you pass on feelings of love and peacefulness or a dangerous time where babies take on their parents’ anxiety, anger or sadness. But don’t worry, you are reading this book so you can help process your negative emotions to ensure your child doesn’t inherit them. Do the work, keep doing the work, and don’t forget that everything you feel, so does your child. As much as regulating anxiety, anger or sadness is essential, so is being attuned to your baby’s needs. Babies need to be in close proximity to us to feel safe. Even in 1965, Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, recognized this when she wrote: “It is a primitive need of the child to have close and warm contact with another person’s body while falling asleep.... The infant’s biological need for the caretaking adult’s constant presence is disregarded in our Western culture, and children are exposed to long hours of solitude owing to the misconception that it is healthy for the young to sleep...alone.”7 As much as we are able to have our newborns close and receive as much skin to skin contact as possible, it will help them to develop a secure attachment. While our goal as parents during this newborn stage is to let go and accept that life is not in our control, our newborns are busy learning to communicate their needs which continues into the next stage of toddlerhood.