I was going to do things differently when Scarlett was born. I was going to make her a little more independent, a little sooner. I was going to start pumping right away and get her on a bottle, imagining the relative freedom I would have if she easily went back and forth between breast and bottle. I was going to let her sleep with me only during the immediate postpartum period, while I recovered from giving birth. After a week or two of sleeping with me, I imagined, I would then have her sleep in her bassinet, and from there, she would easily transition to a crib after a few months (I imagined).
But things didn’t go as I planned. She turned out to be a temperamental baby, and I had a much rougher time after she was born – physically and emotionally – than I had planned for. I never did start pumping; it just ended up being a task that I didn’t feel able to add to my already overflowing plate. Consequently, she’s never taken a bottle and I can’t be away from her for more than two or three hours at a stretch. Although for a short time as an infant she did nap in her bassinet, I never did try to make her sleep there at night; six+ months later, she’s still sleeping with me every night. She’ll only nap in her swing now, and her bassinet sits in our bedroom, a convenient place to toss her blankets.
I don’t regret it, though. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes get frustrated – it would be nice to get up and go (like Michael can) without having to carefully plan my outings to coincide with when Scarlett will most likely sleep for a couple of hours (or, alternatively, taking her with me, which can put a damper on dinner out with my girlfriends, for instance). But I find myself so attached to her – this beautiful gift that I never expected.
There is something about curling up with her in bed, her warm little body snuggled up against mine. She nuzzles me and latches on and grunts and hums in delirious contentment, and I stroke her head and murmur silly sweet nothings to her. I want her to feel how much she is loved in every fiber of her being. I want her to know how cherished she is.
Sometimes I wonder what a difference that would have made for me.
They say that when we are infants and babies, the quality of our attachments will impact us for the rest of our lives. Babies who do not experience love and tender nurturing will suffer because of that all their lives with trouble forming and maintaining loving relationships, difficulty with trust and letting their guard down, and poor self-esteem. My mother didn’t want me. I don’t have any memories of a deprived infancy, but I grew up being told by my mother that she didn’t want me when I was born, and it wasn’t until an incident when I was two years old and when she stopped herself from putting her hands around my throat to strangle me that she accepted me and realized that she loved me. I know it was difficult for her – I came a mere ten and a half months after my brother, I was apparently a very temperamental baby, and she was only 21 when I was born, already in an abusive, difficult marriage. I get it, although what I’ve never understood is her need to tell me things I would have been better off not knowing about. I suppose in her way, she was conveying to me that somehow she managed to rise above some really difficult circumstances and actually love her child.
And so I am mindful. Which is not to say that I don’t screw up with my own kids, or even that they won’t one day find themselves in a therapist’s office pouring out anger, disappointment and hurt over my motherly failings. But I often think that my own longing for children for all those years was rooted in a wish to rewrite my own story. To give the unadulterated love I didn’t receive, to show what that could do, the difference it could make.
And so I coddle Scarlett, I love her unabashedly and purposefully, as I have all my babies, wholly and completely.