Then and now. Parenting a high needs baby

Here is another post that I started years ago and really would like to finish.  I won't edit the original material I'll just add on.


"Parenting is a journey.  Parenting a high-need child is a journey where you unwittingly end up in uncharted territory.  Before your baby's birth you imagine what the journey will be like.  You buy guidebooks.  You listen to friends who have taken similar trips.  It's exciting.  Your baby is born and the journey begins.  Suddenly your trip isn't going as planned.  Your child is not following the guidebooks.  He takes you on a different journey, one that you might not have chosen and certainly not the one you had anticipated.  Initially, you resent this change in travel plans.  The road is bumpy.  It is lonely.  And it's costing you much more energy than you had budgeted.  But you've purchased a nonrefundable ticket, so you must go on.  While your friends are seeing all the popular sights, your child pulls you off the usual paths, down side roads, and into places where you're forced to carve some new trails on your own.  The trip is tiring and challenging.  You have difficulty sharing your discoveries with your friends; they haven't been where you've been or seen the world through your child's eyes.  Before long, though, you will gradually begin to realize how much richer your life is and how much wiser you are for having experienced this special journey."

This is the introduction to Dr. Sears', The Fussy Baby Book: Parenting Your High-Need Child From Birth to Age Five.  A book I purchased when Caches was about 4 months old and I was about one screaming night away from running away, forever!  Seriously.

I am not writing this to whine or complain about how difficult it is parenting a high-need child.  I am not looking for sympathy, and I am certainly not saying that if you are parenting a "normal" child that your job is easy.  I am simply sharing my experience in sincere hope that another mother struggling with a high-need baby will stumble across this blog post in a teary haze at 4am and say, THANK GOD I'M NOT ALONE!  I will never know that someone who needed to read this read it, and maybe nobody ever will, all I know is that I NEEDED THIS.  So let's begin.

Maybe you read a lot of books about babies while you were pregnant, maybe you didn't.  Maybe you have quite a bit of experience with other babies, or maybe your own baby is the first one you have ever even held.  No matter what, we all start out with an expectation of what our baby will be like and what motherhood will be like.  For some of us this expectation lines up fairly well with reality, but if you are blessed, yes, after almost two years I can honestly say blessed, to have a high-need baby, then your reality is not going to be anything like your expectation.  Reality pretty much takes your sweet expectations chews them up and spits them out.

Let me repeat that, your reality will not be anything like what you expected, nothing, not one single thing will be what you imagined as you rubbed your swollen belly and daydreamed all those months before.  You and your child will not fit in.  You will feel like a total failure.  You will get picked last for kick ball.  You will spend hours upon hours wondering what the fuck is wrong with you, and WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOUR BABY!! You will feel lonely, sad, angry, frustrated, hopeless, overwhelmed, exhausted, beat down, pushed to your limit, dead...and then the clock will strike 6am and you get to do it all over again. 

Normal newborns go through a super sleepy stage where you can pose them in all sorts of adorable poses and take ridiculously cute photos of them dressed up like a bunny; not your baby.  Normal newborns will snooze in the car seat, all you to shower while they sleep in the swing, fall asleep peacefully in your arms or on the floor playing.  Your baby will not do any of these things no matter how much you try.  Generally speaking, normal babies allow you to take a breath a few times a day while you adjust to the momentous idea of motherhood.  High-need newborns don't breathe, they just scream, all. day. long.  If you have a normal child you probably remember the first time your new baby wasn't easily soothed with the breast, paci, gentle rocking, or anything for that matter.  Remember that moment, how helpless you felt, how your heart rate increased?  Now imagine that moment lasting all day, every day, all night, every night.  That moment of intense anxiety, stress, fear, sadness, even anger and frustration is almost never ending with high-need babies.

I felt like, and actually sometimes still do, that other people just don't get it.  This used to bother me, but now I know, how could they!?  It is like asking someone who has never been into a car accident or broken a bone to imagine it, they simply can't.  And that's okay.  But it won't make you kinda hate them any less when they complain that their baby sleeps too much or look at you like your are crazy when you say you won't drive an hour to be somewhere fun.

Basically you are parenting a high-need baby you are going to want to kill most other mothers, and fathers and well meaning strangers at the grocery store.  No really you will.  Even if you are a mild mannered woman I'm telling you right now you will have to physically restrain yourself.  Don't say I didn't warn you. 

You will try to attend a mommy and me class but while all the other moms cradle their cooing babies and swap stories about milestones you are in the corner bouncing your squalling child on the exercise ball holding back tears yourself because the only milestone you have to share is that you didn't kill the baby today.  Only you don't get to share at all because you sneak out the back door assuming the crying is disturbing everyone else. 

---so this is where I left off over four years ago when Caches was just about two.  He is now almost six and a half and is still what I would consider a high needs child.  Rereading that opening quote still brings tears to my eyes because it is so true, all of it.  Perhaps more true now than ever before because guess what, I AM realizing how much richer my life is and how much wiser I are for having experienced this special journey.  Oh my heart, YES!  I am forever changed and I am so grateful. 

You see, children can teach us a whole lot about ourselves and the world we live in if we just give them a chance.  For the first year of Caches life I didn't want to learn, I resisted change.  I just wanted to fix him!  I wondered what was wrong.  I agonized over solutions, scoured the internet for advice.  I wanted a normal baby and honestly, I wanted a fucking break!  But there was no break, no fixing, no change. He was and continues this day to be fiercely who he is.

Let me see if I can explain. Adults have boundaries, babies do not.  Adults will usually give you some time and space to figure your shit out before they make demands upon you.  Adults will typically allow you to rest if you are tired, eat if you are hungry, bathe if you smell like a gym sock and afford you all sorts of other grown up luxuries.  Babies, well babies just don't care.

But I accustomed to being treated like an adult.  If something made me uncomfortable I avoided it.  If i was hungry I ate, if I was tired I slept, if I stunk I usually took a shower, usually.. Basically I was cruising through life without much of anything ruffling my tail feathers and I was pretty darn happy about it. Enter Caches.

In a very short amount of time I was forced into a whole world of uncomfortable feeling and strong emotional triggers some I didn't even know I had.  There is a form of therapy called Flooding where you expose a person to something they are afraid of in rapid succession basically sending their whole system into arrest.  The goal being that after seeing 5843790 snakes and having real snakes touching them and NOT in fact dying from it that their brain goes okay I guess snakes aren't so scary after all.  Well I basically had and emotional version of flooding therapy.

Strong emotions make me uncomfortable, I don't like to see people I love crying, I am a fixer, I will sacrifice everything in me to help someone else, I don't like messy, I don't like to have attention drawn to myself, I like a routine, I would drown holding you up for air. These are all things I knew about myself but I didn't really know any them until Cache came along and disallowed me all of my adult comforts and avoidance behavior.  All of it!  He was strong emotions all day long.  He triggered rage I didn't even know existed inside of me.  He screamed and cried day and night. And he didn't care how much I sacrificed, he was messy, he poo pooed routines and I almost did drown myself thinking I was holding him up for air.  Only he didn't need any air, I was holding my breath.  He wouldn't be fixed because he, like so many of us and so many other children didn't' need fixing!

He taught me to love people for who they are today, not who you want them to be tomorrow and certainly not for who you wish they were.  He awakened so many deeply buried hurts inside of me that had been dormant for years.  He ripped me open and everything fell out.  It was messy and ugly and beautiful and scary.  I found myself stripped, humbled and wondering what to do next.   And then one day it hit me; NOTHING, do nothing.

Oh sweet baby Jesus why did it take me so long?  Nobody is broken here.  There is nothing to fix.  You are okay.  Your baby is exactly who he is supposed to be.  He is not broken.  You are not broken.  There is no pill or a word of advice. There is only love.

Now I wish I could say that it was that simple.  That I had the revelation and I was changed and we all lived happily every after, but it wasn't so easy.  It is really hard to change who you are on a deep emotional level even when the change is for the better.  It is also really hard to accept that things aren't going to be as you expected.  Also hard, life! 

And toddlers and marriages and obligations and sleep deprivation and pregnancy and loss and having another baby who also isn't normal but not quite as intense as her brother and showering and cooking and cleaning your house and much laundry!  It is all really really hard but fuck, life isn't supposed to be and easy breezy Instagram filter.  It simply isn't meant to be that way!! 

We the commercials and we read the magazines and we are bombarded with images and stories on social media and everything looks perfect but it's not.  And even if it were.!? Even if some of those people really do have that magical life. And even if some of those kids really don't stain their perfect white bloomers then what?  Even people who wear white without stains have to lay in bed each night and reflect on their life.

Life is messy and there are peeks and valleys and struggles and triumphs.  That is where the true magic is, it's in the mess, it is in the valley.  Who are we trying to be all neat and tidy and perfect for anyway?  Certainly not for ourselves.  My high needs child taught me that perfection is not something to strive for.  He taught me to look for the weeds growing in sidewalk cracks.  He taught me how to let go.  Really, he taught me how to live a more authentic life.

I recently asked Cache why he used to cry so much as a baby or if he remembers it at all.  He doesn't remember it at all (it's okay buddy I remember it enough for the both of us) and after rummaging around his brain for a while he came up with only one reason why.  "I must have just needed you mama."  You know what buddy, I needed you too. 

**When originally writing this I struggled a lot with using the term "normal" for babies that are, well, pretty darn normal.  I don't like that it implies that they are lesser, or boring in some way, and I also don't like that it implies that my child is abnormal, which he totally is, but still.  So for lack of a better term I will use the word normal for all babies that don't fit the high-need category, but know I don't really mean it, okay.


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