Love and Velcro

baby

I recently came upon this wonderful piece by Coffee + Crumbs (Lots of great stuff there! Check it out!) and it immediately brought me back to the early, extraordinarily difficult days with my son. Reminders of that time crop up now and then because, really, the kind of trauma we both endured — and that’s exactly what it was — isn’t easily forgotten, but this particular piece reminded me of how (literally) attached we once were and how far we have come. And with that realization came the kind of validation I had deeply craved during those long lonely days.

From the moment the Pitocin was administered, my little guy made his feelings known. I carried him quite low toward the end of my pregnancy, but once his eviction notice was sent, I swear on everything holy that kid squeezed himself as far up into my ribs as he could. He did not want a scintilla of space between us and spent the entire first year of his life screaming that desire into the cosmos… and my aching ears.

He was my velcro baby — as attached to his mama as a kid could be. And while it may be tempting to imagine such a scenario as blissful days spent snuggling soft baby skin and breathing in that intoxicating baby smell, the reality is nearly the exact opposite. My life was full of blood-curdling screams every.single.moment I set him down to shower, cook, or even sleep. Picking him up usually knocked the noise level down a notch or two but he still cried incessantly. At one low point while my husband was deployed, it literally took me three days to pay a bill over the phone. My screaming velcro baby was stuck to me like glue, messing up the voice prompts and turning a seemingly simple task into a Herculean feat.

Life was hard, desperately hard.

Unfortunately, it was made even worse by a barrage of comments insinuating that I was somehow spoiling him, that responding to his needs was enabling manipulative behavior and that I had brought this difficulty on myself.

But I had lived through the baby years before — quite successfully, in fact. I knew I hadn’t directly caused his clinginess but I was still troubled by the fact that I couldn’t solve it. All the baby books said it required solving, after all. And most everyone in my orbit, his pediatrician included, insisted that the situation required a tough love approach.

It was a rough situation, indeed. After all, he wasn’t the average clingy baby. My boy suffered colic, severe reflux, feeding difficulties, and weight-gain problems. He was in the care of a gastroenterologist by 6 months and in feeding therapy by the time he turned 1. My life seemed little more than a revolving door between various medical offices with varying interpretations for his many maladies. As a mother, the inability to pinpoint his seemingly never-ending pain was gut-wrenching.

So I held him. What else could I do?

I held him when my arms ached and my back winced in pain. I held him as we both cried ourselves to sleep, unable to get the other to understand what we needed. I held him even as every inch of my body screamed for space, for a moment to breathe. But no matter what anyone else said, I held him. He needed it. I could feel it.

All the while, I questioned myself. I wondered why I couldn’t “fix” him and constantly evaluated what I could be doing differently. I stared in confusion at my clingy, irritable child, wondering why he was so high-maintenance when every cell of my body knew he was a calm soul at his core. What kind of mother can’t understand her own baby? Why was there such a disconnect between who I felt he was and the behavior I was seeing?

By his first birthday, my confidence was shattered. Nothing seemed to be getting better.

And then, one ordinary day, it did.

Life marched on — tenuous at first, and then increasingly sure-footed, like the pitter patter of my little boy’s feet as he ventured off to explore the world outside my weary arms.

And you know what? He has never looked back.

Sure, he is still my snuggle bug. After all, I wasn’t wrong about that soft soul of his. Turns out, he is very much like his mama — introspective, sensitive, and affectionate. And despite all the hysteria that holding a baby might cause an unhealthy dependence, at close to 3 years old, my cool little dude is as independent as it gets.

Though I’ll never know for sure, I like to think it’s because I held him through his pain, that I respected his needs even when I felt I had totally lost my way as a mother. We share the bond of the broken, two people who refused to give up even in the darkest of nights.

Eventually, morning came. And it delivered a (finally) happy and healthy little boy.

So while Coffee + Crumb’s essay brought me back to those difficult days, I know we are safely on the other side. Back then, he fought sleep while wailing the hours away in my arms. Tonight? Well, he’s still fighting sleep — but only because he can’t decide which dinosaur he likes more: Tyrannosaurus Rex or Ankylosaurus.

I’ll take it.

Impossible as it seems in the moment, velcro babies eventually grow up. They detach. They explore their world and inch ever further from the physical closeness of you. And that’s when you, too, will have come through the other side. Just hang on, Mama. Let your little one hold on. Cling together through this bumpy ride because velcro is tough, but so are you.

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