She was our fifth baby. You would think we had this down by now. Instead, we had a child that screamed until she found her way back into someone’s arms. The moment she woke up from her newborn grogginess, she became aware of the people around her–and of being alone. She had a clear and decisive opinion.
Her need to be held became part of our family culture. The children made up her very own nursery rhyme. They would sing it to her when it was their turn to hold, walk, or rock the baby.
It went like this:
“Woogie-Poogie sugar and pie, put her down and watch her cry. Woogie-Poogie fifth of us–walk away and hear her fuss!”
Sometimes the tune was sung as a sweet soothing lullaby. Other times it sounded more like gangsta rap as we danced bouncing around the floor together.
Of course, the sage advice from everyone, outside of her ear-piercing range, was to let her “cry it out.” Accusations of spoiling her came in from all sides. Friends and family often explained, ad nauseam, that our catering to her was the very reason this baby was so demanding. “She’s learned how to manipulate you,” we were told.
In the back of my mind, I figured there could be some merit to what they were saying because a) she was not hurt or hungry and b) she would quiet down as soon as I picked her up. She even smiled with fresh tears still rolling down her cheeks when I talked to her. Their theory was a commonly held belief.
My heart, or mother’s intuition, had another theory. It spoke louder than my critics. It said, she simply needed me. She needed to be held. She needed her mom. Then, as she got a little older, her daddy and siblings became suitable substitutes.
So, we continued to pick her up on demand. She was seldom out of someone’s arms. She was never left alone to cry, nor was she left isolated in a crib to be entertained by electronics or inanimate objects. Chelsea made it clear she needed me.
I knew nothing more than what my heart was saying–and followed it even through the long, sleepless nights. For a short time, our lives were altered to fit in this new member of our family.
It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered more about our little girl, and I realized how right my intuition was. She was a high-needs baby (I’ll explain later), not a spoiled, manipulative infant. She would need the love and support of her entire family throughout her childhood to become the confident woman and capable mother she is today.
In Ghosts From the Nursery, Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley, explains:
“When the baby is screaming, the nurturing mother provides soothing to lower the baby’s state of alarm. When the baby appears droopy or depressed, an attuned mother will attempt to raise her baby’s state to a more elevated mood. These maternal behaviors, besides providing a moderation of the baby’s mood, are also maintaining an even balance of neurochemicals in the baby’s brain, resulting in the contentment we observe and the baby’s experience of emotional modulation, which over time becomes the child’s internalized model for self-regulation of strong emotions…”
“If a baby is separated from the mother, he or she experiences the loss not only of the emotional but also of the physiological balance of basic systems that are maintained by the mother’s proximity.”
My baby did need me, physically, emotionally and developmentally. But she had a secret she couldn’t yet tell us.
Chelsea was, and is, deaf.
I later read a quote from Helen Keller that said, “Blindness separates you from things. Deafness separates you from people.” That truth was easy to see in the life of a deaf child. As an infant, she could only experience safety, love, and contentment in the arms of her parents and siblings.
The cries we heard that sounded like ear-piercing screams of terror — were just that. Chelsea was a high-needs baby. She then became a high needs toddler and child. To look at this beautiful young woman and mother of three rambunctious little boys today makes my heart swell. I’m thankful I listened to my own intuition and not the advice of so-called experts and critical friends who thought they knew everything.
Chelsea taught me a lot about mothering and following your intuition. Some children simply need us more than others at different stages of our lives. The only real guide to motherhood that you can trust is the one God wrote on your heart.
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