Lately I’ve been noticing some pleasant changes in Hope. There are the usual things that are appropriate for her age: big smiles and lots of cooing, reaching for toys and studying faces. But there is also this trend toward contentment that I think is a little more unique to her than just what comes with the typical maturity of a baby. She is so much more relaxed and easygoing than when she came home from the hospital two months ago. She is just fussy during her worst hours now instead of screaming in a way that pierces your ears and your soul at the same time. She is much more easily comforted than she once was.
When a baby is born, she is typically placed on her mother’s chest very soon after birth. Mom quickly and naturally becomes the most familiar, comforting place the baby knows. If Mom is breastfeeding, the baby also quickly learns that Mom is her food source. The first few days and weeks of.a baby’s life earth-side are typically spent bonding with her mother more than anyone else. Mom and baby learn each other’s languages in a creative dance that is unique to each pair. I don’t communicate with Hope in exactly the same way that I did with Ella at this age because they are different children. They talk to me differently, and they need different things; to respond in exactly the same way would be as frustrating to them as receiving recorded answers would be to us when we call customer service for anything. Just connect me to the real person who can answer my questions!
Babies are constantly going around and around something called the cycle of need. A baby exhibits a need, let’s say hunger, by rooting around and trying to suck on his hands, or maybe crying. His primary caregiver responds, ideally, by feeding him. The baby’s need has been met, so he relaxes and likely falls asleep. Both the baby and the caregiver feel satisfied because they communicated effectively. They understood one another, accomplished the goal together of taking care of the baby’s need for food, and thus they build trust in their relationship, and the next time through the cycle goes more smoothly than the last.
At some point when Hope was still in the NICU, I remember wondering aloud to Nathanael whether he thought Hope would learn to trust us/me as easily as Ella did as an infant since she didn’t have the same early bonding experience. Hope wasn’t accustomed to one person taking care of her 24/7, so I wasn’t sure what to expect of her in terms of her ability to trust me. I was worried she wouldn’t know I was ready to respond whenever she needed something. I thought often during her NICU stay about if/how we would be able to re-program Hope’s cycle of need alert-and-response- system that she was learning to use in the NICU, because I knew it was bound to be different than how we would eventually communicate at home. The nurses take wonderful care of the babies in the NICU; I don’t doubt that, because I spent many hours there watching them with other babies and with my own. But I also know that sometimes just because there are so many babies in the room and only so many nurses to tend to them, babies cry longer than they might at home with one constant, primary caregiver. Even if Hope never had to cry more than a few minutes to get someone’s attention, I knew that the nurses’ style of caring for her varied from one to another and would be innately different than mine just because we are different people. I wondered if she would take a long time to learn to trust me, to trust that I would respond to her cues, whether they were rooting or moving her hands to her mouth or fussing or crying. Would she learn that I’ll feed her if she just roots around, or would she always cry when she was hungry because that’s what she learned to do in the NICU? (If, in fact, she learned to do that in the NICU. I was never there for feedings during which I didn’t feed her, so I don’t know how quickly she was fed by someone else when she communicated various feeding cues).
All this to say, when Hope came home from the hospital she cried a lot more than I was ready for. I struggled with feeling inadequate to understand and comfort her. I would go through the list: diaper, food, temperature, movement, etc. And nothing would work. For lack of knowing what else to say or do, I would tell her over and over as I walked and bounced with her, “Shh, I’m here, Baby. Mommy’s here. It’s ok. I’m right here,” as if she should feel better knowing I was present and holding her and trying. Isn’t that what babies are supposed to do? Be comforted by their mothers’ presence? It was so disheartening when night after night, she wasn’t.
But now, she usually is. I’m realizing that to come into the world too early and then be separated from me for the majority of the time during her first two months of life wasn’t just hard on her or hard on our family, it was actually traumatic for her. And now I can see that she is truly healing from that trauma. She seems to be coming out of this stage of believing she needs to cry in order to be heard. She is much more calm and easygoing in her wakeful hours than ever before. And when she does need something, she starts off by letting us know fairly gently, and when we start to respond, she quiets down. When she starts to wake up and fuss and we move her to the changing table, she immediately quiets down because she knows that this means food is coming next. Those zero to sixty nights when she stopped sleeping and started screaming in a split second are pretty rare, now. She’s learned our rhythms of caring for her, she has accepted them, and she has joined in the dance. It’s a wonderful feeling to know your baby and be known by her.
All of this got me thinking: how often do I fuss or cry about something, and my Lord responds, “I’m here.” But I keep at it. He says again, “I’m here. I’ve got you.” And it’s as if I don’t hear. It’s as if I don’t find His presence good enough as a response to whatever my complaint may be. Is it that, like Hope, I have also suffered separation from Him? In a way, yes. But not due to trauma, like she experienced. I choose to go do my own thing, to be my own caretaker, most of the time. And then I want Him to fix it when things get difficult. And He’s there. He’s holding me. His response is to assure me of His presence and His control of the situation. He is not worried or stumbled by my circumstances. He just tells me to hush and relax in His arms, like I persist in doing with my baby, even when it doesn’t seem to be working. But so often, I can’t relax like He suggests! I continue to squirm and demand that He change things! I’m realizing, thanks to my perspective from the parent’s side with Hope, that this is a result of my choice to not remain with my Father consistently. I’ve not been with Him enough to know His style of care. His presence isn’t always a real comfort to me, because I’m still in the stage where I’m trying to figure out which cue causes which intervention. If I pray, will You fix this? If I cry, will this change? But I’m missing the point. If in the midst of my pleas I practice listening more and more, then I will learn the sound of His voice and the rhythm of His rocking as He soothes my spirit and my soul. I will learn to be comforted by His nearness because it means the One who created me and loves me more than anyone else loves me is here with me. I will learn to relax in His presence because the solution to whatever problem I’m facing is His presence. I will learn to trust that He knows what I need, and He will supply it when I need it. For Hope, sometimes what she needs is just my presence. But oftentimes it is something else very practical like food or a diaper. With God, and with His relationship with His children, we want the solution to be tangible: I want a change in my circumstances, please; ease this burden, if You don’t mind. But His response is simple. “I’m here. That is enough. I am enough. You can rest, now.”