I’m hoping this is going to be one of those “you’re not alone” posts and someone reads this and says “hey, that’s me!”. I think I would have liked to read about this when my baby was still a squish. It sprung to mind to write it this weekend when myself and a little boy hung out on the couch cuddling and watching too much Dora (Swiper, no swiping! Swiper, no swiping!), while a little fever overcame the smallest of us.
Mr Mind the Baby was away Saturday so it was just the two of us fighting off a high temperature, making friends with the special basin and trying to stay cool and comfortable.
No one got dressed and the house was a disgrace. Breakfast dishes were still out at 3pm, laundry languished near the machine but not in it. I made exactly three failed attempts to tend to housework that day. I think I might just have gotten the dishwasher door open each time before little feet pattered into the kitchen to find me and return me to the little nest of blankets and pillows. If I wasn’t dragged back in, mammy hugs were required and a two and a half year old on your hip does not a useful housework accessory make. All he wanted was his mother within arm’s reach and her full and complete attention. With experience behind me, I was able to shrung off my other responsibilities and tend to his needs, knowing everything else would just have to wait.
But it wasn’t always like that.
I never heard the term “high need” baby until I didn’t have a baby anymore. I think I definitely would have benefited from reading this. Don’t get me wrong, he is a perfectly normal, healthy, good humoured, wonderful pleasure of a child but he has never slept well, has always needed to be up in arms, has suffered many bouts of separation anxiety and really does need his mama an awful lot. I think the descriptions in the Dr Sears article are more extreme and “fussy” is never a word I would use to describe him – he was never colicky – but I will say that there were days (and nights) when he was a baby that I can only describe as intense.
On these days, he could not be put down under any circumstances. He needed to be in my arms. Dinners burnt or went uncooked and uneaten, vomit-covered sheets went unchanged, the house was like a bomb hit it, I was exhausted and my anxiety was at high doe as I tried to manage baby and life – and probably ended up failing both. I remember days when all I wanted to do was finish a cup of coffee – holding the cup with both my hands – and it just wasn’t possible. It seems like a small thing but at that moment it was the most important thing in the world. I needed him to sit on the floor and entertain himself for just five minutes. The frustration was hard going.
What I really needed to do was buy a baby sling I could actually use. I had a je porte mon bebe one but I never learned how to use it properly. Looking back, I think if I had tried an ergo or something more structured – or just gone to a flippin sling meet! – then straightaway both of our needs would have been met. He would have been where he needed to be and at the same time I could chop some veg or fold some clothes.
I hear my own voice now saying “yes, but the housework can wait” and it can. But those of us who have been there know that when push comes to shove, it can be hard to just let it go, especially if you’re dreading someone walking in the door wondering what you’ve been doing all day – or even just actually wanting the place to look a bit tidy. Certainly in that fourth trimester housework is not a priority at all, but when your baby is 10 or 11 months, sometimes you just want a clean house!
If I had known that a high need baby is a perfectly normal phenomenon, I would have relaxed more and worried less. I would have taken more naps. I would have done what I do now – take a deep breathe and go with it. I’ve grown into mothering a high need toddler because I understand him, myself and our family better. I regularly take naps at the weekend when he’s sleeping because why the fuck not? I’m tired and they’re lovely.
I LOVE having a night time snuggle with my little man. I wonder if there is any pleasure greater sometimes than having the warm body of a little one nestled up against you? It is no hardship any more.
But God it was.
It could have been easier if I knew what was going on.
Did you or do you have a “high need” baby? Have you any tips for mothers who might be at the start of their parenting journey?
This page is a good place to begin if you want to find out more.