Hurricane Hays Turns One and I’m Blown Away

Family (10)

My sweet baby boy turned one yesterday!  It has been a year since he rode a Frankenstorm into the world on a full moon and wreaked beautiful havoc on life as I knew it.  Hays has cracked my heart full open and I feel it all now.  I’ve always felt my veil to be somewhat thin but the degree to which I now experience empathy is flavored with a tenderness and a pain so exquisitely distinct it could only be the result of my heart so swollen with love for this being that came into this world through my body.  My heart is on my sleeve and there is too much at stake now to be quiet, passive and acquiescent.  I’ve always known that everyone is or was somebody’s baby but now I know in the core of my being the texture of that bond and that love.  I perceive absolutely everyone and everything differently now.  Hays, you have re-wired and re-worked me.  I feel like fresh earth that has been tilled by a giant tractor.  I’m just open and raw and my heart is breaking for the state of the world.

This first year of our son’s life continues to peel away layers from the stinky onion of my identities and conditioned ways of being.  And much like peeling an onion, it has not been pleasant and many tears have been shed.  Our fast-paced, task-focused, accomplishment-centered, career-oriented, money driven culture has nipped at my heels all year as I tried to kick it away and just simply travel through the days with my baby, striving above all other impulses to meet his needs while also caring for myself and our family.  I wrestle with time (that shape-shifting hussy) and birth a litter of to-do’s everyday, constantly sorting and culling and trying to drop what isn’t necessary.

But on a deeper level, the rabbit hole of surrender that I’m trying to let myself fall down is one devoid of the identities of victim and martyr- one where I give up the need to struggle- one where my subtle default is not a negative problem orientation.  These are the translucent, membrane-like layers of the onion that are so thin that they stick to and dissolve in my hand as I pull them.

Life has challenged and tested me before but I truly feel that motherhood is my ultimate initiation if I let it break me down- if I let it break down all of the defenses, identities and illusions of control I’ve erected throughout these 35 years.  My big teacher (Craig Hamilton) likes to talk about being at the frothy edge of evolution and this makes me smile because I picture tumultuous white caps and a brave surfer. And that’s where I now find myself- surfing the breakers at the threshold of absolute surrender.  My little teacher (Hays Irish) has given me a one-year intensive, instructing on how it’s not all about me and that no matter how much my ego resists the present moment, it still does not change what needs to be done.

It pains me to write this in a public forum because now I can never deny that I know it as truth, but I see that surrender is a choice.  I know that I am 100% responsible for choosing the posture I take in relational dynamics.  Moreover, I know that I have chosen to have an absolute relationship to other situations like being sober and trusting my husband.  I have felt how 100% responsibility has set me free from those deadening, unaligned shackles.  That said, I offer up these words as a kind of prayer for the grace to choose to step out of the martyrdom and victimhood that so often co-opt the whirlwind of motherhood.  May I show up each day fully surrendered to the emergent needs of each moment.  May I be present enough with my miraculous 1-year old little boy to learn the lessons he effortlessly teaches me.  May I step out beyond my old, constricted “self” with my love-saturated heart and serve any one of this struggling world’s multitude of needs.

Happy Birthday, Hays!  I birthed you and you are slowly re-birthing me.  I am deeply humbled and forever changed.

Father/Mother Time

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Hays turned eight months old yesterday.  The time since his birth carries me in its current, both crashing through rocky rapids as well as floating lazily through love soaked stints of gazing into my sweet baby boy’s eyes or immersing myself in his giggles, which melt me utterly down to a warm, gooey state of joy and gratitude.  I’ve read that the days of parenthood are long while the years are short.  I haven’t yet been a mother for a full year but I already feel the truth in this paradox.

In the whirlwind that Hays blew in on that has since become our reality, Brett and I are finding that our biggest relational and logistical tensions are time related.  Again and again (and again!) we struggle to fit it all in.  We make lists of lists and schedule time for scheduling.  On several occasions I’ve felt piercing sadness as I’ve realized how in our quest to engage much and fully, we’ve relegated Hays to the periphery of our orientation.  I’ve paused in these moments to ask myself, are we merely tolerating this tiny being?  Are we attuned to him and engaged in nurturing his development in this present moment?  This quote that I came across haunts me:  “You’re not managing an inconvenience.  You’re raising a human.”  Frankly, many of Brett and my discussions about time seem like negotiations for Hays-free time.  Why does it feel harsh and awful to want freedom from baby tending in order to engage other pursuits?

Well, what pursuits am I talking about?

  • Well there are the to-do list staples of household chores that apparently increase ten-fold with a baby.  The basics are just really hard to get to even with increased tolerance and lowered standards for disarray and chaos.  (Is the diaper genie seriously full AGAIN?  Why can I only seem to manage to check the mail once per week?)
  • There are fun pursuits and social engagements like adventures with Hays out in the world or time with family and friends.
  • There are meditation, other spiritual practices and the different calls and groups that comprise our spiritual path.

Behold, verbatim from our marriage vows, our commitment to raise Hays “in a balanced environment conducive for holistic growth, to not using having a child as an excuse to live an un-awakened, status quo life, and to embracing child-rearing as an evolutionary opportunity of the highest magnitude.”  Why then are the activities remaining on the to-do list at the end of the weekend the ones that hold the most potential for growth?  Why, in my weekdays flying solo w Haysy, do I busy myself with the more horizontal pursuits of chores or cleaning out my inbox rather than to seize the rare moments of him napping to do a short meditation or spiritual inquiry or to do some writing or yoga.

It is not that I don’t have compassion for us as new parents of a rather high-maintenance infant.  Life is FULL!  Life is DIFFERENT!  We are TIRED!  Nevertheless, Brett and I are deeply committed to having it all, if you will.  We stand in our decision to use all of life as a practice ground rather than to make excuses for why we can’t meditate or align ourselves vocationally in ways that meet the needs of this world.

We recognized early on a pattern of knocking out the easier, horizontal tasks before leaning into the vertical pursuits that are more challenging on a deep level.  Also, there are limitations, both very real and merely perceived, to how much vertical we can squeeze into a day or a week.  Through an exploration in our spiritual community of “the consciousness of possibility” I’ve seen that there are plenty of those perceived limitations just waiting to be busted up.  I feel I’ve slain a couple of these limitation dragons and discovered creative ways to “find” time and to integrate vertical and healthy pursuits.  This blog is one of them.  I benefit greatly from having this virtual home for my queries.  It feels infused with my intention to explore how I’m engaging family and motherhood as a spiritual practice.  That intention is always with me and helps me remember my deeper motivation.  I’ve also found that Hays’s tummy time is a great time for yoga.  When struggling to fit meditation into periods of deep fatigue Brett and I, thanks to inspiration from our teacher and partners on the path, have integrated a style of meditating together aloud into Hay’s bedtime routine.  Also, instead of telling myself I can’t write because I’m nursing Hays for what seems like 23 out of 24 hours of the day, I sometimes type with one hand.  It’s slower but totally do-able.  The empowerment that is born of living from possibility, rather than limitation, actually generates more energy within me and inspires me to bust up even more limiting beliefs that are lurking.  It’s a beautiful cycle!

Fast forward two months because that is how long it has been since I began writing this.  It’s been over a month since I’ve done any of this creative time carving-out I was bragging about!  Look, this baby stuff is no joke!  It is full-on, non-stop, giddy-up, put the baby on your back to get it done, onward and upward intensity.  Finally baby-less at my computer, I now sit anxiously perched in Starbucks as the minutes of my allotted two writing hours keep melting away before my eyes.  (Stop looking in the top right corner of the screen!!!)  It is a trying task to attempt to choose a pursuit, and then pursue it in a focused way with fleeting time breathing down my neck.  My mind is a mangled web of tasks undone, time scarcity excuses and the fog of limitation.  Not to mention that I’m almost never alone in public so I feel weird and off and kind of would just like to space out and people-watch.
Lately I’ve been crumbling beneath the imagined weight of my mind’s distortions.  Each evening since we’ve moved I seem to unravel as I assail Brett with the sea of pending action items we swim in.  Why do I act so determined to sink?  At this point I feel I have no choice but to fall to my figurative knees in supplication.  I surrender to the mess and the chaos!  Take from me this illusion I have that I can somehow orchestrate this whole motherhood / family life thing in some kind of perfect way!  Instead of wearing them like a burdensome weight, allow me to accept and release all manner of to-do’s half, un-, or never done.  May they float gently around in my awareness rather than aggregating into a giant mass, which I then use to stamp out my joy.  Would that I could accept that the expanse of protected, uninterrupted time I yearn for no longer exists in my reality and won’t for a very long time.  If I maintain this conditional orientation to doing what carries the most potential for growth, service and evolution then I feel I may grow old waiting for time when time just keeps passing, and bitter from days un-seized and potential unfulfilled.  I am flawed and imperfect.  Ironically, I sense that it is from the ground of this human imperfection that life will sprout through me.

I will be late.  My house will be messy.  Your thank-you card may never arrive.  Some boxes will never be unpacked.  (Are those seriously the things I’m so afraid of?  How lame.)

I will dance and giggle with my baby.  I will pause to stand still and put my head on my sweet husband’s chest.  I will squeeze the juice out of time Brett gifts me to steal away and write these words.  I will squeeze every drop of richness out of this fleeting and precious life for which I am so deeply and tenderly grateful.

My Mother’s Day Presence

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I’m pretty sure Brett gets worried whenever he discovers I’ve pulled the book, The Five Love Languages down from the shelf.  Most recently I had been thumbing through it with curiosity about why love languages other than the one I primarily speak had seemed alluring of late.  Perhaps this is because mine, Quality Time, has been all but censored in our Hays-focused world.  I treasure the way this man listens and responds to me.  Soon after, he let it be known that he would be arranging to take me out for dinner just the two of us on mother’s day in order to gift me in my love language.  I was touched (although also troubled because in order to do this we would in turn be “gifting” his mom the stressful task of attempting to babysit an infant with intense parental separation anxiety.  Happy Mother’s Day, Christine!  Good luck with that).  It was a lovely partial dinner.  We made it through two slowly served courses before I got the red alert text and raced home to console our hysterical little guy.  But no matter- I had soaked up some quality time with my sweet husband which nourished me for weeks.

Quality time is the present of presence, which Brett so sweetly gave me for Mother’s Day.  How rare is it to be fully and deeply listened to- to feel your words actually landing in the interior of the person to whom you are speaking?  And when the person responds to you they are highlighting, underscoring and amplifying the very essence of what you said in a way that helps even you- the originator of the thoughts- perceive them with fresh perspective.  THIS style of communication is presence and it is a rare and beautiful gift!!!  Yet it needn’t be and it is one that I want to give all the time in all of my interactions but ESPECIALLY in my interactions with Hays.

Hays gives me presence every day as well as helps me give it back to him.  Of course there will be periods of each day where Hays is doing his thing and I’m doing mine but when I’m with him I want to really BE with him- tuned into what’s happening for him.  If I put my attention on his keen ability to fully inhabit the present moment it is uncanny how easy it is to allow him to guide me there.  And when I have the good sense to drop my unimportant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things to-do list and just hang out in the moment with my baby I am amazed each time by the richness and the peace.  Simply BEING with Hays in this way seems to open my heart up wide and I feel each of his giggles and smiles like sharp happiness arrows that pierce and then flood me with the joy of being alive in a body in this moment with this tiny being on this beautiful planet.  It’s as if bliss just blows up inside me.  Sometimes it’s so intense that I’ll suddenly realize that I’ve closed down in some kind of automatic self-protective reaction.  How much safer and less vulnerable it would be to cross items off my to-do list than it is to let go into the pure reality of presence that’s so simple that it frightens me.

My mother has been gone eight years now and mother’s day has been a sad day for me until this year.  Even this year was of course, still sad in part.  I miss that woman so much.  I find that the 24-7 nurturing of my baby sometimes catalyzes this craving to receive nurturing from my own mother.  It’s like my tank starts feeling low and I yearn to fill it with her comforting words, complete acceptance and unconditional love for me.  Missing my mother in general, and particularly on mother’s day, converged with some spiritual inquiries I’ve been doing and seems to have catalyzed the surfacing of some sad realizations about a period of my childhood.  Until recently I hadn’t fully let in how lonely I was as a little girl during this period.  I hadn’t fully seen how prematurely independent I was allowed to become.  Picking through the blurry long buried memories captured by my child-mind, I harvested bushels of experiences in which my mom is either behind a closed bedroom door or completely absent.  Other images have me roaming the neighborhood alone on various misadventures and forays into experimentation that shouldn’t have taken place until many years later.  I have endless compassion for my mother in relation to why these three years unfolded with increasing negligence.  Yet I owe it to myself and to my son to really let myself see and feel how this lack of presence impacted me.  I can follow the thread of the impact all throughout my adolescent and adult struggles.  In these years I can find the seeds that sprouted into unhealthy methods of seeking connection with others, over-emphasis on the approval of others, and over-sensitivity to not being listened to.

In all of this sadness that is surfacing I can also find the seed that grew into a tall tree that is pointing me ever upward on my spiritual path.   When I connect with another primarily on a superficial level, the dissatisfaction I feel may be born of the short supply of my mother’s deep presence with me as a little girl.  What I know now is that I am most fully alive when I am engaging with another from that raw and vulnerable place inside.  I know that when two people communicate beyond their walls, identities and woundedness, space is made for wisdom and divine love to come through.

I wish my mother was still around for infinite reasons: to have helped me get dressed for my wedding; to have comforted and empowered me as Hays so painfully blossomed out of my body into this world; to tuck in my usually-sticking-out shirt tag; to call me just to hang out on the phone together talking about nothing and everything.  But more than anything I wish I could have a go at engaging her in this new way I’m learning.  What would it be like to be there for her as a field of deep listening?  What might I learn of her deeper self- her sacred self that I feel she kept hidden away, perhaps guarding the vulnerable preciousness of this part of her.

In a recent course session with Thomas Huebl he said, “In the kabalistic tradition, they call the saints and the sages the ‘ones that leave without a trace,’ which means they didn’t create more karma but they resolved their karma. They resolved the package that they came with. They leave in peace, which means they dissolve into unity.”  My mother’s life ended early and abruptly.  Sadly, we were in the thick of an intense inquiry when she died.  I’ve experienced this unresolved tension- this trace- like a hole inside that I haven’t known how to seal.  Lately I’m feeling called to devote my spiritual practice to resolving any karma that she didn’t get a chance to address.  In so doing, perhaps I’ll allow some more closure and peace to cushion her memory.  So many of my shadows were her shadows.  So much of my stuckness was her stuckness.  I aspire to honor my mother with living this life liberated from our shared struggles.  I certainly don’t know what happens when we die but if for any reason her spirit is hanging on I pray that any peace resulting from my practice might help her let go fully and finally.

Eight years gone but my sweet Mama still gave me a present for my first mother’s day.  A few days before, I received a book in the mail.  My former partner had found it in his books and he took the time to send it back to me.  It’s a book she gave me for high school graduation with a sweet inscription on the front cover.  Reading her words written in her painfully familiar handwriting clenched my throat as both love and grief swelled up in my heart.  I paused there in the post office where I’d opened the package and just felt all of the feelings of love and grief inside of my body while my sweet baby sat in the carrier pressed against the outside of my body.  I paused to be present with both.  I paused to be presence.

“There is Nothing Human I Am Not”

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A couple of weeks into caring for my sweet newborn I experienced the kind of overwhelm that is the convergence of extreme hormonal transition, sleep deprivation, and physical strain on a traumatized body that can’t get the rest it needs to heal.  One night it was especially difficult to rouse from a deep sleep to answer Hays’s cries calling me for a middle of the night feeding.  I hefted my sleep-heavy self out of bed for what seemed like the millionth time.  My mind felt thick with the residue of interrupted sleep and my body resisted being pried from the mattress.  But pry myself up I did.  And then, abruptly and un-mindfully I snatched him up from his bassinet.  While the actual force I used was no more than normal to swiftly pick him up, it was the energy behind the action that set off the worry inside me.  I snatched him up; not lifted, not picked.  Snatched.  My internal state and attitude toward him were irritated and resentful.  I had responded to his cries begrudgingly, selfishly wishing I could stay sleeping instead.  I felt like a victim of his neediness.  The overwhelm inside of me objected to another late night nursing session and I leaked this reactivity onto my precious, helpless, hungry little baby.  In the form of my hasty, reluctant, resentful bassinet snatch-up, I had transferred to Hays my reaction born of fatigue and a selfish, egoic orientation.

As I nursed him in the glider I filled with remorse and regret for the feelings I had experienced and that he could have potentially picked up on.  The thought that he might sense anything from me other than love and patience troubled me deeply.   I nursed and cuddled him as I acknowledged this dark cloud of feeling I had passed through.  I thought, what is wrong with me to have had such harsh resentment toward my baby, however brief?  Tears ran down my cheeks as I saw inside myself the seed that could sprout into the capacity to harm him.  I cried as I asked Hays’s forgiveness for my harsh thoughts.  I felt intensely humbled by how I am not immune to this aspect of human nature.  I do not believe any of us are.

Both my spiritual teacher Craig Hamilton as well as another teacher I’ve studied with, Andrew Harvey, have guided me in a practice of following the thread from a subtle thought or action all the way down to its darkest possible permutation.  Insodoing, I gain access to the profound humility that comes when I fully let into my heart the truth that humans are capable of doing horrible things to themselves, each other, animals and the planet.  And as another teacher taught me to inquire into as a practice, “there is nothing human I am not.”

As I write this there is a part of me that can’t even believe I’m considering admitting publicly that I too could be capable of harming someone, much less my own child.  Quite the contrary, I would bet my life that I would in fact NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS harm one hair on his head.  But at the same time I don’t think that that does near as much to insure against that possibility as does fully seeing how even I am not immune.  If I can be brave enough to open completely to the deep fear that surrounds and veils the truth of the human condition, I humbly believe that it invites the vigilance necessary to always be feeling into what’s under the surface of my actions with my baby and with everyone, thereby stopping what for many has been the progression of bad feelings into bad actions.  And also, if I can see the seed within myself, then I can really let my heart break open for all of the children who are harmed every minute of every day in every country in this world.  For how many abusive parents did it all start with deep fatigue and resentment left unvoiced?

According to Childhelp, approximately 80% of children that die from abuse are under the age of four.  In letting my heart break open for these and all abused children, I also feel flooded with compassion for the character testing challenge of caring for babies.  They really do require almost all of us in the beginning.  Each one of us began as a baby, utterly helpless and defenseless.  So much love, energy and nurturing went into facilitating the emergence of each and every adult you see every day out in the world.  Again, I feel deeply humbled by the preciousness of this life, by all that my parents went through to raise me, by the sacred opportunity it is to have survived fragile infancy, grown up, and to have now been blessed with my own helpless little one.  I will nurture and care for him to the best of my ability until the end of my life. May he will grow and thrive on a foundation of my heart-breaking love for him.

Maybe I’ll Sleep On It

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We emerged from the fog of our baby’s four-ish months of near constant crying giddy and grateful.  Thank God Hays was no longer suffering!  For the first few days we were drunk on his beaming smiles and deep belly giggles which are nothing less than the purest form of joy and delight.  Getting to the bottom of Hays’s intolerance of dairy and soy in my milk just happened to coincide with a big leap in his cognitive development.  So, as we were drinking in his happiness, he was drinking in this big, bright, stimulating world that he suddenly realized he was a part of.

Hays’s months of upset had been incredibly trying but the one thing that had been working pretty well was his sleeping.  Since the beginning, he had seemed to prefer sleeping in his own space and not with us.  While I had always gotten up in the middle of the night to nurse him, recently that had decreased to once or twice per night.  Amazingly, I had started to de-zombify!  So it was much to my dismay that the enjoyment of our baby’s new-found gastrointestinal harmony was abruptly halted by sudden and quite frequent night waking.

Every night was worse than the last.  First, he just started waking up more often, from two times to three or four.  As I heaved myself out of bed and crossed the room through a haze of exhaustion the viscosity of sewer sludge, I would pore over the time data in my ill-functioning mind: 12:30, 2:15, 3:50, 5:20.  I would hear him cry and think, “oh my God where is he?” having zero recollection in my sleep-deprived memory of laying him back down in his bed sometimes less than an hour earlier!  The days and nights began to blend.  The amount of time he would stay asleep between night wakings was shortening exponentially.  His napping also shortened and became equally fitful.  It suddenly seemed he was barely sleeping day or night.  The final straw fell when he ceased to stay asleep even in the beginning of the night.  After the first attempt at putting him down he would awaken 20 minutes later; the second time 10 minutes or so; and then barely a minute or two would pass after putting him down and he’d be awake and wailing.

A friend of my mother in law had passed along the book, The Baby Whisperer.  Desperate for a solution to this sleepless madness, I began devouring that book, two other sleep books I already had on hand, and one that I’d ordered via my amazon app while nursing Hays back to sleep during one of our MANY night wakings.  What jumped out at me right away was the notion of “teaching your baby to sleep.”  Um, excuse me but I thought a baby was supposed to “sleep like a baby!”  Apparently that is not the case.  There are as many baby sleep teaching methods as the day (or night) is long.  Moreover, there are even professional baby sleep trainers that come in-house to help a family get your baby to sleep through the night.  Listen, I am a new mom who hasn’t been around too many babies.  Never in a million years would I have guessed the rigmarole that, according to the four sources I had on hand and the overly informative interweb, is necessary to teach Hays to sleep.  Through the crying months Hays’s bedtime routine had consisted of him crying his head off until he passed out.  Putting Hays to sleep had entailed gingerly transferring him to his bed from whoever’s arms he passed out it after crying his eyes out.  I felt blindsided by the realization that I now had to open a can of worms I didn’t even know existed.  Why hadn’t I heard of all this?  Why now?  Things were just getting good!

No matter.  I would just buckle down and figure this all out.  I would find a method I liked and put it into action and nip this sleeplessness in the bud.  I spent every spare minute reading.  I even read when I should have been seizing a precious and rare opportunity to catch up on sleep.

Sinking into my research, I felt increasingly worried, fearful and uncertain.  As I flooded my consciousness with expert opinions on baby sleep, I felt myself narrowing in limitation.  It was as if the more I read, the more afraid I became that I would do irreparable harm to Hays by going about getting him to sleep in “the wrong way” (the fact that I was polarized in thinking there was a right and a wrong way was a sure sign that I was operating from ego).  I became over-saturated with information and my bandwidth for processing it decreased.  I was in fear and overwhelm not knowing how to go about choosing one of the methods I was reading about.  I did not know how to move forward.  I was literally losing sleep over losing sleep.

It is no secret that there are some strong opinions out there regarding things like letting a baby cry it out, the family bed, and all of the options in between.  After my deep dive into baby sleep thought and technique, I surfaced armed with what I viewed as a more middle of the road method.  I began keeping diligent logs of Hays’s naps and night wakings gathering my data for The No-Cry Sleep Solution, a book/method by Elizabeth Pantley.  I was wearing around this little mini-blankey (which my cousin Lea kindly taught me is called a “lovey”) in my shirt trying to pump my scent into it.  I readied Hays’s sleep space.  Brett and I invented his bedtime routine.  I had my mind on the prize.  I now knew to put him down when drowsy but awake so he could learn to fall asleep on his own.  I now knew that in the middle of the night, if I knew he wasn’t hungry, I would do the “pick-up put-down” technique until finally he dozed back off.  I was rarin’ to go.  So we began…

…and then we stopped.  It didn’t take but a few days to abort The No-Cry Sleep Solution mission.  Hays and I both were crying, no one was sleeping, and the lack of sleep problem was not solved.  For the record, I do believe this method could one day work for us, but at this precise point in time I had not the reserve of energy for the stick-with-it-ness to achieve success.  I had been getting up around seven times per night and I felt like I was attempting to single-handedly wage war on nature.  Since having become more tuned in to what was going on around him, our sweet baby seemed hardwired to want to be near us.  His preferences had changed.  We had tried him in our bed in the beginning and he was not into it at all.  But his newfound alertness couldn’t seem to stand sensing our presence yet being apart.  I came to this conclusion when, on the final night of my brief foray into sleep teaching, Hays awoke crying for the third time and it wasn’t even midnight.  I said to Brett, “I can’t do this.  I cannot get up one more time.”  I brought Hays into bed between us and he’s been sleeping happily there ever since.  The sleep space I readied for him is now a nice place to store clothes and blankets, the sleep data logs are long gone, and I nurse him into a deep sleep every night.  There you go.  There is the messy recounting of our attempt at teaching our baby to sleep.  Judge me if you will.  Co-sleeping is not without other challenges.  It’s certainly not the best sleep of my life but it is light years better than getting up seven times to answer my baby’s lonely wails.

As with the choice to breast or bottle feed, where a baby sleeps as well as any method used to help him do so are deeply personal choices.  The books seem to all say that it is only with the insider perspective on one’s own baby and family situation that parents can discern what’s going to work for them.   So, why am I concerned with outing our choice to have a family bed and our overall leanings toward attachment parenting?  I believe it is ego seizing the opportunity to move in on a situation where I was lacking confidence and was weakened by fatigue.

  • When Hays’s sleep situation drastically worsened, I polarized in my response seeking the “right” way to handle the situation instead of gathering information and then trusting myself to try different approaches that my gut sensed might best suit our needs.

  • I narrowed in my exploration of different possible ways to address it as opposed to stretching to hold the complexity of varied and sometimes conflicting data and methods.

  • I oriented to the situation from fear rather than possibility, exploring the different sleep training methods as if I only had one chance and as if one false move would yield horrible, irreversible consequences.

Brett truly helped us hold the line here.  He has a gift for holding and employing different perspectives or methods, doing “a little bit of this, a little bit of that.”  I see now that at first I wasn’t able to maintain the spaciousness to explore and hold multiple perspectives related to Hays’s sleep teaching.  In the end I dove headlong into The No-Cry Sleep Solution, having decided that was the ultimate answer, all or nothing, for better or for worse.   I succumbed to the temptation to attach fully and devoutly to one method and try to impose that onto our unique situation in lieu of starting on the inside and working out- by feeling into what is in Hays’s and our family’s unique best interest and creating our own no-cry sleep solution.  So far, in the one we made up no one is crying and everyone is sleeping (even if not always like a baby).

When attempting to force our baby into someone else’s sleep method failed I was humbled.  This parenting gig has the tendency to do that to me over and over and I’m only five months in!  In the end, I don’t get to know if we are making the very best EVER possible choices in regard to Hays’s sleep.  All I can do is be vigilant for ego, stretch to see clearly, and act with trust from my inner compass.  How much easier would it be if there were one clear, definitive right path whenever there are parenting choices to be made.  I’m grateful for all of the expert opinions out there but I remember now how to inform and educate myself without giving away my power to the extent that I disregard my ability to sense into what is true and what is right for our baby and our family.  I remember now not to compare myself to my perceptions of other parents’ mastery over baby sleep practices.  I remember now that from a deeper time perspective Hays will only be a baby for a blink of an eye and if what we decide works best for his and our sleep also enables us to wake up in the morning to his sweet smile…well, that is a win-win if I have ever heard one.  We are human.  We forget.

The last thing I remember is to cultivate a neutral relationship to how i presume others will judge or react to my parenting choices  Posting this publicly is a way to practice standing with humble confidence behind what i see at any given time is best for my baby and our family.  Nothing is fixed.  Everything is changing.  My intention is to continually stretch to see clearly with the willingness to pivot on a dime.  If I sense into a better way to handle something then I’ll just course correct.  But maybe I’ll sleep on it first.

Mom’s Group Baby Soothing Olympics

A mere eleven weeks into parenthood and I’m struck by the ease with which I almost automatically began imposing my ego patterns onto my baby.  The word I’ve been using to describe Hays is fussy.  I feel this encapsulates all of the theories as to why he cries as often as he does: gastrointestinal distress, the fourth trimester argument, and immaturity of his calming reflex.  Fussy is a gentle way of saying that my baby will up and cry hysterically at the drop of a hat, and while I have several tried and true, tested methods with which to calm him he still is often inconsolable.  Albeit true that Hays is a fussy baby, he is still just a baby.  And babies cry and we don’t get to know why with any degree of certainty.

I’ve been reluctant to venture into the world with Hays lest he erupt into one of his crying fits in public.  I fear being trapped in the checkout line with him screaming his tiny head off as it darkens fifty shades of red.  I fear being out of my element with all of the tools I use to try to comfort him: his beloved white noise mp3, his swaddle, his stove fan.  I fear having to deal with bags of groceries and a cart and a stroller with him strapped into his car seat and me unable to get him out fast enough to launch into our soothing routine before he spirals downward.

I attended a mom’s group for the first time the other day.  I wasn’t nervous about him crying, the nature of the gathering being a bunch of moms and babies.  Surely there would be other little ones voicing their complaints, right?  Well, when we arrived a bit late we found the room bathed in an unexpected calm.  Women were seated in a circle discussing an article, babies were nursing or sleeping, and a few older children played calmly around the room’s perimeter.  There was no crying!

Hays was off to a great start, out of his car seat, bouncing on my knee and looking around the room breaking in his new capacity for alertness.  As the hour wore on I sensed his agitation building.  His arms began jerking here and there, his brow furrowed, his coos gave way to grunts and snorts.  Inside my consciousness I felt ego moving in like a fog.  I was trying every subtle baby calming move in my book and executing them with the feigned air of nonchalance.  When I see him about to blow I spring to my feet, my desire to keep him calm winning out over my usual preference to remain inconspicuous and low-key in groups.

I’m up and on the move around the room with Hays, bouncing and jiggling, dipping and making whatever other motion I can manage.  When he escalates further I break out the diaper changing pad knowing that if I can get his clothes off I can more than likely calm him, at least temporarily (what can I say, the boy likes to be naked!).  It works for probably seven minutes. All of the sudden squirming and beginning to fuss, I quickly dress him.  What now?  I look up at the clock.  Shit- more than 20 minutes left in the meeting.  Why did I come here?  This is exhausting!  I don’t need an audience to bear witness to my baby-soothing desperation.  Look cool.  Stay with it.

I mobilize again circling the periphery, a mom’s group walking wallflower.  How are they all just sitting there like that with their babies?  One woman is standing and doing a gentle bounce with her baby girl but no one was having to pull out all the stops like me.  Anxiety builds in me with every bounce and dip.  Why didn’t I drive my own car?  The disempowerment I feel turns to panic and lodges as a lump in my throat.  With ten minutes to go Hays lets it rip.  He unleashes the full-on wail and I make haste to exit the room.  Time creeps by and to my dismay the mommies aren’t quick to disperse at meeting’s end.  I keep giving my friend subtle signals from across the room that I’m ready to get the hell out but her slumbering baby princess wasn’t creating the same kind of urgency within her.  When at last I make my way over to her, she gives me a warm, empathetic look and asks me if I need a hug.  I feel the tears glaze my eyes as I realize she’s tuned in to my stressed and anxious inner state.

It was at that moment that I realize that I’d been nervous all morning at home and then throughout the group fearing the inevitable- that he would cry during the meeting.  I had imposed this expectation on myself that I had to do everything in my power to keep him calm.  I was not present.  I was not liberated.  I was attached to this specific outcome and orienting to the entire experience in terms of “how am I showing up?” and “how am I doing?” “ How are the other mom’s perceiving me?”  At no point was I letting go of my ability to control whether or not he would cry.  Because let’s face it.  While at times I can comfort him when he cries, I in no way can dictate that he not do so.  Nor should I want to.  Crying is his language right now and just because there is a social stigma surrounding it, compounded by my own social baggage, doesn’t mean his expression should be censored.

So, why this neurotic fixation on keeping him calm?  It’s textbook ego:  worry about what others think of me, the strong pull toward inconspicuousness, not wanting to impose/take up space/be a burden- all ways of of being I inherited from my sweet mother.  My little ego is triggered and contracted by the fact that my son’s loud, raw, unapologetic crying might disrupt this group or any group or public space, for that matter.  Eleven weeks into his life I am assuming that his behaviors are my complete responsibility.  While as his parent and guardian, this is true to an extent, nonetheless he is his own being with his own temperament and there has to be space for him to express in this world as Hays, without worry as to how my little ego is going to react to it.

I have to sit with this.  I see that by allowing ego to siphon my presence away from Hays I am less available to respond fully in every moment.  My presence is tantamount to my love.  Allowing my attention to follow ego’s fixation on what others are thinking is letting ego rob Hays of love.  I want to dare myself to go unabashedly into public with Hays and allow him the space to cry if he will.  And he will.  My practice: to allow him the space to do so; to allow myself the space to do what I can to comfort him in the moment but still finish what I am doing and leave; to allow the space for others to potentially be annoyed, disrupted, and to judge me and my mothering if they feel so inclined. I want to nip this in the bud now.   I must model this for him and break the cycle- stop the trickling down through the generations.

Fast-forward a few weeks.  I went for it!  I went to the grocery store with Hays in his stroller.  I had devised a super efficient, elaborate plan involving using the self-scanning gun and dropping my groceries directly into bags hung from “mommy hooks” on my stroller’s handle.  We would be focused and swift.  He would not cry.  He was fed and had not yet napped.  The motion and the white noise sounds of public space would lull him to sleep.  I assessed the conditions to be optimal.  Well, not three minutes into our process he begins his descent.  As you can imagine, it was not pretty.  I carried him part of the time in one hand while shopping and pushing the grocery laden stroller with the other, which then became imbalanced with Hay’s weight removed and almost tipped over several times.  As he was throwing his head back and heaving heavy sobs elderly women were stopping me, chatting me up about babies, asking me if he might be hungry as if that might not have crossed my mind.  But I gritted my teeth and dug in.  I persevered and got everything on my list even finding the elusive Tahini hidden in an obscure foreign foods corner of the store.  I clung to thin threads of calm as I raced around simultaneously soothing and shopping.  What followed was a blur of checking out, driving my screaming baby home, schlepping us up the steep stairs, and undoing as quickly as humanly possible the various buckles, clasps and buttons necessary to get him nursing.  Finally, as I sat totally spent and exhausted in the glider with Hays eating contentedly no worse for the wear, the insight that remained as the dust settled was that with my intention and attention focused on the goal of shopping with a crying baby, there was no room left for egoic self-consciousness.  I had been pretty decently present throughout the whirlwind without perceiving others’ judgment of me, my mothering or my baby.  I had allowed us the space to do our thing in the world.  I dream for my son to know consciousness untethered by the projections of what others may be thinking of him so that he can be the fullest expression of his authentically emerging potential.  The grocery store: one seemingly small excursion; one giant leap for parenting Hays beyond ego.

(written in January)

Soothed, swaddled and swinging

Soothed, swaddled and swinging

What to do, what to do?

Arrestingly cute though he may be, Hays has been fussy/colicky (see my first post) for the entirety of his “fourth trimester” a.k.a the first 3 months outside of the womb.  Not having spent much time with babies, I didn’t come out of the gate having much of a clue as to what caring for my baby would entail and I had never really considered that he might be a challenging baby.  As Hays’s post-birth trance wore off after the first week or so, the crying escalated.  With each increase, I acquired a new technique: the 5 S’s (The Happiest Baby on the Block became my bible), holding him by the stove fan, Colic Calm homeopathic gripe water, Mommy’s Bliss gripe water, a baby hot water bottle, womb sounds, and last but most definitely not least, the ultimate white noise track of all time, Baby Got Colic- the only thing other than swaddling that consistently helps me to pry my precious, hysterical little one out of the white knuckled grip of the fussy monster.

Hays has just in the past couple of weeks turned a corner and is now smiley, bright-eyed and alert soaking in his surroundings.  But for the first 12 weeks, if he wasn’t nursing or sleeping he was nearly always crying.  Basically, unless he was out cold I was in motion trying desperately to soothe him.  I continually held, bounced, rocked and walked him around the apartment.  Keeping him fed, dry and happy was an all-consuming, non-stop endeavor.

As the weeks wore on, I often felt frustrated and trapped, antsy to be able to put him down so that I might DO something.  I wasn’t getting anything DONE: not teeth brushed, not showering or washing dishes, not making a cup of tea or something to eat, not paying bills or finishing laundry.  And when he finally would nap, I was a frenzied mess not knowing where to start.  (Well, I’d start by finally going to the bathroom!) How do I use this precious, undetermined amount of hands-free, napping-baby time to GET STUFF DONE! Although I should have been sleeping while he was sleeping (my most received piece of advice), I constantly gave in to my conditioned need to be productive at the expense of resting these weary new-mommy bones.

His naps were short-lived and never allotted enough time to do the basics, much less meditate or tackle nagging tasks like overdue thank you cards.  Thoughts of shopping or attempting any errands outside of the house weren’t even considered.  Nonetheless, as I nursed and bounced and walked my baby around the apartment for hours on end, my mind was full of all of these UNDONE tasks and personal needs that I had no time to meet. I filled with shame as I realized I kept wishing he would just go to sleep.  Impulses to do things other than care for Hays would arise within me as frustration, impatience.  It struck me that every time I gave in and followed one of those impulses, I was essentially choosing them over being with my baby.  I had to really work to let all those desires go. In a way, I feel like a part of me was dying.  I was letting go of the “me” who had for 34 years basically been able to do what she wanted, when she wanted.  I was slowly surrendering my self-centric orientation and placing Hays at the very top of all to-do lists.  It is no small feat to fully let in that Brett and I are 100% responsible for meeting the needs of this precious being that came into the world through us.

From time to time, the fog of constant crying would lift and I would suddenly find this alert little, blue-eyed newborn looking up at me with this, “so now what?” expression on his tear-stained face. I was at a loss.  I’d try all manner of things to entertain him but he was not yet developed enough for any of my efforts to pique his interest, nor would he simply lie on a blanket or in his bassinet. I realized that that these rare moments when he was calm and awake were actually pregnant with my dread. I was tensely anticipating the crying that would inevitably recommence.  Whether he was happy or sad, it seemed I was mildly anxious and that didn’t feel healthy.

I began to practice turning away from the constant barrage of impulses to do other things when I was tending to Hays whether he was wailing or nursing or bouncing in my arms.  Can I not need things to be any other way?  Can I allow ‘what is’ to be as it is?  What is it like to just kind of idle in the richness and the realness of the moment with him without attaching to what the next moment might be like?  I can be ready to respond but not dreading it, not anxious for when the next bout of crying will set in or impatient for when I’ll be able to knock out my to-do list.  What is it to just be present with my son- to be open, to be love?

I began to see Hays as the gateway through which I could follow the thread of presence out of my mind’s compulsive thoughts of past and future.  And when his crying escalates to full on, red-faced lip quivering wailing so intense that he actually cries silently between ear-drum piercing heart breaking shrieks, I really stay with him and observe it.  Instead of narrowing my focus in hasty reactivity, I sink into presence with his state while continuing to respond to his needs.  I don’t resist it but rather breathe in, taking in his discomfort.  I breathe in the difficulty of being so tiny, so new, so defenseless with this body that is trying to get up and running.  I hold all of that in my heart and bathe it with compassion.  I breathe out that compassion and blanket him with it and with light and love.  I breathe in his cries and think of all the tiny babies that actually are in extreme duress, pain or are being abused.  I hear his cries as theirs and hold all of those tiny beings in my heart.  I hold their suffering and I breathe out hope and healing.  I breathe out admiration for babies’ resilience and innocence.

For the most part, the dark days of fourth trimester tummy troubles and inconsolable crying jags are now behind us.  The sun now rises and sets on our much happier baby who’s face suddenly began flashing a heart-melting, wide-mouth, gummy grin.  When Hays smiles, he beams with such radiant, innocent joy; it pierces the depths of my being and floods me with a love I could never have imagined.  Just as when he cries, when my baby smiles at me I practice meeting him in the moment, present and open.  In that moment when I let the purity of his happiness penetrate my heart, I really get it.  It’s all shot through with love.

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Fussy

“Fussy” is a word characteristically employed by parents whose infants cry inconsolably.  It’s a word so specific to babies, yet at the same time so ambiguous that when I use it to describe my son’s near constant maniacal wailing I am in some way feigning the ability to define the cause of the distress.  “Colicky” is another broad-sweeping baby adjective again used by bewildered parents desperate to understand why they can’t soothe their little ones despite their constant and varied attempts.  Both words feed the illusion of control while truthfully, when Hays is off on one of his crying jags I couldn’t be more powerless.

The heart piercing wails and contorted face of an adorable, helpless infant coupled with the biological stress response hardwired into me as his mom is already nearly intolerable.  Now multiply that heartbreak for your child’s suffering by hours, days, weeks on end of interminable bawl sessions.  And finally, tack on the irritability, hopelessness and desperation that result from sleep deprivation and all-consuming exhaustion, both physical and emotional, to the extent you never thought possible.  It is a recipe for suffering and despair.

I sensed early on that it was important to orient to these episodes differently.  Once I had tried every trick in my book including swaddling, white noise, gripe water, bouncing, and a few others, I began opening up to the crying- to simply be with it, with him.  I attempt to allow it to be as it is, not needing to change it. I expand my awareness to be spacious enough to hold all of it: his crying, not being able to help him, not knowing the true cause.  The next step is key.  I give up the resistance to his crying- surrender to his sobbing, his little tears, his red face, his presumed discomfort.  I hold him, both literally and figuratively,  in tender, compassionate presence.  Can I appreciate the preciousness of his little being?  Can I just be with him through this- just allow it?  He is not in danger.  It is normal for discomfort arising in his awareness to express as crying.  Can I let his new body find its way, work out the kinks, grow and develop, uncomfortable though it may be?  It is temporary.  Soon enough he will sleep peacefully again in my arms.

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