Babies need loving, responsive adults to make them whole. This is best illustrated by watching the still face study, which was created by Ed Tronick, a developmental psychologist. This version is done with dads (a great reminder that it’s parents — not just moms – who matter to babies). (You can see a version with older kids here.)
When the baby becomes upset, that’s dysregulation. When parents tune back in, the babies are able to regulate. Babies (and toddlers and children) learn to regulate on their own over time but only with our help.
Now before you start feeling bad about the times you’re on your phone or reading a book or cooking a dinner and your baby is melting down, the important thing is the reconnection. You step away, you come back. They fall apart, you help them come back together. Some frustration is fine because in that frustration are important lessons about trust. Dad comes back. Mom returns. You are not alone. (The second video I linked explains this more.)
Eventually baby’s tolerance increases. As children get older they need less reflection from us and they are able to carry that sense of being seen within themselves. But there will be times when they will need our help even when they’re great big kids. After all, we adults sometimes need someone to hold our hands, too, so we won’t fall to pieces.
“There’s no such thing as an infant,” wrote D. W. Winnicott, famed British child psychiatrist. “If you show me a baby you certainly show me also someone caring for a baby.”
A baby alone is a baby unfinished.
Now imagine what happens if a baby lives alone in dysregulation for a long time or very often. Imagine if a baby does not have someone to complete them. This is what happens to children who are neglected or institutionalized. They don’t learn to self regulate; they’ve never been given the tools to do it. As you can see from the video, some babies shut down and others fall apart. This is where they will go as they get older even if they have help later. Those early experiences leave deep impressions on young hearts and minds.
Now think of yourself. Some adults watch the still face videos and they have a visceral reaction. Tears come to their eyes. They become upset for the seemingly abandoned infant. Perhaps it reminds us of being left to our own dysregulation too often. Perhaps it reminds us of early experiences of fear and loneliness.
Parenting our children can bring up some of these deep seated losses. Sometimes giving to our children what we didn’t have is healing and sometimes it can bring us grief we don’t understand and don’t know how to manage.
So what do we need then? Where can we find connection to regulate? Perhaps it’s from our partner. Perhaps it’s through meditation to connect us to our feelings so we can attend to them. And perhaps it’s in the office of a trusted counselor.
I wanted to share some events that are coming up around the community.
From the Coalition of Adoptive Families:
Rejection and Grief: Feelings Unspoken
It is common for adoptees to experience feelings of rejection and grief but sometimes the connection is not made to resulting depression, anxiety, and lack of self esteem. Learn how adoption related loss can affect your child.
Guest Speaker: Theresa Tammy Gaser, MSSA, LISW-S, CTS – Trinity Family Counseling, Westerville
Tammy is certified as a Trauma and Loss Clinical Specialist by The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC). Throughout her career she has provided training seminars on child abuse and neglect, developed treatment plans, and provided consultation services for survivors of various types of trauma and grief/loss, including events such as sexual/physical abuse and environmental/community trauma. Tammy enjoys equipping patients with effective behavioral strategies to deal with various behavior management concerns (volatile and threatening aggressive behavior) and anxiety/stress management. She also provides individual therapy for children, teens, and adults with delays in executive functioning, emotional expression, and/or development, and for those with Attachment Disorders and Oppositional Defiant Disorders.
Date/Time: May 20, 2015, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Location: 1550 Old Henderson Rd., Suite N 162, Columbus, OH 43220. Entrance, and parking, are on the North side rear, of the building.
More information and online registration: Rejection and Grief: Feelings Unspoken
From IMPACT Safety:
Own Your Own Voice Verbal Defense Workshop
IMPACT Safety teaches a unique form of self-defense and personal safety. You will learn IMPACT Safety’s strategies for dealing with difficult situations—whether a stranger who means you harm, a friend, coworker, or acquaintance. You will have the opportunity to learn and practice powerful verbal skills for many everyday situations. The goal of every IMPACT Safety program is to increase our choices so we may live in the world more freely.
Class Size Is Limited • Registration Required
Two Sessions Available
Date: Saturday, June 13, 2015
Time: 9:00 am—12:00 noon
Location: LifeCare Alliance Event Center
670 Harmon Avenue
Columbus, OH 43223
Click here to register for the AM SESSION.
Date: Saturday, June 13, 2015
Time: 2:00 pm—5:00 pm
Location: LifeCare Alliance Event Center
670 Harmon Avenue
Columbus, OH 43223
Click here to register for the PM SESSION.
From Cornerstone of Recovery
Camp Memory is a day camp which will be held Tuesday, June 23rd-Thursday, June 25th from 8:30am- 12:00pm at Cornerstone of Hope in Columbus, Ohio for children who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Drop off and breakfast will start at 8:00am and camp will be from 9:00am and go until 12:00pm. We will have a “littles” group for children ages 6-9 and a “middles” group for children 10-13. It is designed to help children share their grief experiences in fun and creative ways. Children are divided into groups by age for most activities.
Learn more by going here
I know that one of our greatest hopes as parents is that we can somehow protect our children from the inevitable hurts of life. We cry with them when they fall as toddlers. We chew on our nails fretting about them when they don’t get invited to the birthday. And sometimes if our worry for them is too great to bear, we pretend everything is all right even as it’s all falling down around us.
When we do too much protecting we raise kids who won’t know what to do when they’re grown and gone and something bad happens. Those slings and arrows? Those are opportunities for your growth as a parent and your child’s growth as a human being.
I know, I know, some kids get more than their fair share and it’s all right to rant and rave and shake your fist at fate about it but then you need to get down to the task of dealing with it all.
So what then? What can we do when we can’t protect them from suffering?
We can give them resiliency.
- You can listen to your daughter through her tears when her friend isn’t speaking to her;
- You can answer his hard questions about divorce;
- You can find her a grief group when a grandparent dies;
- You can find him a book about moving when you sign the new lease;
- You can give her time and space to run when her feelings get away from her;
- You can give him tools like meditation or prayer to find his center when he feels lost;
- You can give her a journal to write down her feelings;
- You can find him a mentor when you feel overwhelmed;
- You can invite friends or teachers or coaches or counselors to help;
- You can break out popcorn and boardgames when everyone needs a break from grief or anger;
- And you can model resiliency by taking care of yourself and your sorrows, too.
You don’t have to go it alone. There are community resources and counselors, there are web sites and self-help books. You may not be able to protect them but you can shore them up. You can help them build their strength. You can be there.
I heard this story on NPR on the drive home from work on Friday. It’s the story of a mom and her son who lost a child, Jesse, in the Sandy Hook shooting. I was particularly struck by the story told by JT, Jesse’s now 13-year old brother. He found healing by connecting to child survivors of the Rwandan genocide via Skype. Meeting them, hearing their stories and being witness to their own healing inspired him to work towards forgiveness of Adam Lanza.
“It wasn’t hard to forgive when I was never really mad,” he says. “I was just sad.”
It was a reminder to me of how important it is to find other people who will grieve with us and who understand our experiences. Grief can be so isolating and so lonely. Connecting with others who will listen and love us through it is the most healing thing we can do.
You can listen to the whole story (and read the transcript) by clicking here.
A discussion over at a little pregnant made me think about something. Having a baby, unfortunately, is not a cure for infertility.
I think it’s a myth that parenthood resolves infertility. I’ve been hanging with formerly infertile people who are now parents for some time and I always ask them (as some of you know, because I’ve talked to you on the phone) whether or not having a child cures their infertility. It’s interesting because not everyone has the same answer. I’ve met women who went on to have unplanned pregnancies after conceiving via treatment and they say that they still feel infertile. I’ve met others who have never given birth and they say that they no longer feel infertile.
I think that for many of us, the drive to get a baby cancels out so much of our self-care. We get tunnel vision and baby achievement eats up every little bit of energy we have and then when the baby arrives, we’re depleted. We haven’t taken care of the emotional resolution of our infertility.
Infertile women are at greater risk of post-partum depression because of this. We know, of course, that having a baby doesn’t solve all of our problems but it can come as a surprise that having a baby doesn’t heal all of our wounds. In fact, parenthood illuminates fissures in the relationships we have with ourselves and others.
Those of us who went to great lengths to achieve parenthood are more apt to feel guilty if we’re not enamored with our babies or being mommies right away because how can we justify the time and expense if we’re not now perfectly happy? How do we dare tell people that sometimes we wonder if we should have had our babies when those babies took so much effort?
I met a woman the other day who has a daughter via adoption and a son via a surprise pregnancy. She said that mother’s day is still the worst day of the year for her. She hates mother’s day with a passion. It reminds her of her years and years of sorrow and anger and she can’t erase that — no matter how many messy little handprint paperweights and crayoned cards she receives. She is still bitter at baby showers, still has days where seeing pregnant women at the mall is too much. She told me that she realizes now that during treatment and then during the adoption process, she was so focused on achieving parenthood that she forgot to process what was happening to her. She feels (and please note that I’m not trying to put words in her mouth, those words were there already) that she didn’t take the opportunity to grow through her infertility and instead fought it as hard as she could.
When I interviewed women this past spring (thanks again to many of you who volunteered!), I realized that we don’t get a lot of support in working through infertility outside of the specific realm of treatment. We talk a lot about treatment options and we offer each other sympathy when that annoying neighbor gets knocked up again but it’s very hard to help each other be ok with our own unique form of resolution.
Part of this, I think, is that we are blinded by our own infertility stories. It’s difficult to understand women who make choices that would not be our choices. I think we all do a very good job of saying, “I support that decision” even when it’s a decision we don’t quite comprehend but it can be hard for us to help each other process.
Sooner or later for our own emotional health, we have to learn to accept our infertility. That doesn’t mean we stop struggling for parenthood (unless that’s the path that makes the most sense for us) but it does mean that we need to resolve our rage and grief. I know how difficult this is to do because it comes up in new ways in all sorts of unexpected situations. But if we don’t, then even when we have a baby in-arms, we will find ourselves still hurting and we don’t deserve to hurt for the rest of our lives.
Surrendering to infertility sounds so terrible — it sounds like giving in — but in surrendering, we accept ourselves.
Wonderful, beautiful Julie said something so profound to me during our interview. She said, “I think what we’re doing now is both a means and an end … it’s a stepping stone that we have to walk over to get to where we’re going.”
Her perspective is such a wise one. We don’t have to love the journey to love ourselves on the journey or to appreciate what we gain.
I think this perspective, too, helps us when we’re making treatment decisions. It’s easier to honor our limits when we remember that the means are just as important as the ends.