Several years before becoming a Mum I went to stay with a dear friend who had recently given birth. When her baby was crying at times when she wasn't hungry or cold or wet, she simply held her in her arms and listened to her, reassuring her that all was well.
I found this fascinating.
This friend told me about the psychologist Aletha Solter who had written the book Aware Parenting. She advocates that listening to babies cry can be healing for them. I hadn't spent a huge amount of time around babies and children but I did know that people don't normally listen to their babies cry in this way, and I was intrigued.
Fast forward a few years. I became pregnant and immediately bought Aletha Solter's book.
Not All By The Book: Unexpected beginnings
I read the book in a couple of days. I totally loved every bit of it and decided that I was going to be THAT Mum – The Mum who listened to her baby's feelings instead of trying to distract them all the time. The mum who could cope with my baby's crying.
I was aiming for a home birth, and possibly a water birth, without pain relief, but I ended up having a very long labour. I was terrified of the contractions and of giving birth and after two consecutive nights of contractions, I was done.
I was fully dilated and yet I was exhausted and my contractions had slowed down.
My partner and doula were both encouraging me to keep going but by then I wanted some pain relief and for someone else to take over.
We drove to the hospital and I ended up having a spinal and giving birth by the aid of forceps. As soon as my baby was in my arms the birth was forgotten. I was so utterly happy.
The next day we went home and for a few days, I was blissed out.
And Then My Baby's Crying Began
Then the crying began.
“Great!” I thought, “I know how to do this. I just listen to her cry and this will help, and then she'll fall asleep in my arms, right? Just like it says in the book.”
Wrong. Very wrong.
My baby cried and cried and cried.
For about six weeks solidly, every evening at around 6pm she would start to cry and it seemed that no amount of ‘listening' to her helped in any way. My partner and I spent our evenings taking it in turns to listen to her, but I was tearing my hair out!
I was scared and sometimes I thought I couldn't take anymore crying!
My fear told me there must be something REALLY wrong with her.
Asking Questions But Getting No Answers About Baby Crying
I resorted to all the ways I could think of to distract her from crying: feeding, walking, dancing, jigging, rocking, taking her in the car.
They worked momentarily but as soon as we were stationary again or she stopped feeding she would begin to cry.
All I could think was that the book didn't tell me she was going to cry this much!
Soon after a friend of mine recommended Hand In Hand Parenting. I liked the look of the website and following one of their tools, quickly found my first listening partner. This is someone who you take it in turns with to listen as you each talk (or yell or cry!) about parenting. For more about this parenting tool read Establishing Good Listening Partnerships and Knowing When to Move On
How I Learned to Cope with My Baby's Crying
Finally, I had someone to listen to me.
During my listening time, I realised that listening to my baby had ignited feelings from long ago that I didn't know were there!
I was left to cry by myself as a child and it hadn't felt safe to cry because no one came to listen to me. When my baby cried in my arms, these old feelings got triggered and it didn't feel safe in the present moment either.
No wonder I got scared and thought something must be wrong with her.
As my feelings built up I got more and more tense. Babies pick up on tension, and so it became easy to see why she wouldn’t stop crying when I held her. I wasn't exactly giving her the message that all was well!
Once I had someone listening to me, however, I began to release my own tension and relax.
Only then was I able to listen to my own baby more easily.
Before having a listening partner, the listening I was doing with my baby was all one way.
Listen to this podcast on Why Telling Your Birth Story Can Help in Your Parenting
Finding a Way To Relieve My Own Stress Around Crying
I was listening to her, but there was no one listening to me. It was just as it had been in my childhood when I had no one to listen to me.
Having a listening partner changed this. Being listened to actually empowered me to listen more easily. It was a beautiful exchange.
The miracle happened, and my daughter began to fall asleep in my arms after I'd listened to her cry for a few minutes.
Now, it was just like in the book! It really worked!
A few months later, when my baby was almost one, I took an online class called the Parents Intensive with Hand in Hand’s founder Patty Wipfler.
Night Weaning and Listening To My Baby Cry
Every other week I had listening time with Patty. It was amazing. Once I remember going on the call feeling really scared about something and within a few minutes of listening to me, Patty had me laughing my head off. All the fear miraculously disappeared.
During this course I decided that I wanted to night wean my daughter. She didn't need to have milk in the night any longer and I was ready to stop. With the support of Patty and my listening partner, who was doing the course with me, I went ahead and night weaned her.
She had some big feelings about this!
We were still co-sleeping at the time and my partner would hold her in the night whilst I listened to her feelings and reassured her that I would give her milk again in the morning.
If I hadn't been having my own listening time, it would have been really hard to do. I would have been too triggered by my daughter's feelings. Luckily I now had somewhere to talk to about this and I was in a much better place to listen to her and know that she would be ok without the milk.
For two or three nights, she would wake once, and I would hold her but not nurse her. I reassured her that she could nurse in the morning, murmur my love, and listen to her as she cried intensely. In about 20 minutes, she would settle again in my arms, and sleep. Then she began to sleep through the night.
She is now nine years old and has been a brilliant sleeper ever since.
I am SO grateful that I found out about Hand In Hand Parenting.
I have a strong connection with my daughter and she is happy, confident, caring and expressive as a result of these tools.
Whenever she's scared, or sad, or angry about something, I can use the five tools to support her release her feelings and find her joy again.
I went on and trained to be a Hand In Hand Instructor in 2013 and now I get to share what I love with other parents. It's the best job ever!
Parenting a baby? Read To The Mama Whose Birth Did Not Go to Plan: You Are Not a Failure and Ages and Stages: What Crying Means
Watch this video of Hand in Hand Certification Candidate Chantal Harrison as she reflects on her birth story
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