“There is a kind of ‘holding’ we can do as mothers and caretakers that takes place in our hearts and minds; we can create an atmosphere for the child that is filled with the warmth and protection they need. When my son is out on his own in the space around me, I am always ‘holding’ him with me; in the way I move and the songs I sing and even in my quiet meditative thoughts (when I can keep them calm and tame that is).” Sydney Steiner , Learning Motherhood
When I read these words today, I thought of this:
It’s the first time…the first time I’m meeting her, the first time I’m holding her, the first time I’m feeding her, and now, the first time I’m changing her diaper. She isn’t even a month old yet, and she is so incredibly tiny. We only have an hour together. She is awake and aware, even though she keeps her eyes closed tight against the bright, overhead, florescent lights of the playroom we are in. She’s been cuddled in my arms for about a half an hour, and she’s eaten, and it’s pretty clear that she needs a diaper change. The circumstances are less than ideal.
There is no changing table, so I place her on a blanket on the couch. My mother is hovering over my shoulder, and a social worker is present watching my every move and taking notes. She begins to cry as soon as I put her down and start undressing her, her face turning bright red, contorting and scrunching up, her arms flailing, and her legs kicking. Whoever invented the term “non-mobile” baby, had no clue. I feel tense. I am supposed to be the “expert”, and yet…
Her wails are so loud, and plaintive- “I don’t like this!!!” I briefly wonder if there is a way to change her while still holding her. “Breathe, Lisa,” I tell myself. Then I enter a quiet, focused space within, and bring my full attention to her in the moment. Everybody and everything else ceases to exist. “We will get through this together.” I resist the urge to hurry through the diaper change, and quietly talk to her, remembering to tell her what I am going to do before I do it. She continues to cry and flail. She kicks off a sock. She screams louder as I wipe the tender, reddened skin on her bottom, and apply the diaper cream that the social worker hands to me. She urinates just as I am going to fasten the new diaper into place. Almost done. “Breathe.”
I finish, and lift her into my arms, one sock still off. My mother brings her sock and tries to put it back on just as she is calming down and settling comfortably back into my arms. “Give us a minute, Mom. Let her get settled, first.” It was the longest five minutes of my life. But we did it, together, and the world didn’t end, and the next time will be easier….or not, but my commitment remains to hold the calm space for her, to slow down, to talk her through it, and be with her in it, even if I can’t physically hold her through every minute of it. “Breathe.” And so our relationship begins.