Before I gave birth to my first baby I was overwhelmed by the various babycare products I thought I would need. A crib or cot, a moses basket or bassinette– what’s the difference? Why would a baby need so many different places to sleep (in the end, my baby’s bassinette became our laundry basket!)? Bouncy chairs, fancy applique bedding, matching curtains and trash cans, pumps, sterilizers, blankets, blankets and more blankets… Looking at babycare catalogues boggled my mind as I tried to piece together a list of what we would really need for our little baby.
What about a changing table? Everyone I knew seemed to own a dresser with an integral changing table on the top. But they were really expensive, and I wasn’t even sure we would fit one into our really small room in my tiny house! Plus, would I have to walk upstairs every time I changed the baby’s bottom? That’s what I call hard work. I can recall feeling so liberated by an idea I read in a magazine that was given to every mother giving birth at my local hospital. This hospital served a varied population– from the very wealthy to the very, very poor. The magazine suggested that a towel on the floor was a perfectly suitable place to change a baby. Imagine! I could change the baby’s dirty diaper without the need to buy a changing table that would have to sit in the middle of the living room because we couldn’t fit it anywhere else!
That moment was when the scales first began to fall from my eyes. I realised that so many baby ‘necessities’ were in fact baby ‘niceties.’ So I began to wonder, what does a baby actually need?
I have come to learn that a baby’s needs are very simple. A baby’s needs are the same as his wants. All he wants, all he needs is you! A baby has a need to be fed. You have two breasts for that. A baby has a need to be held. You have two arms for that. A baby has a need to be kept warm, clean and dry. You have the rest of your body for that (and ok, you can use a couple of those blankets your Aunt Sally bought you). A baby has a need to be loved. You have a heart for that.
None of these ‘things’ feature in a baby catalogue. No matter how many advertisements claim that you need their product to look after your baby, the truth is that you can save your money. (Goodness knows he’ll need it when college time comes!) All your baby wants and needs is you. Does he care about the pattern on the bedding? Nope. Does he mind whether the curtains match? Nah. Is he fussed on whether or not you change him on a table or on a towel on the floor? Not a chance.
All your baby cares about is being with you. Sounds easy, but for many of us used to a certain degree of autonomy, it can be hard to put aside the accoutrements of babycare and accept that what our babies really want is our presence. Our baby’s need for us is so strong that it might seem a little scary or suffocating. We can feel torn between meeting our baby’s needs and satisfying our own need for independence. Many in our culture expect babies to be independent from an early age… the argument goes that they need to learn to put themselves to sleep, to self-soothe, to not be so needy.
For a mother it can be hard to reconcile the demands of society, her own needs and the needs of the baby. It can help to remember that we are the adults and we have coping skills– a baby doesn’t understand concepts like autonomy or independence. He just wants, and needs, his mother. When I meet my baby’s needs I send him the clear message that he is important and safe: from this springboard of security he will naturally develop independence at his own pace. A baby’s ability to cope with his needs going unmet is limited, but we as adults can adjust to a limitation of our autonomy, particularly when we know that the limitation will be shortlived. Which of course, babyhood is.
So for the moment we can put the catalogues aside, focus on our babies and feel free to nurture ourselves at a time in our lives when our babies need us so much.
Photocredit: Wikimedia Commons.
About Lisa Hassan Scott
Lisa Hassan Scott is a stay at home mother of three little ones, age 2, 6 and 9. An American living in Great Britain for over 15 years, Lisa is a Yoga teacher certified by the British Wheel of Yoga, and a La Leche League Leader. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding, Yoga and the mind at http://www.lisahassanscott.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter: @lisahassanscott