Two days ago, I found myself searching the Internet for something to lift me up. I had spent several days and nights consoling my very sad, very sick baby, and the stress had taken its toll. I needed some validation, encouragement, understanding. But all I could find were articles and memes and blogposts that weren’t quite what I was looking for. Even 5th-time moms get discouraged when their kids are sick. Now that my baby is feeling more like herself, and now that I finally have a few moments to myself, I’d like to write the post I wish I had found when I was searching. I’ll address it to you, the weary mother who hasn’t been able to put the baby down in ages.
First of all, I want you to know that you are doing a beautiful job. I’ve been a mom for almost thirteen years now, and I’ve seen a lot of tough stuff, but being the mom of a sick baby is definitely one of the toughest. I know how frightening it can be to observe your baby’s symptoms. I know it can feel crushing and awful to hold your child’s body but not be able to take away her pain. What you’re doing right now is hard. Really hard. Let yourself acknowledge that and let yourself notice how strong you have already been.
Sometimes sick babies need medical attention. Sometimes those sick babies get hospitalized. If your baby is one of those, my heart aches for you. I have been there, and it can be so terribly traumatic.
When my third baby was 9 months old, we rode in an ambulance from the E.R. in one hospital to the pediatric unit of another hospital. There we spent two days as doctors tried to figure out what was happening to my son. In the end, they determined that his illness would get better on its own and sent us home. And he did get better after a week or so, but my heart is still healing from the horror of those days. When you love someone with so much fierceness and pour your whole soul into his well being, it can be truly soul crushing to watch that child suffer and wonder if you’re going to lose him. If you, sweet mama, are in those trenches right now, please know that what you are doing for your child is holy work and angels are near.
Maybe your baby can’t thank you right now, but your efforts make all the difference in the world. I love these words from Judith Acosta:
Your presence, which consists of your complete attention, focus, and caring interest, is your most valuable healing tool. In simply being present, you are already providing the love that is the most important form of Verbal First Aid. There is ineffable magic in such a gift. . . . It is as if we’ve been lit up by a spotlight. We become the center of someone’s attention, and in that light dormant parts of us awaken–parts that suddenly realize we may be worthy of notice, may be worthy of life, may be worthy of health (The Worst is Over, p. 210).
Although she was referring to the power of presence and love in helping adults, I absolutely believe her points are true for infants as well. It may not seem like you are accomplishing much. As you rock your baby, there is little else you are capable of doing. But what you are doing right now is so powerful, so crucial in this challenge-filled world. You are communicating an abundance of information to your infant–information that will be stored away in his subconscious mind for future reference. You are telling your baby:
- Your feelings matter to me.
- I will always show up for you when you need me most.
- When you experience something painful, I will do everything in my power to help you through it.
- Your comfort and happiness is a major priority in my life.
- I will do my best to help you heal, even when it’s inconvenient.
You are doing so much good. And as you fill yourself with love and peace and let go of your worries, you do even more. You tell your baby:
- I know this is scary and seems like it will never end, but I’m not afraid because we are strong.
- Having a body and being a person can be hard at times, but I have faith that your body is doing everything it can for your welfare.
- I am full of peace, and I am sending all of the love and peace in my heart to you to help you heal.
Do you see how powerful your nurturing is? Even though you may feel weary or broken down under the weight of your baby’s discomfort, you are doing powerful things… every single moment of the day and night. You are communicating volumes of love, volumes of support, volumes of empathy. And it absolutely makes a difference, even if sometimes it doesn’t seem to.
If you’re struggling to release your own fears (I totally go there every time my babies get sick), allow yourself to exhale. Squeeze all the stale air out. Pull your navel toward your spine and feel the worries in your heart leaving with the breath. When you think you’ve let all the air out, let out a little more, and a little more. Then relax your navel and feel the fresh oxygen fill you up. Pull in all the peace in the universe and let it penetrate all your cells. Take comfort in knowing that your body, your comfort, your presence is helping your baby heal. Literally. Neurologist Richard Restak puts it well: “Touch, it turns out is as necessary to normal infant development as food and oxygen. Mother opens her arms to the infant, snuggles him, and a host of psychobiological processes are brought about into harmony” (Source).
I can’t promise you that your baby will be OK. But I can say that in thirteen years of raising five kids I have held and comforted feverish, crying children many, many, many times, and so far they have always gotten better. Looking back I can say that the human body has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and there’s nothing that helps it along more than a mama’s arms, full of love and peace.
Carry on doing what you do best. And know that I’m holding space for you and your baby while you ache for that sweet smile to return.
With so much love,