A child’s view
It was something that my midwife said that alerted me to the difference between our cultural expectations and those of a new-born child.
I had been gearing up to use a Moses basket for our first-born. Gillian, an experienced community midwife with great empathy with both children and parents, made an observation that stopped me in my tracks.
“Just think” she said “that little person has been snuggled up inside you for 9 months and then suddenly he or she finds him or herself alone. No wonder they cry!”
I paraphrase, but the message is exact.
Then I read this;
“The new born infant, with his skin crying out for the ancient touch of smooth, warmth-radiating, living flesh, is wrapped in dry, lifeless cloth. He is put in a box where he is left, no matter how he weeps, in a limbo that is utterly motionless (for the first time in all his body’s experience, during the aeons of its evolution or during its eternity in the womb). …..He cries and cries. His lungs, new to air, are strained with the desperation in his heart. No one comes. Trusting in the rightness of life, as by nature he must, he does the only act he can, which is to cry on. Eventually, a timeless lifetime later, he falls asleep , exhausted.
He awakes in a mindless terror of the silence, the motionlessness. He scream. He is afire from head to foot with want, with desire.. He gasps for breath and screams until his head is filled and throbbing with the sound. He screams until his chest aches, until his throat is sore. He can bear the pain no more and his sobs weaken and subside. He listens. He opens and closes his fists. He rolls his head from side to side. Nothing helps. It is unbearable. He begins to cry again, but it is too much for his strained throat; he soon stops. He stiffens his desire-racked body, and there is a shadow of relief. He waves his hands and kicks his feet. He stops, able to suffer, unable to think, unable to hope. He listens. Then he falls asleep again.
When he awakens he wets his nappy and is distracted from his torment by the event. But the pleasant feeling of wetting and the warm, damp, flowing sensation around his lower body are quickly gone…He kicks his legs, stiffens his body, sobs. Desperate with longing.. he screams through his misery until it is stilled by lonely sleep.
Suddenly he is lifted; his expectations come forward for what is to be his. The wet nappy is taken away., Relief. Living hands touch his skin..In an instant it is as though the hands had never been there, nor the wet nappy. There is no conscious memory, no inkling of hope. He is unbearable emptiness, timeless, motionless, silent, wanting, wanting. His continuum tries its emergency measures, but they are all meant for bridging short lapses in correct treatment or for summoning relief from someone (it is assumed) who will want to provide it. His continuum has no solution for this extremity…
Someone lifts him deliciously through the air. He is in life. He is carried a bit too gingerly for his taste, but there is motion. Then he is in his place. All the agony he has undergone is non-existent. He rests in the enfolding arms and though his skin is sending no message of relief from the cloth, no news of live flesh on his flesh, his hands and mouth are reporting normal. The positive pleasure of life, which is continuum normal, is almost complete. the taste and texture of the breast are there; his warm milk is flowing into his eager mouth; there is a heart-beat, which should have been his link. His reassurance of continuity from the womb; moving forms are visible that spell life. The sound of the voice is right too. There are only the cloth and the smell (his mother uses cologne) that leave something missing. He sucks and when he feels full and rosy, dozes off.
When he awakens he is in hell. No memory, no hope, no thought can bring the comfort of his visit to his mother into this bleak purgatory, Hours pass….. He screams, tires, sleeps..
His mother is one who, after much thought has decided to allow him access to her breast. She loves him with a tenderness she has never known before. At first it is hard to put him down after feeding, especially because he cries so desperately when he does. But she is convinced that she must, for her mother has told her ( and she must know) that if she gives in to him now, he will be spoiled and cause trouble later. She wants to do everything right….she feels for a moment that the little life she holds in her arms is more important than anything else on earth.
She sighs and puts him gently in his cot, which is decorated with yellow ducklings to match his whole room. She has worked hard to furnish it with fluffy curtains [etc] ..Nothing has been spared for perfecting the baby’s room..She bends to kiss the infant’s silky cheek and moves towards the door as the first agonised shriek shakes his body.
Softly she closes the door. She has declared war on him. Her will must prevail over his. Through the door she hears what sounds like someone being tortured. Her [instinct] recognises it as such. Nature does not make clear signals that someone is being tortured unless it is the case. It is precisely as serious as it sounds.
She hesitates, her heart pulled towards him, but resists and goes on her way. He has just been changed and fed. She is sure he does not really need anything, and therefore she lets him weep until he is exhausted….Things are put in his reach that are meant to approximate what he is missing..
The infant’s screams fade to quavering wails. As no response is forthcoming, the motive power of the signal loses itself in the confusion of barren emptiness where the relief ought, long since to have arrived.. Tradition dictates that toys be consoling to a grief- striken infant. But it does so somehow without acknowledging the grief.
There is the teddy bear..to sleep with. It is meant to give the infant a sense of constant companionship. The eventual fierce attachment to them that is sometimes formed is viewed as a charming bit of juvenile whimsy rather than a manifestation of acute deprivation in a child reduced to clinging to an inanimate object in its hunger for a companion who will not desert him…
Because he smiles encouragingly when she comes to him, his mother is convinced that she is the appreciated mother of a happy baby. The bitter ordeal that is all the rest of his waking life dies not create any negative feeling towards her; on the contrary, it makes him all the more desperate to be with her.” (Jean Liedloff, “The Continuum Concept” pp70 -80)
And this is what our society I realised, wants us to accept as “normal” for our children . But it is not. God gave children to parents and parents to children; what is genuinely normal from a global, historical and moral perspective, is parents who recognise their child as the awe-inspiringly unique person that God made them and children whose needs for physical affection are met by those parents. Children are not “rug rats” or “little terrors”; they are human beings just as we are, but with special very intense needs for physical touch and affection. They do not delight in “having one over on us” (unless they are the acutely emotionally deprived 3 year old products of a system that separates children from those people they most need in the early years.. their parents).
Children are not the enemy. We are all of us, parents and children on the same side; all working together towards that community and communion that God wants to see in His Kingdom . And for us parents the first step towards the Kingdom we take with our children in our arms.