Holding Babies

Written by Stephanie Freeman

November 28, 2020

Holding Babies

I time traveled yesterday. If you were to have seen me, I would have just looked like a woman holding a baby on a glider (rocker.) It was afternoon in early November and the weather seems to be wishing itself into autumn. The sky was grayish and in the other room was the soft noise of the television that was on for white noise.

I had sent the Mama to bed. She was so tired. The kind of tired where sleep doesn’t really help, but without it your soul will gradually turn dark, and so it’s better to nap than to not nap.

And so while it seemed like I was just there, fulfilling the role that Grandmas and Sisters and Aunties have filled (although not recently. More like a generation ago when we remembered the value of rocking a baby,) I was actually catapulted back in time.

Our glider was in the living room. And it was placed next to my two bookcases so that I would have a place to put down my drink, phone (it was a flip one, so keep that in mind) and reach for a book during the long hours spent rocking my babies.

And you might already be thinking that this is going to be one of those sweet nostalgic posts.

It’s not.

It’s about shame.

As I remembered those years ago with my babies, I did not get flooded with gooey feelings. I got punched in the gut of remembering why it was so hard to sit. Just be. Rock with those babies.

Even though I knew that babies needed to be held. They need to be rocked. They need constant reassurance that this big world isn’t too big for their tiny selves. Knowing that didn’t help the sinking I would feel in my gut. Or drown out the tiny thoughts that would say:

“Maybe you are doing something wrong. Your baby can’t be put down without crying. What’s wrong with you that you have a baby that only wants to be in your arms? Other parents have babies that don’t need to be held all the time.”

So beyond the basic “I can’t seem to get anything done today because I’m holding a baby” guilt. I would have guilt about the very act of holding the baby. In the game of “Am I enough? Am I doing enough?” I was ALWAYS the loser.

And the longer we rocked, my thoughts would get darker as the sun would set and the day began to darken as well.

“Maybe there is something broken with your baby… that would make sense because you’re no piece of work.”

<This would be the heart of my greatest fears. I already felt like my child was better a human than me. She was so perfect. So sweet.  How could she have picked me? Had she already failed in life because she bet on the wrong horse of a parent? I would spend an insane amount of years trying to be better for my child so that she would never look at me and think “I could have done better.” >

I had forgotten how deep those feelings were. How they made my heart pound. How I would play the time game, watching the hours pass. Negotiating in my head how much time I would have to do dishes, make a meal, laundry, connect with family, and shower. So that when my partner would come home I could look like I “did something.”  And feel like I “did something.”

Yesterday I remembered the weight of all of that. And felt it. In the greatest irony – getting paid to sit in a glider, cuddling someone else’s baby. And because it’s my job, I can categorize it differently in my head in a way I couldn’t do when it was my own.

My god. What have we done to ourselves?

How have we lost the value of those hours of just being? Of valuing the act of “holding” as a thing in and of itself to be desired?

It seemed like no matter what, I had an underlying shame that somehow I was doing it wrong (and that there was a better way.)   And! I had FOMO wondering if just somehow I had missed the one book that all the other people had read that made it possible to have a baby that could be put down.

It didn’t matter that I had oodles of people in my world that would kindly say that babies needed to be held. I was basically trapped in my own media trap of magazine body image fuckery, but replace the image of the body I was never going to have with a parent who looked like they had their shit together and a baby who slept through the night.

Then that sweet baby that I was holding yesterday stretched. Made a fantastic series of grunting noises that seem to be one of the many ways he communicates. Then settled back down.

We continued to rock. Time passed. And all was well.

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