I wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. I always had a doll or two on hand that I took very good care of. But looking back, the care I gave those dolls was completely different than the care my real babies ended up needing.
It seemed so simple, and I seemed like such a good mom. I could hold my baby dolls all I wanted, cover them with kisses, feed them, put them down, and go on my merry way. As they peacefully slept, I’d watch them from afar, cooing about what good babies they were. And while I had my arms free, I could play in my toy kitchen, cooking and cleaning as though these were the most magical activities on earth.
Obviously, I knew that a real live human baby was different than a plastic doll, and I had given up playing with dolls long ago by the time I had my first baby. Still, the activities we do when we are children become ingrained in our psyches more than we know. So there was a part of me that was totally shocked by how different the reality of baby care was from my expectations.
I loved holding, nursing, and cuddling my newborn. But I was a human being, and I needed to do certain things without having a baby stuck to me like glue. The harsh reality was that my baby did not feel the same way. He would not let me put him down. Ever.
We had a cozy little bassinet, a baby swing, and a bouncy seat, all gifted to us. When he was a few days old, soon after my milk finally came in, he passed out nursing on my chest. He was totally out, limp as a noodle, his eyes rolled back, milk-drunk and sleepy. As gently and carefully as I could, I slowly lowered him into the bassinet.
I swear he was totally and completely asleep, but as soon as I put him down, he eyes popped open wide, like he was saying to me, “What the actual fuck, lady?”
Soon after that, I employed the “I get it, but I really just need you to be okay without me sometimes” attitude. I tried swaddling blankets, which he promptly rejected. I tried leaving him in the bassinet with a blanket that smelled like me. I tried white noise and music. The baby swing was pretty much the only thing that worked, but it only worked about 15% of the time.
And then, I just gave up. When my husband was around, he held him, and the rest of the time, I did. You know what? It wasn’t that bad. In fact, once I stopped trying to make my baby comfortable out of my arms, we both got a lot happier.
I soon read about the “fourth trimester” and how human babies aren’t really even ready to be born, but their heads are so damn big, they have to come out earlier than most mammals. Think about it: Almost all other mammals come out knowing how to walk! But humans are like tiny, helpless fetuses when they come out. Just like kangaroos, we need some extra time close to our mom’s bodies. (And dad’s too. Usually any warm body against us is all good.)
I learned how to babywear. It took some doing, and lots of trial and error, but I figured out how to wear my baby in a pouch sling. Having my hands free made life much easier. Even when I wasn’t wearing him, I got really freaking good at doing things one-handed. It’s definitely a talent I didn’t know I had.
In the years since my first little Velcro baby was born, I’ve become a breastfeeding counselor and lactation consultant. Besides the common questions like, “OMG, it hurts so much my nipples are going to fall off,” and “How the heck do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?” the next biggest question I get is, “Help! My baby cries every time I put him down.”
Implicit in this question is that the mom thinks she’s doing something wrong — or she thinks something is wrong with her baby, or in the case of a breastfeeding mom, that there is something wrong with her milk. Obviously, there are some babies that experience the harshness of life outside the womb with more intensity than others, but I could say that most babies have at least some weeks where you simply can’t put them down.
It’s not a reflection of your parenting skills. You haven’t set up bad habits. You birthed a human baby, and human babies are difficult creatures. They just are. They’re full of emotion, opinions, totally immature, and unafraid to show it.
I know firsthand what a struggle it is when you have a clingy baby, especially the kind that I had, where I could almost never, ever put him down. It passes, though. I know that information like that doesn’t always help when you’re in the trenches with your needful baby, but it really is the truth. By 4 or 5 months, there are usually more times that you can put those babies down. But some take longer than others, and that’s okay too.
“It’s okay. It’s normal. You’re doing a good job.” I know those are the words I needed to hear when my Velcro baby was on me 24/7 and I didn’t know how on earth I’d survive. So I offer those words to anyone right there now. And I promise, you’ll survive it too.