“I want to touch the heart of the world and make it smile.”
– Charles de Lint
There is no doubting the power of touch. I have long appreciated the value that touch brings to my experience of life. It is one of the most important senses, and a single touch can communicate volumes more than words. We know (thanks to the ruthless Harlow experiments and others) that touch is actually so critical to animal and human development, that infants deprived of touch display horrific behaviors like self-mutilation and can even die from lack of touch.
When I had both of my children, I paid (what I thought was) close attention to making sure I was giving them enough touch and attention. I wore both of my babies in carriers and slings and made sure to give them massages after their baths. I also spent more time with both of my babies than many American mothers have the privilege of doing. I took 12+ weeks of maternity leave after both of my children’s births and I have the privilege of working from home, so my children have never had to be away from me for any extended period of time. I thought I was certainly giving my children enough attention, love and touch.
My son has struggled with “excessive” crying since he was born. He suffered from what we labeled as “colic” as he would cry for hours for no apparent reason. It honestly felt like he just cried all day, every day for no good reason. Putting him to sleep has also been a chronic struggle and he’s never been okay with going to sleep alone in a crib. We had tried “everything” to help my son cry less, but we basically got to the point where we just accepted that he would cry non-stop for the rest of his life (yeah, it really felt that way).
I have been reading a lot of amazing and helpful parenting books lately and I recently came across the book, “The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost” by Jean Liedloff” (thanks to the rockstar who told me about this book!) Put on your seatbelt folks, because this book really takes you for a ride! From the book’s description:
Jean Liedloff, an American writer, spent two and a half years in the South American jungle living with Stone Age Indians. The experience demolished her Western preconceptions of how we should live and led her to a radically different view of what human nature really is. She offers a new understanding of how we have lost much of our natural well-being and shows us practical ways to regain it for our children and for ourselves.
This book changed everything for me. The author essentially confirmed for me everything that I had already known and felt in my body and heart, but didn’t have rationale to back up as it goes against most parental advice and societal norms. She essentially talks about how everything comes back to touch. Babies NEED to be touched, held, comforted, carried and constantly physically nurtured by a caregiver. All of the contraptions and devices that we have been taught to use in the Western world are essentially baby/mama torture devices. (I had actually called them this prior to reading this book, and the book just confirmed it for me.) Cribs, strollers, high chairs, carseats, bouncers…they all prevent the baby from experiencing the very thing that every cell in their little bodies long for – their mother’s touch.
Reading “The Continuum Concept” was like hearing my soul sing. All of my deep motherly instincts were confirmed and I felt liberated and justified. I understood why the sound of my baby screaming at the top of his lungs while strapped into his carseat made me feel like my gut is literally being ripped out of my body. I now understand why the thought of him weeping alone in his crib actually brings me to tears as I write this. Yes, I was touching my babies a lot, but clearly I was not touching them enough.
So, I decided to do an experiment where instead of following any books or parenting advice, I just listened to my own mother’s intuition. I held my children (and especially my son) whenever they wanted, no matter how much it inconvenienced me. I allowed my son to cling to my body as I went about my day and worked. And something quite magical happened. My son’s crying finally stopped. After 16 months of what felt like non-stop crying, it all just came to an end. All this time I thought that I was doing what I “had” to do, but all along I should have done what I wanted to do. And knew to do. Mind. Blown. Life. Forever. Changed.
I realize as I write this that not everyone, especially in the Western world has the luxury and privilege of being able to allow their babies to cling to them 24/7. And my heart weeps for every mother and child out there who cannot connect in the way they want and need to (for whatever reason). But this is why things need to change. We need to normalize childcare. We need 1+ years of maternity leave. We need to normalize children in the workplace. We need to normalize breastfeeding wherever/whenever a baby feels like it. We need to burn many of the baby contraptions that are supposed to make our lives better and safer but only serve to torture babies and their caregivers. We need touch. We need to touch each other. We need to touch our babies and children.
If more touching can cure a fussy baby, imagine what more touching could do for you, and for the world.