Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Baby Empathy

Quinn has always been a real person to me. I say this because now that he’s older, people say things like “He’s like a little person now!” I know what they mean, but I want to ask “What was he before?”

We had our second ultrasound at thirteen weeks, and he was so obviously a real person. (Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a pro-life rant or anything. Just telling you how I felt at the time.) I could see his little nose and mouth, and his legs were kicking. I didn’t know if we were having a boy a girl, but we were definitely having a person.

In this picture, it looks like he's sucking his thumb!

People describe newborns as little blobs because they just lay there and don’t do anything. Again, I know what they mean, but I never thought that about Quinn. Maybe because he was so demanding and didn’t just lay there, but I thought of him as a person back then, too.

I have been constantly concerned about Quinn’s well-being and comfort since the day I found out I was pregnant. It’s almost like an ache in my heart – that’s the best way I can describe it. It might just be my imagination, but when I think about Quinn, I feel a physical tug in my chest.

I have “baby empathy.”

I’ve always been an empathetic person, meaning that it doesn’t take much for me to literally feel what someone else is feeling. According my therapist, I “take on others’ pain for them so they don’t have to feel it.”

She says that like it’s a bad thing.

So it should be no surprise that I try to relate to my son’s pain, even the smallest discomfort. (What mother doesn't?)

What am I talking about? Glad you asked. Here goes my rant.

When the sun is in our eyes, we put on sunglasses or pull down the visor in the car. A baby can’t do that. That’s why I have four sun shades on my back windows – so I can keep the sun out of Quinn’s eyes as much as possible while we’re driving. I don’t say, “ah, he’s fine” and keep driving. I’m actually really concerned for his comfort.

When we’re out walking and the wind picks up, I move the canopy on the stroller to shield Q from the wind as much as I can. When he was really little, Q really hated having the wind in his face. I don’t think this is something he should have to learn to deal with. As adults, we don’t enjoy getting wind blasted in the face. Why should we expect a small baby to put up with it?

That leads me to my least favorite saying from experienced parents – “He needs to learn…” For example, when people come over and the baby is sleeping, I have no problem asking them to keep the noise level down. What’s wrong with expecting people to have some consideration for someone who is sleeping? That’s when the “wise ones” admonish me and tell me that “he needs to learn to sleep through noise” and “you don’t want a kid who wakes up at every sound.”

But let’s say you’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and Grandpa goes upstairs to take a nap. If the children get too loud, what does Grandma tell them? Exactly. She says “Shhhh! Grandpa’s sleeping.” If we expect children to keep the unnecessary noise to a minimum so the adults can sleep, why can’t adults keep it down so the children can sleep?

So when you come over and Quinn is asleep, I just ask that you open and close the bathroom door softly and that you don’t let the cupboards slam. You don’t have to whisper, but if you could lower your voice just a tad, that would be appreciated. (And never tell another parent what their child needs to learn. It won’t go over well.)

I think if we want to raise children to be respectful, we must role model that behavior and treat them with respect. Not that there should be any question about who is in charge, but we can still treat babies and children like people. Because that’s what they are. They have needs and emotions just like adults, they just don’t have the means to communicate them. They learn how to deal with their emotions by watching us.

So there you have it. I ooze with baby empathy. I suppose that explains the cause of some of my mommy-anxiety, huh? Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check the temperature in the nursery for the eighty-seventh time.