The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vivacious as "lively temper, conduct or spirit."
I remember making my wish list of things before Julia was born. I wanted a Jumperoo - man those things are cool! It is a free standing jolly jumper with toys. I definitely needed a swing - Matthew spent hours in his swing and we could have a whole day of napping with him in the swing. It was wonderful…feed him, change him, put him in the swing and nap. Next, was an exersaucer. Matthew loved his and it entertained him for long periods of time. I needed floor playmats and lots of toys…Oh! And a bouncy chair and Bumbo. I wanted a three wheeled stroller because I loved walking the trails around our house. I thought all of these things would make my life easier and keep my baby occupied during the day so that I could go about my business as usual.
The first night with Julia was the hardest. She cried and cried for hours on end. I don’t know what went through Mike’s head that night, but I know I wondered what the hell we had got ourselves into. This was supposed to be easy…we had waited ten years for this moment. We were older, more mature and prepared for this baby. Why couldn’t we stop her from crying?
My doula came to visit us the next day and assured us that she would get easier to deal with around three months. I couldn’t imagine going through three months of no sleep. I was told that I needed to let her cry and that I couldn’t pick her up all the time. She just looked so little and vulnerable that I couldn’t imagine letting her cry it out. I tried the No Cry Sleep Solution at one point. For about five minutes and then I couldn’t handle it anymore. My husband told me once that we should just let her cry and that it would not hurt her. I told him that it would hurt her because she would lose trust in us. He tried a few more times to get me to let her cry, but eventually he gave up.
Julia needed to be held all the time and she would easily get bored in certain positions. She was not happy in the swing and would cry harder if you put her in there. Occasionally she would fall asleep in the swing, but not enough to make it worth keeping. She was "colicky" so I cut out dairy from my diet which helped quite a bit. But she still cried and needed to be held. She seemed to be sensitive to smells. She would cower from loud noises. She resisted being swaddled. She hated the bathtub and would cringe whenever I would carry her down the stairs - no matter the position I was carrying her in. She did not like being around people that were not her parents. Even at a few weeks old she had stranger anxiety. For the first time ever, my grandmother was not able to calm a baby. She hated all of her plastic toys. She would only spend a few minutes in her exersaucer before she was bored. To entertain her, I would spend hours on the floor every day playing with her, singing to her and just talking to her. I kept telling people that she was hypersensitive to life.
Julia in our pouch sling getting ready for a nap
Eventually, I started using my sling. I had a hard time getting used to using it but I am happy that I remained persistent. Julia was so content in the sling. It did not matter how cranky she had been - as soon as she was in her sling, she was calm and quiet. Even the sounds that used to scare her didn’t when I wore her. She was comfortable going down the stairs and she interacted with other people. Currently, Julia is in the sling right before her morning nap where she falls asleep, before her afternoon nap where she falls asleep and often, before bedtime, where she also falls asleep. I also use my sling whenever I shop or go to church. I now own three slings; one pouch style and two ring slings (one for the house and one for the car). I would walk Julia in her awesome three wheeler stroller every day until she started to scream every time she went into it. We stopped walking because it was so miserable. And then I realized that I could take her for a walk while she was in her sling. We started to enjoy walks again and when she was up heart-to-heart at my eye level, I could talk with her about what she was seeing.
I remember the day when my cousin commented on the fact that I was going to have a very needy toddler because I was practicing attachment parenting. I had no idea what attachment parenting really was so I became worried that I was doing something wrong. I started reading Dr. Sears', The Attachment Parenting Book, to learn more about the parenting style I was using with my daughter. What I learned was that I did not pick this style of parenting, but had it pushed upon me by my daughter. Was this a bad thing? No, not at all. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to have this type of parenting brought to my attention. I did not choose AP: I listened to my daughter and followed what she needed from me. If she had been an easy baby, it may have been simple to forget about her while she played with her exersaucer, or spent hours in her swing. I would not have had the opportunity to really learn about my daughter and her personality the way I have. We have such a strong bond from the hours of holding her in my arms and lying on the floor beside her. I would not exchange the time I put into our relationship for anything. Who cares that I did not do the dishes right away or didn’t get to watch my favorite show on TV. I may not be able to go out with my husband on a date right now - but she will need me like this for such a very short time in her life. This will not last forever, even though it may sometimes feel like it.
Looking back, I wish I had known what I know now. I did not need all those plastic toys. I needed a sling (or three), a lot of patience and understanding. The backyard was also great to have as it broke up the evening with our hour long discovery walks.
My high needs baby is now seven months old. Many things have changed and many have stayed the same. We still spend a lot of time in the sling, but now that she can crawl she is busy exploring her surroundings when she is not in the sling. It didn’t take her long to roll over, sit up and crawl - she had places to go and people to see! She still prefers sleeping in my bed with her hand on my arm to make sure I don’t go anywhere, but occasionally, she’ll give me a few hours sleep on my own. I no longer consider her a high needs baby; she just has a vivacious personality and I can’t wait to see the great things that she does in life!
I remember being asked a short time ago if she was "high needs" because she was a breastfed baby. I just answered no at the time, but I have since had a lot of time to really think about the answer. Julia is high needs because of her personality. I could have chosen to ignore her cues, let her cry it out, forced her to conform to my lifestyle, but it would have killed her spirit. She may have cried harder and I would have begun to resent her because she was such a "cranky baby." Or maybe at some point she would have given up crying, not because she was happy but because she no longer trusted me to take care of her needs - an example of learned helplessness. She wouldn’t be the amazing little girl that I see today.
Julia will never be that quiet little kid. She will always be loud and adventurous and curious. I do not mind being with her all the time, and I know that it is what she needs right now. I am not spoiling her; I am giving her what she needs at each step of the way. I will not be one of those moms who look back only to say that my baby was so much work, or that I will think twice before having any more kids because it was too hard. My daughter was a gift - "high needs" and all. I have learned so much from raising her and I have grown as a person and as a mom. I have become passionate about many things because of her high needs, breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping, natural products and wholesome foods. I will never resent the time and effort I have put into this little angel. I hope other parents can be encouraged from the experiences Julia and I have had - whether they have "high needs" babies or not. Because all babies will benefit from gentle, attached parenting.
Heather Minelli-Johnson is mom to three unique, beautiful children. She says, "I wish I knew then what I know now about raising children. I hope to share with parents what I have learned so that they don’t make the same mistakes that I did with my first two children." Read more from Heather at The Minelli-Johnson Family site.
If you have a baby others may deem "high needs," you may benefit from reading any of these excellent and helpful books:
The Fussy Baby Book
The Baby Bond
The Science of Parenting
Why Love Matters
The Continuum Concept
The Attachment Parenting Book
Our Babies, Ourselves
The Baby Sleep Book
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
Natural Family Living
"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."
~ Maya Angelou