Mommy ramble: My Broken Continuum

OUR FIRSTBORN:
I vividly remember the freezing night my husband took me to the hospital via the well rehearsed route, all packed up. Like most first time parents, we had all the time in the world to be over-prepared. The next day, little before noon, our first child was born. It’s interesting how the memory and pain of childbirth doesn’t linger on. I was given the baby immediately and as I held it for the very first time warm tears welled into my eyes. I glanced over to hubby standing by the bedside, and he smiled, his eyes moist. That moment is etched in my memory as truly the happiest and the most unforgettable one in my entire life. I was very tired and in a half-asleep state for most part of the day. But whenever I would wake up, I could see my baby in the hospital bassinet beside me, bundled and secured, yet lonely and all by himself. I wished it was by my side, but I didn’t say anything as I was not even fully awake, slightly disoriented and quite unsure if that would even make for a reasonable request. Our hospital offered a service to take care of the baby at night so the mother gets to take some rest. I was asked to go for it (a ‘wise’ thing to do without getting ’emotional’ for my own ‘good’). That separation tore me deep down. I had neither the experience nor conviction to choose the right thing, as I can see it now.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
Once we got home, it was such a hostile sight for me to see the tiny bundle in this large oversized crib. I was told not to cosleep with the baby as a new sleep-deprived mom could accidentally smother the baby. Trying to abide by these “do’s and don’ts”, while my instinct rebelling subtly but surely inside of me, created a distressing inner conflict. Finally, I confided in hubby and we got this big rectangular plastic box (with sides short enough to let me see the inside, lying down), put in a soft cloth padding, and started having it by my side with the baby in it.

FORMULA OR MOTHERS MILK:
Before his birth, when asked if I’d be giving formula or breastfeed the baby, I remember writing “both”, having no idea whatsoever of how important that question was. It’s only with my second baby did I realize the difference it made! During the postpartum weeks that followed, I felt something was amiss, and I’d feel very low and disinterested. On top of it, I was struggling with latching (as the baby was also given a bottle since birth) and lactation issues like most first time mothers, which was not helping my situation either. It is only a few years later that I would know how interrelated it all was. My mother would often try to talk me out of my misery by telling me that I had a healthy baby, a loving husband, my parents around and so there was really no reason not to be happy. She was right, but I couldn’t help it much. I was grieving for something that I couldn’t put a finger on, yet it was very much there, lurking somewhere.

BACK TO WORK and THE MOVE
I resumed work after the 3-month maternity leave. Needless to say, it was tough leaving the baby, although he would be home and not in a daycare, under the the loving care of my mother in law. The separation felt unnatural to me. But the whole world around me seemed to follow this norm, so it must be a ‘reasonably right’ thing to do, I would tell myself trying to assuage the trauma. It might appear strange when I say this, but I would not call home very often from work to check on the baby. I couldn’t. I was in denial…

Thankfully, it was not for long that I had to go through the ordeal. Hubby switched jobs and we had to move out of town, a few driving hours away. I quit after working for a few months. In hindsight, this was one of the best things that could have happened to me after I became a mother. I can’t be thankful enough as I would not have quit of my own volition, primarily because I was unsure if it was a even ‘rational’ option I had the luxury to exercise. I loved being not having to be away from my son, but there still was an undertone of something I was missing or perhaps was angry about. I was irritable and would have an angry outburst here and there, until I finally got over it a year or so later.

OUR SECOND:
Our second child was born after a gap of two years. To my pleasant surprise, everything was so much easier and better, as it usually is for the mother second time around. This was also the time when we moved again, this time from the Midwest to the Southwest (a bigger move) when the baby was but 5 weeks old! We moved into a couple of temporary corporate houses before we settled for the permanent one. In spite of all these changes and activity around us, everything seemed to work out just fine, the baby was content and I was cheerful, with no issues with lactation or latching. So much so that I donated about two and a half gallons of excess expressed milk (immensely satisfying to be able to help premature babies in need ones own little way, also a grateful reminder to all of one’s blessings!)

THE CONTINUUM CONCEPT- a book that put it all into perspective.
I read The Continuum Concept 6-8 months after my second child was born. It answered why the two pregnancies were so different. As soon as Baby#2 was born, I had him with me for over an hour before they took him away to bathe etc. I didn’t put him in the bassinet but for a few times, but had him by me almost all the time (and yes, I didn’t smother him a even a little!). I didn’t care if I was going against the ‘norm’. I was so sure, so confident. He was with me all of the time, or his father/grandmother/uncle at some other times. I had no postpartum depression and the baby had nothing to complain or cry. This time everything was in line with the ‘continuum’, the way it should be. Both are good kids, I still see a lot of difference between my two boys in their disposition and demeanor.

If only I had known about the continuum concept before, I would have had the courage to follow the feeble voice within me. There is a lot of literature available on parenting, especially for first time parents. But there’s only some that is very crucial, and this book is one such. If I was to go back in time and change one thing, I would make my decisions differently moments after the birth of my first child, the continuum way!

This excerpt is written with a sincere hope that some future mothers stumble upon this post and explore Continuum philosophy, which is nothing but parenting by instinct, the natural way.

Suggested reading and resources
The website: http://www.continuum-concept.org/index.html
The super excellent forum the wealth of wisdom from Continuum mothers/parents: http://www.continuum-concept.org/forum/index.html

Book Review: The Continuum Concept

This is a must read for all parents to be.
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff

The Continuum Concept is a book that blew my mind; I had read nothing like this before! The author Jean Liedloff spent two and a half years deep in the South American jungle living with Stone Age Indians of the Yequana tribe. This 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 shows us how we have lost much of our natural well-being and suggests practical ways to regain it for our children and for ourselves.

The continuum theory: “In order to achieve optimal physical, mental and emotional development, human beings, especially babies, require the kind of experience to which our human species adapted during the long process of our evolution.”

Parenting:
That said, the book brings forth ideas in stark contrast to the prevailing practices in the western world. I have to write this: there were some excerpts which were quite unsettling to me that I had to stop, collect myself and with all the courage go back to reading it; who wouldn’t be vulnerable to the idea of babies suffering? The worst part is, this ‘mistreatment’ happens at the hands of parents/ caregivers with much misguided ideas. And that is precisely why it has become my mission of sorts to strongly recommend this book to new mothers or mothers to be.

The book gives some basic practices during the initial moments, weeks and months after a child is born: constant physical contact with the mother/caregiver, co-sleeping, breast feeding on cue (and not trying to ‘discipline’ the baby at this stage by feeding at intervals that you set for them), carrying the baby around in arms, immediately responding to the child’s signals and so on. Is this not something that a mother would instinctively do, only if she is allowed to do so and not ill-tutored otherwise? Of course! However, we have some popular theories to care for the newborn that are just the opposite!

Postpartum depression: The moment the baby is born, the mother is keyed in to hold the baby, nurse and caress it. If this stimulus is not met with this right response and those moments missed, then when hours or even minutes later, the baby is finally brought to her, the mother has already gone into a psycho-biological state of mourning. The result is often that she feels guilty about not being able to ‘turn on mothering’, or to ‘love the baby very much’ as well as suffering the classic civilized tragedy called normal postpartum depressionjust when nature had her exquisitely primed for one of the deepest and most influential emotional events of her life! How unfortunate is that!

It was after reading this book that I could make sense of the what was going on with me after my first child was born (more about it in another post here).

Ancient postpartum care:
Some olden cultures have practices that are very much in line with the continuum, like the ones prevailing in India for a few thousand years (though the ‘modern’ winds are changing these ways for the worse). The mother is exclusively available for the newborn as she and the baby are assigned and confined to a room that’s not too bright (so as not to inconvenience the newborn, I guess) for 40 days. She nurses him on cue, co sleeps with the baby, gets her daily body massage, not allowed to use cold water, served fresh off the stove nutritious meals (fresh hot food is much easier to digest, especially when the new mothers digestive system is still weak) and she is assigned no housework. Elderly women – be she a distant relative, friend or even a neighbor – would come to live with them and assist the household with chores, caring for the baby and the new mother, and offer a wealth wisdom for the two. What a fantastic system it used be in the olden days! Anyway, that’s a topic in itself.

Some important continuum ideas:
The book talks about several concepts like: what the baby feels before he can think is a powerful determinant of what kind of things he thinks when thought becomes possible, and how the child’s general outlook towards life and living is shaped. Many psychological patterns, addictions, attitude, including possibly homosexuality, Liedloff believes, have their roots in the treatment of the child during their stages of infancy and childhood. Its remarkable how the Yequana treat their children that shows inherent respect and intrinsic trust. It’s all so wonderful and gives us a hopeful solution for our entire society.

The book spoke to my heart. Theories come and theories go. But what is important, I think, is that parenting in general should never be influenced by these external hypothesess, but always be guided by one’s instinct within. Be assured, with it you’ll be right on the money!

Important questions to ask oneself:
Am I (like perhaps most others), a victim of incomplete childhood? Is there something missing that I am continually looking for – an innate sense of well being and happiness-‘a natural state of being’- that seems elusive (e.g. the idea that ‘being in love would make it all right’)? Is there some emptiness that doesn’t seem to fill me up? I found some amazing perceptions that I never found in the myriad spiritual and self-help literature I’ve read for over two decades. The book put to rest some questions that had plagued me forever.

My last word:
I strongly recommend this book for two groups: those who are going to be new parents and those who have been babies at one point or another. I can’t emphasize enough- it’s a book not worth passing.

Resources to check out:
The website: http://www.continuum-concept.org/index.html
The super excellent forum: http://www.continuum-concept.org/forum/index.html (the wealth of wisdom from Continuum mothers/parents here is outstanding)