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A "Good" Baby

Tiffany Doerr Guerzon
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, pp. 11-12

As I push my grocery cart down the aisle of the grocery store with my four-month-old baby in the sling, I am waylaid by an older woman.

"What a cute baby!" she exclaims. "Is he a good baby?" I smile and nod but inwardly cringe. I hate the term "good baby." If a baby isn't "good" then is he or she "bad"?

My first child definitely didn't fit the definition of a "good baby." Born underweight and with the cord wrapped around her neck several times, she came into this world screaming. And she kept on screaming. I'm not talking about a fussy baby. I'm talking about the ear piercing, teeth rattling shriek that makes your hair stand on end, a sound familiar to parents of colicky babies everywhere. She screamed most of the time if she wasn't asleep or nursing. We couldn't put her down since we learned quickly that putting her down equaled more screaming. She wanted to be held constantly, but only in a front pack carrier, not in a sling or in our arms. She wouldn't take a bottle or pacifier. She was allergic to disposable diapers and even the mildest baby wipes. She didn't nap. She would take short naps in the front pack or on the breast, but never an extended nap in her own bed. She would sleep for longer stretches at night but only if she was right next to me, usually still attached.

I tried giving her drops for gas relief, I tried changing my diet. The doctor diagnosed colic and said she was perfectly healthy and growing well. We tried the swing, driving her around in the car, and a vibrating bouncy seat. The only thing that seemed to soothe her, or at least lessen the crying, was to be in a front pack carried by me or my husband. We had to be in motion -- we couldn't sit down, but had to be walking, bouncing, or rocking back and forth. We carried her in this way almost all the time unless she was being fed or changed. I think we wore a path in our living room trying to soothe our daughter.

She didn't get tired at night until around midnight, so I shifted my schedule and went to bed late and got up late. I tried to go back to work part-time when she was four months old, but the day care couldn't handle her, so I extended my leave of absence. We sleepwalked through those first few months. There were occasional flashes of joy -- the first smile, the times when she wasn't screaming -- but it was mostly stressful. All this was difficult enough, but what made it even worse was the criticism. It seemed everyone -- neighbors, friends, grandparents -- thought we were doing something wrong.

"You are spoiling her!" "You need to put her down!" "Let her cry it out!" "Make her take a nap!" "Maybe you should stop breastfeeding her, it's probably your milk." "She'll take a bottle if you wait long enough." (Tell that to the daycare worker who endured six hours of screaming while trying to give her a bottle of my milk). Some people gave us stern looks as they handed us their favorite books on childrearing. We later jokingly referred to those as "detachment" parenting books. We read them, but the methods described (cry it out, rigid feeding schedules, not holding her often) just didn't sit right with us. It was obvious our baby needed us, and we had already learned through trial and error what worked! Luckily, we finally came across the writings of Dr. William and Martha Sears about attachment parenting. They wrote of babies who didn't fit the "good baby" mold as "high need" babies. Finally, a description of our baby that wasn't negative! The attachment parenting method not only advocated what we were already doing, such as baby wearing, sleep sharing, and feeding on demand, but had studies and other information to validate these methods. It also dispelled some of the myths and worries we had, such as whether or not holding our daughter too much would spoil her or make her less independent later. It was just what we needed. We learned that we were not alone.

Gradually the colic subsided, but she remained a high need baby. She wouldn't leave our bed and didn't sleep through the night until 14 months. She nursed often and around the clock. She wouldn't eat solids until age nine months. She nursed long past the recommended one year. At around age one, things got better. It was as if something inside her clicked and she became more internally organized.

Our daughter is now eight years old and a quiet, healthy, introspective child. She is intelligent, creative, and independent. She is still high need, but in a different way. She's turned out just fine, even great, despite the dire predictions of others.

I sometimes wonder what she would be like today if we had tried to force her into a "good baby" mold. The lessons learned from our first child were invaluable. We now have three children and we've parented each one differently. Sometimes as parents we need to trust our own instincts in caring for our children, no matter what others may tell us. In the end, all babies are good babies; some are just more challenging than others.

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