I'm an attachment and birth therapist and I support babies in the womb, newborns, and infants and their mother and father to resolve issues of disconnect. In time for the holidays, I'd like to share the story of how I met my own grandson and suggest ways that you might use to meet your grand babies during the holidays or anytime.
There is a special undeniable connection between grandmothers and grand babies. When my daughter-in-law and Jackson were in labor 800 miles away there was nothing to but go to bed at midnight. Later I startled awake, sneezing about six times and so loudly that I woke my daughter. I coughed and coughed. I looked at the clock as I was so accustomed to since my other son was deployed. 2:48 am. I knew he was here.
At 6 am my son texted that the baby was born about 2:45 am and everybody was good. Six months later I was finally going to meet my grandson. Whooohoooo!! Everything in me wanted to squeal with delight and grab him ... like Grandmothers often do. I was upstairs when my son, his wife and new baby arrived at my daughter’s house. My new grandson met his two aunts, two cousins, age 3 and 10, and his uncle before I came down. I waited a few minutes for them to all settle.
I came downstairs and into the family room where my son was holding his son. They were about twelve feet away from me. My son excitedly said, “Jackson!! here’s your Graannny!” I had stopped in the doorway and Jackson turned to me. He had a look of recognition, a little gasp and a smile. Then he did what babies do. He looked at his dad. Babies seek security with eye contact with their caregiver. I lowered my eyes, looking away so that Jackson could check me out. This is what babies need. Babies are overwhelmed by adult energy and eye contact, and adult's emotional expectations.
Jackson looked back, shy. I said, “Hi, Jackson.” I looked away. I slowly moved closer looking at him briefly and looking away to allow him to see me. Babies can not handle too much adult energy and eye contact. At one point about six feet away his comfort level changed. He was no longer excited. His breath changed. He kept his gaze with his dad, and he “hunkered” in against his dad. This is communication. It is so subtle, yet so obvious when one realizes it. I stopped and I said, “Oh, I’m too close. I’m sorry.” I stepped back. Checking in with him. Looking away. This was only a minute or two in duration. When Jackson’s body relaxed and he smiled, I moved closer again and he was comfortable with me. When I was a few feet away I did not touch him. I never, ever touch babies without their permission unless to keep the child from harm. His dad was so excited to introduce his son and mom. He said, “Don’t you wanna hold him?”
And, I said, “Not yet. I want him to let me know when he wants me to, when he is comfortable.”
My son said, “Oh, geez, you are so weird, Mom.” Well, yeah. I'm the Baby Keeper.
I moved my attention from Jackson and onto my collective family. That was all Jackson was ready for and I respected his needs. We had a family brunch and during that time as I engaged with my other two grandsons, and with my family, I would catch Jackson watching me with interest. I would smile at him. Then I would look away and let him watch me, so he was comfortable. Yes! It is almost like flirting.
After brunch we went to my older grandson’s football game. By then it has been two or 3 hours. At some point during the game, I was standing by my son who was holding Jackson, and we were just chatting. I felt Jackson’s foot and I looked down and then at his face. He showed me a teasing smile. He reached with his foot and poked at me again. Touching us is one of the ways that babies let us know that it's ok for us to touch them.
It was my intention, above my excitement as a grandma, to be respectful of his boundaries and needs from our first moment. I held him for awhile ... maybe ten minutes. I continued to follow his lead and not expect him to respond in a way to make me feel okay, or fulfilled. Adults often need babies to smile or respond to feel fulfilled. "The baby likes me if I can get back to laugh or make eye contact," and most often the adult overwhelms and intimidates the baby, and can even feel unliked by the baby.
Because I was attuned to Jackson and wanted to support him to feel secure, I felt him become uncomfortable. He'd had enough time away from his mama. I felt her unease too and her wanting him. I felt he wanted to nurse and I said to her, “He is becoming uneasy and wants you. I think he wants to eat.” (what his dad calls breast feeding!) She said she about to say that - that she felt he wanted to eat. She was so relieved (she didn't want to have to fight her instincts vs her mother-in-law's needs).
So many times grandparents feel this "constant breastfeeding" is an “excuse” by their daughter or daughter-in-law to “not let them hold the baby.” Sometimes it may be, but the truth is that babies need to nurse on demand, frequently. The truth is that mama is "home base" and where babies feel safe. This is especially true in gatherings. They feel safe because the mother's body - her heart and nervous system - is still assisting baby to self-regulate and adjust to the world. The truth is that it is because babies need their mothers, and nature has provided for her to provide that. Babies are programmed by nature to attach to a primary caretaker. They are meant to be in their mother’s arms through the first nine months of age. This is now known to be the “last trimester” where important brain development around attachment occurs. Babies do not want or need to be held by anyone but people who will be primary and secondary caregivers.
If you are meeting a new grandchild, a new niece or nephew, please try the process I shared here to meet your new family member. This is critically important for the newborn and mother relationship and your support now will pay off in big ways later. In the long run, if you use the process and you respect the baby's boundaries, regulate your own adult emotions, and respect the energy of eye contact, the relationship you foster with your baby family member will be one of great trust of you, and when it is time the child to expand his or her circle, you will be a safe person in their world. Nothing could be more important.
Three years after Jackson was born his sister joined us. Elise was also about six months old when we met. Her mama lead the way in introducing us, based on the experience with Jackson. She said, “I know you want to let her come to you.” We met over the huge ottoman.