Beata, 2 ½, had always been a restless sleeper. It was a challenge to get her to sleep each night, and once asleep she would burrow herself into the side of one of her parents. She woke up screaming inconsolably from her naps each day and many times at night, as well. Sleep training was something that her parents decided they did not want to do, but Scott and Beth were tired. More than that, they knew that Beata was probably not getting a good night’s sleep, either.
Beata’s mom, Beth, listened to an interview I did with Ray Castellino about how our first experiences of birth and our early life can have an impact on our ability to sleep. Beata had spent the first week of her life in a NICU by herself after her mother had given her up for adoption. Beth listened to our conversation and decided to tell Beata the story of what happened to her when she was a tiny baby. Here’s what Beth had to say about the call with Ray and I and what happened when she decided to try the ideas:
“The thing that struck me so deeply was that, while we had talked with Beata about everything, about adoption, who her birth family was, and about us and how she came to us, we had never discussed her hospital experience with her. So one mother who Ray spoke with [on the call] had a child who had spent some time in the hospital. After listening to his discussion with her, I was inspired that that needed to happen with Bea, and that day after I listened to the call, she woke up from her nap, and she did at that time screaming inconsolably, as she did often waking up from naps, and on that day I talked to her about her hospital experience. It was one of the most profound experiences that I’ve had. She just buried her head on my chest, and I asked her if she wanted to talk about when she was in the hospital, and she nodded yes, and I asked her if she wanted to talk about it or if she wanted me to talk about it, and she indicated me. So I just described what my understanding of the situation and what my emotions were around it. After I was done I said to her, “I’ve always wondered how you felt about it,” and she picked her head up off my chest and said, “I FELT ANGRY.” It was spine chilling, really, and beautiful. And then she was done. And since that time, Bea has been waking up crying from naps so significantly less it’s remarkable.”
As a society, we think that our babies cannot possibly remember what happened prenatally, at their births, or post-partum. We rarely address our own feeling of helplessness when a birth doesn’t go as we expect and may give little thought to our babies. If we do consider the impact of their birth, we have no idea what to do about it. “We all lived through it.” “It’s over now.” “We’re moving forward.”
But events that are unprocessed and unintegrated live on and affect our lives. This isn’t about feeling guilt about the way a birth went. It is about realizing that birth and the time before we have conscious memories does matter. It is also about realizing that we can support our children and seek support for ourselves if we are still stuck somehow in a less than ideal birth situation no matter how long ago it may have happened.
Like Beata, our children need to hear their birth stories and have an opportunity to share their experiences. Ray Castellino and Mary Jackson’s work starts with expectant parents. Even newborns can benefit from hearing their stories and they can even join in the telling through body movements, sounds, or their behaviors. Beata was telling part of her story from her early days in the hospital every time she woke up screaming. When we start to understand that our children are actually communicating something to us through their behaviors and enter into these challenges with a sense of wonderment, we create an opportunity to understand each other much more deeply.
Our young children often tell their stories during the night when they would ideally be sleeping. When we can acknowledge their story during the day and remind them that “night time is for sleeping, daytime is for stories,” everyone will start to sleep better.
Next week, I’ll share some specific strategies to incorporate when telling stories with your babies or young children during the daytime. I’d love to hear your questions. Ray and Mary said they would be willing to answer specific questions if you have them as we move through this blog series. Feel free to post them below and we’ll do our best to answer them.