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Deal with it

Luca was born in the winter. My husband and I, being first time parents and sensitive to some extent, worried before Luca was even born. We worried about him possibly getting too cold. We worried about making him too warm to keep him from getting too cold. We worried about possible thunder storms that might keep him from sleeping and scaring him. We worried about him possibly catching something from people who came over to visit. I think we, and most of the time just I, worried about pretty much everything. Having a child for the first time has got to be the scariest thing in the world, and maybe more so for us sensitive folk.

So maybe we were a bit extreme in the way we handled some situations. I almost killed myself to make sure I breastfed for 6 and a half months, despite everything that went wrong and all the pain I went through, when I know that everyone would have been happier, more relaxed, and most likely equally healthy had we opted for formula instead. For the first month we made sure that at least one of us was up to make sure the baby was breathing. We started reading to him when he was a day old, and had bought him over a hundred books by the time he was one. We never skipped a bath and always stuck to the bedtime routine, regardless of how exhausted we were. We stopped wearing perfume for a year after Luca was born so that he wouldn’t be exposed to strong smells, and asked our family to do the same when they came to visit. For the first few months we discouraged anyone from picking up the baby, or to wash their hands before they did.

Before Luca was born, my husband and I would talk about making sure to expose the baby to anything that would make him stronger and capable of adapting to different environments. We talked about taking him out whenever we wanted to go out and letting him nap in the living room so that he could learn to sleep through anything. We talked about letting him play in the mud if he wanted to. We talked about letting him do things on his own and learning from his mistakes, as long as he was safe of course. And then Luca was born. And eventually all that stuff went out the window.

In the two days we spent in the hospital after Luca was born, he slept so much it was a little scary. We actually had to wake him up for feedings after he had slept “way too long”, according to the nurses. He slept through the day, he slept through the night, he even slept through visits from very excited and very loud family members. And then we went home. And that was it. For the next three years. We discovered shortly after Luca was born that he just wasn’t a sleeper. We tried carrying him, rocking him, singing to him, modifying his bedtime routine, using “bedtime lotions” with soothing scents. We danced with him, used the stroller or carrier and walked around the house for hours at a time. We literally tried everything and our methods changed as he grew, and still nothing worked. He just didn’t like to sleep, and if he did fall asleep, the sound of us breathing was enough to wake him up, which is why at times, we just stopped breathing. We asked guests never to buzz us or ring the doorbell, and to keep their voices down. His sensitivity to sound consequently made us equally sensitive to sound. So when he actually did fall asleep, we would put him in his room, close the door, then close the door of the living room where we sat, muted the television while we watched, and whispered to one another. This became a way of life for some time, so much so that even when Luca was up, or not around at all, we still whispered until we caught ourselves acting crazy. I have to add here that nothing makes you crazier than chronic sleep deprivation. Nothing.

We also quickly discovered that he didn’t like to do things for himself, such as reach out and grab a toy. He liked his toys, and he enjoyed the lights and sounds they made, but he enjoyed watching us play with them most of all. Later when he was eating solids, we also found that no matter how hard we tried, he never touched his food, never attempted to hold the spoon or pick up a biscuit. During bedtime when he was older, I had to hold his bottle for him with one hand and his story book with the other for months before he decided to hold it himself. He was also very neat and clean very early on. When he opened his mouth to take a bite, even as a baby, he opened his mouth wide enough to make sure he didn’t get any food on his face. I had never seen or heard of a baby who didn’t make a mess when he ate, never, which is actually making my experience with my 6 month-old today a nightmare. To this day, Luca refuses to eat by himself and just goes mad when he makes his hands, mouth, clothes or even the table dirty.

Now we know Luca, we know what he likes and doesn’t like. We know why he does the things he does. We know he is neat; he doesn’t like being in crowded, noisy places; he is extremely cautious; he will only do something when he knows he can; and he cannot be forced to do anything he doesn’t want to do. But there was a time when we didn’t know. We couldn’t see that we had adapted to our baby, that we had to change the way we lived to suit our baby, and that we couldn’t force our lifestyle on him. And because of the changes we had made, things were very difficult for a long time. What made things worse was being judged and blamed by others for “making our son that way”. Not only did we have to deal with severe sleep deprivation for years, being confined to our house or very quiet places, and doing everything for a child who doesn’t want to do anything on his own, we also had to deal with the guilt of having done this to our son and to ourselves. We were made to feel like we had “ruined” our child.

I will never forget the day I discussed all of our concerns with our pediatrician. I loved her because she always gave it to us straight. After having been accused by others of being weak, not trying hard enough, and spoiling our baby beyond repair, to our surprise all she had to say was: “This is how he is. Deal with it”. The news couldn’t have been better. She reassured us that we had done nothing wrong, and that some people are born this way. That’s when it hit us. People are different: some don’t like to sleep while others can’t get enough; some are natural born athletes while some break a sweat going up the stairs; some like to travel around the world while others like nothing more than being home. People are different. Babies are different. And it would be a crime to try and change them into something they’re not.

The bigger crime is that too many people expect things to be a certain way because any other way would be a challenge, and challenge is scary. As soon as a people skew slightly from the norm, they are labeled. I have been given several, very unpleasant labels for Luca from people, some even without kids, and worst of all from the first school he went to: difficult, uncooperative, introvert, unsociable, awkward, lazy, bored, and the list goes on. Why? Because he’s not like the majority. And why is that so bad? Because you have to work slightly harder to understand him, handle him, and bring out the best in him.

It’s a shame really. It’s unfortunate that sensitive kids risk being treated this way by society and it’s sad that their parents are put down and blamed for doing such a lousy job. Here we are, almost four years later, without having done anything out of the ordinary, without medical or professional interference, without having molded Luca into something he’s not, by just letting him be, by not making him feel bad about the way he is; today he stands out as someone especially caring and kind, someone with amazing perseverance, someone bright, intuitive, helpful, happy… Someone just extraordinary!

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