Often when I’m invited to baby showers I’m asked to offer up some piece of advice for the expectant mother. I almost always say the same thing, and usually change up the parables in which I use to illustrate this. The basic idea I always try to drive home is this: no matter how busy you are taking care of someone else, make sure you do at least one thing every day for yourself. This small act of self-care is the moment of grace that you will draw upon for the rest of the day, and particularly so during the witching hour.
The witching hour is that time of day when your baby hates everyone and everything. You will do and try everything you can think of to soothe them. Regardless of this, your baby will cry relentlessly and without any known cause. Just as quickly as it starts, approximately 60 -90 minutes later it will be over and you will not know why or what worked to make the constant wailing stop. Every baby (and frankly many grown-ups) I have ever known or raised have such a time of day. And every ounce of your newly minted parental mettle will be tested during this time.
When my first born son was maybe just 6 or 8 weeks old, I became intimately acquainted with the witching hour. He was just unhappy. He wasn't hungry or wet or tired or anything I could cross off the checklist that everyone tells you to go through to figure out what little people need when they can't tell you what they need. And he would fuss and fuss and fuss and there were only two things that would calm him down:
1. That Feist song 1234 that was really popular back in early 2008 and,
2. Going outside. Even in January. In New Jersey. One word: COLD.
I used to tell myself and others, "Look at my awesomely clever and hip little baby! He loves the latest music!" Or, perhaps even more ridiculous, "look at my amazingly soulful little baby! Even at 6 weeks he is just so in tune with nature!"
In hindsight, neither Dylan's early love of pop culture or his affinity for the natural world are what soothed him in those early and difficult days. Actually, it was me. Or I should say his love of me. And his connection with me. You see I unknowingly chose to do things that I needed. Things that helped me recall a part of me that wasn't just about diaper changes and night feedings and crying and kisses. Without hesitation, I chose to grab my son and dance wildly because a part of me still remembered who I used to be before my baby, and how much I liked and needed that. I chose to do things like go outside into the freezing night to take giant gulps of air and get a first-hand glimpse of the moon and the stars to feel like I was closer to my own mother than I really was.
When I did those things, I was helping me to find my own center. And I would hold him so close and I honestly believe he could feel my heartbeat slow down. He would latch on to my joy and my calm, and it would soothe him.
So friends, the thing I wish I’d known before I brought my baby home that first day, the thing I hope you’ll remember, is that your baby’s witching hour has both nothing and everything to do with you. It is about how you find your center when everything and everyone around you is loud and needy. No matter how transactional and functional mothering (particularly mothering in the early minutes and days and weeks) can feel, never lose sight of you. Never lose sight of what you need, independent of your baby. Doing so will keep you sane and happy.
And there is nothing that calms and delights a baby more than a happy momma.