As I painted this, it was springtime and I was marveling in the beauty that bursts out of the ground after a long winter. Newborns are like spring, so full of life and color, just screaming with potential. Grandparents and like autumn. They have lived a full, productive and busy life and now they are ripe, like red apples, and beautiful like maple leaves in October. Grandparents impart wisdom, encouragement, love and tranquility as they prepare themselves for winter, the final stage of life.
My youngest daughter, Fiona, has a sweet spot for cats and babies. She can sit for hours with a baby, holding and caressing the baby. She can crouch down so calmly and patiently while she waits for the neighborhood cats to come up to her.
Before Fiona was born, I decided to do some research into what the third child of the family was like, since I grew up in a two child family. As more and more of my friends were having children, I started to notice a similar trend in personalities for all of our first borns, and then our second borns, so I started to look more seriously at the Birth Order theory. Three child families are not so common anymore, in fact, once we decided to have a third, most people were shocked, “Don’t you have enough?” “Why would you want more?” “Are you crazy?”
The baby or last born of the family is the child who tends to have a great sense of humor, be very social, outgoing, and a perceptive people person. They are affectionate and independent. They are the risk-takers who have a “burning desire to make an important contribution to the world” and they are usually the ones who do end up bringing great changes to the world.
When I looked at all of the qualities that are typical in a last born, I thought to myself, “We need more of that in our family!” Our family just felt incomplete, like one more person was waiting for us, waiting to be added to our family. And once Fiona was born, our family truly did feel complete.
This painting is for my third child, Fiona, for bring so much laughter and love to our family.
Two weeks ago was my first time ever in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. Shortly after we visited my sister in the hospital, Baby Muffin had difficulty breathing and was quickly whisked away to the N.I.C.U. where she spent the following 5 days being poked and prodded, medicated and supervised. At one point she had 10 tubes poking into her. For two day she was not allowed to be held by her mother or father.
When we found out what has happening, I had an overpowering fear and worry for the baby. I sat down that night to pray and it is the first time in my life that I have ever been struck so strongly with a message, as if God was whispering in my ear, ‘Back off! This is MY child. I will take care of her.‘
And like a flick of a switch, all of fear evaporated into the night sky and I KNEW that this baby was in good hands: in the hospital’s hands and in God’s hands.
In truth, these were the babies that in the past would often die. When we were able to visit again, three days later, to the intensive care unit, surrounded by babies the size of kittens, nestled in their incubators, covered in blankets, cocooned for a time in an artificial womb I was at once grateful for the advances in medical science and at the same time, looking at baby Ruhiyya, a hefty 9lbs 11oz, I thought, ‘This is a healthy baby!’ She was a giant in a room of elves.
A few days later she was able to come home and I was so moved by the experience that I painted Baby Muffin in her half-world: neither in the womb, nor at the mother’s breast, but half way in between cocooned in a white Calla Lily, surrounded by a bed of roses.
Shortly before Ruhiyya was born, I was pondering over the life crises that had unfolded amongst several pregnant friends. I reflected on my past pregnancies and the crisis the came with the birth of each new child: buying and moving to a new (old and broken) house (moving into it while I was in labor), losing a job and loss of income (for a whole year we were on government subsidies), marital crisis and instability, to name a few. I thought about each friend that I knew with children and the crisis that coincided with the birth of that child. I came to the conclusion that a crisis around a birth is necessary.
A crisis is a time when we are motivated to change and to grow, and each new child that enters into a family requires their parents to change, develop and grow in such drastic new ways to accommodate the development of that new being. The quickest way to growth is through crisis. Hence, a crisis in necessary around the birth of a child.
It seems counter-logical because, isn’t having a baby enough crisis?
But upon reflection is the the most illogically logical solution. Children need their parents to grow up FAST so they can parent them in the ways that they need. Crisis stimulates growth.
Having your newborn hooked up to feeding tubes, medication tubes, breathing apparatuses, not being able to hold or nurse your newborn, and in a sense being the hospital’s child for a time being, is a crisis. This is the crisis that my sister and brother-in-law went through two weeks ago.
Upon reflection with them about what they learned from the crisis, it was, without a doubt, patience. Little Ruhiyya, for the future development of her inner potential, needed her parents, and all the rest of us in her midst to learn patience.
For indeed, she is our example. Serenity. The calm eye in the midst of the storm. These are the qualities that describe this little being. From her we will learn patience. For her we will learn patience.
My heart melts.
Ah, breastfeeding. Some days that feels like all I do. Like yesterday when Fiona went through a growth spurt and wanted to feed non-stop from 11am to 11pm and skip all her naps.
Babies are so amazing. When they are born, they have a limited range of focus. It just so happens that the distance their eyes can focus is the length between their eyes and their mother’s eyes as they are breastfeeding.
And I have to say, there really is nothing sweeter than when they stare up at you while they are nursing and gaze so affectionately into your eyes.
(I actually did parts of this painting while breastfeeding Fiona!)
Did you know that it was possible calm almost any crying baby in about a minute or less? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
Just before Fiona was born, I went to a presentation by Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block. It was a room full of crying babies and he went from baby to baby, instantly calming each one, while at the same time giving his presentation. It was like watching a magician and I was so excited to learn his techniques (and at the same time wondering why I hadn’t learned them when Isabela and Diego were babies!)
According to Dr. Harvey Karp’s research, babies are born with 5 calming reflexes that they carry over from the womb. They need them in the womb so that they stay calm and basically in one position, with their head down, so that they can be born without major complications.
So to calm your baby, you need to re-create a womb-like experience for them. He describes the process as the 5 S’s.
The 1st S – Swaddling
Babies are used to being snug and cozy inside the womb, so swaddling re-creates this. It also helps them to sleep better, and longer, because they oftentimes wake themselves up with their hands. Dr. Karp said that people usually use swaddle blankets that are too small, so the baby can squirm out of it. I made a great swaddle blanket sewing together 4 receiving blankets.
The 2nd S – Side/Stomach
Turn your baby onto it’s side or stomach (though when you put them down to sleep, you need to lie them on their back to prevent SIDS.)
The 3rd S – Shushing
The sound inside the womb is louder than a vacuum cleaner, so making a loud “Shhhhhhhh” sound triggers this calming reflex. You can also use external white noise, such as the static sound from a radio, vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, etc. The sound needs to be as loud as the crying, otherwise they won’t hear it.
These are two videos showing shushing. The first is with a hair dryer and the second is with the “shhhhh” sound.
The 4th S – Swinging
Dr. Karp described this as a head jiggle, and never a shake, which could lead to Shaken Baby Syndrome (which was, in fact, why he was here in Vancouver – presenting calming techniques to doctors at a Shaken Baby Syndrome conference. When parents can calm their baby quickly, they don’t get overwhelmingly frustrated by the cries and then shake their baby, which can lead to brain damage or death.)
The head and neck always need to be supported, but allow the head to do a Jello jiggle. Remember, the head was jiggling already for 9 months in the womb!
The 5th S – Sucking
Babies have a strong need to suck and it is very calming for them. In other cultures around the world, babies nurse 50-100 times a day, not just for the milk, but also for the need to suckle.
Crying babies can create exhaustion, insecurity, interfere with nursing, create marital stress, postpartum depression, SIDS, Shaken Baby Syndrome, and child abuse. Handing out a copy of Dr. Harvey Karp’s DVD, the Happiest Baby on the Block, to all new parents seems like a simple solution for preventing many of those issues.
Dunstan Baby Language
The next amazing discovery to calm your crying baby is by Priscilla Dunstan, creator of the Dunstan Baby Language.
She discovered that there are 5 sounds that babies make when they cry. The reflex lasts until they are 3 months, but will continue if their cries have been attended to.
Neh – hunger
The sound comes from the sucking reflex, when the tongue is pushed up to the roof of the mouth.
Owh – sleepy
The key to this sound is looking for a wide open mouth, that looks like a yawn.
Eh – burp
This sound means the baby needs to be burped and has an air bubble caught in the chest.
Heh – discomfort
The key to hearing this sound is to listen carefully for the “H” sound at the beginning. The discomfort could be too hot, too cold, or needing a diaper change.
Eairh – lower gas
This sound is produced when air is unable to be burped and moves down to the stomach and intestines, creating upset stomach and gas.
The cry sound that I have found the most helpful with Fiona is the “Eh” (needs to be burped). Oftentimes I feed her and then she passes out, only to wake up a few minutes later needing to be burped. Listening for the “Eh” sound has helped me to distinguish between her funny sleep sounds (when I can just leave her and she’ll go back to sleep) and her actual need to be lifted up to be burped.
Good luck calming your baby!
This painting is called, “Sleeping in the Garden.” It is an acrylic painting that I made as a gift for my mother. I was inspired by a dream that my father had, where my mother was out in my garden, muddy and rolling in flowers and leaves. In this painting I added my daughter, then one and a half years old, who is affectionately embraced by her grandma as they take a nap in the garden.
My mother has single-handedly transformed our backyard garden during her vacations here. It is a place where her creativity and passion really shine. So when I decided to do this painting, I took photos of all of the flowers and plants in our garden and compiled them to create a secretive, very lush garden. I took separate photos of my mother and my daughter and sketched them on. Then I started with an outline of the painting and filled it in with various colors. I choose the colors as I go and each part of the painting has 5-10 layers on it.