The High Needs Baby

Draining. Delightful. Clingy. Spirited. High needs.

The High Needs Baby

“As long as we hold her, she’s content” became our baby-care slogan.

(Martha Sears)

Parenting our third child has been nothing like parenting our boys. From the moment she showed up on a blood test, our girl has kept us on our toes. The word that I often use to describe how I feel about the last 16 months + 9 months in utero is “bamboozled.” I was totally caught off guard that I had even gotten pregnant. I was surprised my body even stayed pregnant given it’s history for miscarriage, followed by all the drama that started us on this road to meet our girl. I was caught off guard at how much my body betrayed me for 9 months. I was so sick. Cardiologists, endocrinologists, maternal fetal specialists, hematologists. I could barely care for myself, much less our boys. They took care of me most days. Being a “seasoned” mom, I knew what I was in for with the newborn phase…..or so I thought. I expected the exhaustion of the early weeks. I knew the potential struggles with breastfeeding because I’d battled mastitis, plugged ducts, sudden loss of milk supply, mom guilt, pumping on-the-go, etc. I thought we were somewhat prepared for the “parenting” part of this pleasant surprise we’d been given. We were not.

The High Needs Baby

Eila girl has been hard to describe from the beginning. In utero she was quite different from my pregnancies with the boys, obviously, since I felt like she almost killed me from the inside. And then when she made her appearance she struck us all with how alert she was in the first few minutes of life. Her eyes were wide open and locked onto her brothers like she knew exactly who they were, how much they adored her, and exactly what they were saying. It was a very sweet interaction. And that’s how I would describe her mostly, very sweet. But that attentiveness in the first few moments outside the womb, along with her constant movements in utero, would be the first few signs that our girl was not going to be like her brothers.

During my short postpartum hospital stay, I could barely put her down. I wouldn’t describe her as extremely fussy mostly because her cry was sweet, not shrill, and easy to calm. She just seemed like a brand new baby who needed her mama and I was ok with that since I was still riding the euphoric wave of baby hormones. It was an exhausting experience. Especially after being so exhausted for the past 9 months. 

Eila was also the first of our three babies to have an extended skin-to-skin experience immediately after birth. Marc and I joke that she is still having a “skin-to-skin” experience because nobody told her it was over. And some days I joke that she would just crawl right back up in there if I let her. In the weeks after her birth we slept sometimes only in minutes long stretches. Minutes. Not hours. And usually sitting up. She had reflux from the very beginning. She was (and still is) the lightest sleeper we’ve ever had. And, to make matters worse, we lived in an apartment below a herd of elephants for the first year of her life. So sleep was not going to happen. But we kept holding out hope that it wouldn’t always be that way. She was brand new, adjusting to her world, struggling with silent reflux, and we wouldn’t always live in the apartment. I would adjust my diet to help with her reflux, we would sleep in whatever setup worked best to help her settle and it would all work itself out. Besides, we’d already parented two kids with sensory struggles. We could figure her out.

The High Needs Baby

In the meantime, while she was emptying my cup, she was also filling it in a way that I never imagined. She was the sweetest little thing right from the beginning. She smiled all the time and loved being near me in a way that was both maddening and fulfilling. I wouldn’t have described her as a colicky or even a fussy infant. But she had opinions about things from the beginning and one of them was her proximity to me.

In the months that followed we did not find a reliable solution to her reflux (she mostly grew out of it around a year old, but still has some moments). Instead we juggled various food sensitivities, a few scary trips to the ER, and some environmental sensitivities. I eliminated so many foods from my diet that I felt like I was mostly taking in air and water. And we added no extra sleep to the mix. She woke multiple times a night, with the worst nights leaving me (or the mister) with an hour sleep, not always in consecutive minutes. We were exhausted from trying to figure out what to feed her, what triggered her sensitivities through my breastmilk, how to get her to sleep, and how to balance the family dynamic with her needing 100% of my attention.

The High Needs Baby

Then, there were all the well-meaning people who offered up their solutions, most of which we had already tried. Eila girl didn’t fit the description of any of the babies in the baby books or on the parenting blogs. She wasn’t colicky. She didn’t really cry all that much if you met her needs. When she woke at night she was happy as a clam, as long as you got up, fed her, rocked her back to sleep, and CAREFULLY laid her back in her crib. She’d be up again soon to do the exact same thing. And again. And again. But she wasn’t inconsolable like a baby with colic. Her needs were easy to identify, for the most part, and if you met them she was quite diplomatic.

While we were driving ourselves crazy trying to figure out the best solutions for our core family, many on the outside of our four walls suggested a sort of “tough love.” Which was often the advice we received in the early years with the boys’ sensory struggles. Parenting can be so political, can’t it? Many unsolicited opinions were harmless and well-meaning but when you’re extremely sleep deprived and mentally drained from trying ALL the things to adjust to the new personality in your home, it can feel like a kick in the crotch. It’s made even worse when those around you have never heard of a thing like Sensory Processing Disorder or High Needs Baby. I’ve been on the receiving end of many an eye roll at the two descriptors as they’re brushed off as some sort of parenting hooey that doesn’t really exist except in the mind of the over-protective parent. Equally as frustrating is the comment that their child/grandchild/friend’s child “does that too and it’s totally normal and doesn’t make them a high needs anything or sensory overloaded whatever.”

Luckily, we’ve grown a thick skin over the years and have learned to trust what we know about our children based on what they tell us through their habits and behaviors. The last 10 years with sensory kids has taught us to pay attention, be compassionate, and really dig deep to understand others. That’s invaluable in my opinion and my children have made me are making me a better person by showing me daily that it isn’t all about me nor is it about what other people are doing. They prepared me to be compassionate when Eila girl came along, slow down, and try to find the specific ways she needs to be loved. Because she is definitely her own person. Big personality. High needs. But I believe the sleepless nights, the cluster feedings, the constant need for touch, and the opinions she’s developing about her world will ultimately blossom into a confident young woman who knows what she wants, isn’t afraid to ask for it, and can do so in a way that is gentle and empathetic if we only pay attention, listen to how the Lord would have us parent our children, and sleep when she sleeps. 😉

On a related note, I don’t blog much at all anymore because… well, {see above}… but I hope to get more posts written about our journey with our High Needs baby in the hopes that others might find encouragement. Because, if there’s anything I could use more of on this journey it’s encouragement. Encouragement that I’m not alone. Encouragement that it’s not my parenting, not made up, and not a negative thing but a blessing. So, if I need that, I’m sure there are others out there who need it, too. And maybe we can prop each other up. A bit of a Forrest and Bubba situation, if you will.

“I’m gonna lean up against you, you just lean right back against me. This way, we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud. You know why we a good partnership, Forrest? ‘Cause we be watchin’ out for one another. Like brothers and stuff.”

The High Needs Baby

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