By Figen özer, alumni of our Self-Reg in Early Childhood Development program
New Born Stress
When I think of stress, the most stressful period in my life comes to mind— when I became a mother for the first time. I was a new mom with little twin boys. My stressful period began in the hospital. One of my sons had to stay in the NICU for two days because he couldn’t poop the first day he was born. We never expected our babies to stay in the NICU. I remember how sad I was that day, as if it were yesterday.
The inexperience of being a first-time mother and the challenge of taking care of two tiny babies at the same time had exhausted me during the postpartum period. As if that wasn’t enough, one of my sons had colic. That made everything more complicated.
Exhaustion, Colic & Stressors
When I think about that time, I remember how stressed and tired I was. One of the main stressors was the excessive crying of my son due to infantile colic. Both my babies were dependent on me. They needed to be breastfed at shorter intervals than normal babies because they were born with lower weight. This meant even more sleep disruption. I remember feeling very exhausted. Not being able to soothe my colicky son made me feel helpless.
I was on edge every day around 5 PM. Each day he started crying at 5 PM and cried for at least two hours. As he cried and I couldn’t soothe him, I felt stressed. As I was stressed, he felt it and became more stressed. It was like being stuck in a vicious cycle. Failing to calm him made me feel like an inadequate mother, which added to my stress. I experienced a lot of emotional ups and downs, with my mind in a chaotic state.
Reframing Coping with a Self-Reg Lens
Looking at what I experienced through the Self-reg Lens, I see I had many stressors in my life. Lack of sleep, fatigue, feeling helpless, and my baby’s excessive, inconsolable crying, were significant sources of stress for me. My colicky baby was also stressed, although I wasn’t aware of it at that time. I only had one focus: trying to make him stop crying. No one, including doctors, could tell me why he was crying. Now I understand that he was stressed. Maybe light, noise, or any smell were stressors for him..
Dysregulation Begets Dysregulation. Calm Begets Calm.
Calm begets calm. I had to be calm first to calm him down, but unfortunately, I wasn’t. I tried every possible way to soothe him, and when nothing worked, my stress level increased. I even remember crying myself. Despite having my mother and relatives around to help, their assistance didn’t work. I remember eating a lot of sweets and junk food to cope with this stress. It provided instant relief but was not a permanent solution.
I’d like to know what I would do if I returned to that time with what I have learned in Self-Reg so far. When we fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs us to put our oxygen mask on first before helping our children. In other words, as a mom, I have to take care of myself in order not to experience burnout, stress, fatigue, and reduced mental effectiveness. Otherwise, I feel depleted and exhausted. I can co-regulate with my child if I am regulated. Instead of maladaptive coping mechanisms, I would engage in restorative activities such as walking outdoors, spending half an hour with a friend, or listening to music. I would not be alone and I would talk to people who made me feel good. After restoring, I would be able to approach my baby with more compassion. I wouldn’t take my baby’s crying personally. I wouldn’t see it as my fault that I couldn’t soothe him. This way, I could try to understand and reduce his stressors.
“We Can Be Healed in Relationship”
I am not writing all these things in my blog post to blame myself or to wish I’d done all those things. It isn’t about mistakes that I may have made or things that I could have done better. It’s about now. The point is, as parents, we try to do the best with what we know now. As Harville Hendrix says , “We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship and we can be healed in relationship.”