On being a baby

Voiceless, prone, powerless, even naked, I had a couple of experiences this week that made me feel like a baby. As I was lying on two very different tables, I considered how I might improve my own baby’s experience in the first months of his life.

The first instance was pure bliss. When I was pregnant, my book club friends gave me a gift certificate for a massage at a yoga studio. I have had only one other massage and do not remember it much. This one, though, either because of the zen atmosphere or the considerable skill of the masseuse, left me feeling actually loved.

The part I remember most was having my legs and feet lifted. I have never liked my legs. Tree trunks, elephant legs. My feet, too, are neglected. I had not polished my toes. My heels were a little cracked. And yet, lying there, legs lifted and massaged, how could I dislike something that was being treated so tenderly? My feet were held and caressed like I caress my baby’s feet. I don’t mean to say that the massage therapist loved me or anything. That would be weird. But she allowed me to love myself and to relax utterly. I felt like a baby must feel when rocked to sleep, allowed to rest in warm arms, cared for and protected.

My experience yesterday was less good. In the dentist’s chair, I felt not protected but powerless. I have had a wonderful dentist all my adult life but she has recently acquired a partner and somehow, by not protesting, I ended up as his patient. He is a nice man and his dental work seems very good, but he is not nearly as gentle as my previous dentist. Anyone who has been in the dentist’s chair knows the particular feeling of powerlessness I felt yesterday. “Does it hurt?” Well, it did, but I cannot speak to tell you so. The dentist discovered the pain by my attempts to bury my head back into the table to escape the needle. I have never been afraid of dentists, but I get it now. When he asked me to open my mouth for the third needle, I couldn’t do it. My jaw wouldn’t cooperate. In the end, I did it because I had to, but also because that morning I had taken Seamus for his 4-month vaccination needles. He, too, felt shocked and abused. He recovered, as I did, laughing out loud by the time we left the doctor’s office. I couldn’t laugh. I was too disfigured by the anesthetic.

The two experiences were so similar in that I was at the mercy of someone else. The whole time, I thought, this is how Seamus feels. And while the one experience was soothing, loving, and comforting, the other was disorienting and painful. Now, obviously, shots aside, I don’t hurt my baby, but other elements of the dentist’s chair were uncomfortable, like getting sprayed in the face with water, twice, or having water drip down the side of my face into my ear. It was like baby drool, but without the loving parent to wipe my face.

I am sure you get the point. Like us, babies want to be respected. They want adults to be kind and gentle. I am not saying I won’t still walk around holding a baby slung over my shoulder while carrying the laundry up the stairs. I am sure I still will. But I will try to respect his need for comfort and security a bit more because of my two opposite experiences.