Like any first-time mom, I wanted to do everything right. I had begun gathering clues about raising children already years before, probably since a teenager. Those first babysitting experiences provided exposure in dealing with small children in a non-committal way (I could leave again at the end of the evening a few dollars richer), yet already I was observing the interactions between parents and children; already I was learning it’s important to mean what you say, especially with kids. When my older sister and brother started their own families, I added their experiences and stories to my database of information. And because many of Patrick’s friends had children before we did, we were able to talk with and watch other families and discuss together what we thought worked and what did not.
Of course I still didn’t feel prepared for my own baby. So I read more books about how a baby should sleep, what sort of routine should be established, preferably right from the beginning, and why I should nurse and how I should go about in all circumstances. I was informed about how life should function with a baby.
When Fenja finally arrived, I roamed the hospital hallways at night because my baby didn’t want to sleep and I didn’t want to disturb our roommate. During those nights I often went to the mothers’ station, an extra room with chairs and other necessary accessories, to nurse. One of the night nurses often assisted me, but always made sure to tell me, “You’re doing great. Just do what comes naturally.” Maybe she recognized the doubt in my face, – “naturally”; I don’t know what the heck I’m doing! – but she continued to encourage me.
At home I was overjoyed with my infant, full of happy hormones and thrilled at being a mother. And yet nothing was going according to plan: Fenja wasn’t sleeping like the books said she should; I wasn’t nursing on a perfect three-hour schedule the first week; I couldn’t quite manage to have the same routine every day. I searched my smart books for advice, but those suggestions didn’t seem to work either. Eventually my desperation at not succeeding brought tears. I didn’t know what to do anymore.
Luckily that night nurse had given me what I really needed: the confidence to believe in my own instinct. I again heard her words: “Do what comes naturally.” All this book information had only stressed me out, and if that nurse believed I could do it, then why not? I returned the books to the bookshelf, determined to let them grow dusty, and became a much better mother. I could relax, not intent on fulfilling someone else’s program, but finding our rhythm and what was best for us.
I know now that I got lost in the noise.
I’m convinced we reside in a very noisy world. News shows and news makers, whom we often forget do not have our best interests in mind, stand ready with information they believe we should know, telling us what opinions to have about any one topic. Thousands of blogs are available promoting millions of convictions, often with the intention of swaying the reader to feel the same. If we don’t know what to think or wear or what to eat, we ask a question on Facebook and are thrilled when so many of our friends tell us what to do. With a simple click we can access all the information we need to answer any possible question we might ask. We no longer need to know anything; we can simply regurgitate. The saying, “Put on your thinking cap,” is outdated – why think about something yourself when it’s easier to access the answer by pushing a few buttons?
These constant distractions and overabundance of available information is noise. This noise demands our attention and tricks us into believing its importance should define our daily routine. When I sit down at the computer in the morning, first I check over my emails, then scroll through Facebook to make sure I haven’t missed out on anything. Usually I have not, but often it takes me 45 minutes to notice this. When I look again at the clock, I’m annoyed at the time I have just wasted. Don’t misunderstand me: Facebook has made staying in touch with friends and family across the ocean a thousand times easier, and I am thankful for that. The social network has its place, but its noisiness shuts out everything else, and I get sucked in.
How often do we get sucked in? How often do we catch ourselves disgusted at ourselves for once again investing time and energy into something we know is just making noise? Or have we become so entrenched in the noise that we can’t even recall what it is to be quiet?
Stillness: do you remember? It’s that place where you can sit and hear yourself breathe; it’s when suddenly the tiny details of the tree with orange leaves sprinkled among the green reveals itself to you, when you realize again there’s a world beyond the constant input. Stillness is where you find yourself again, where you hear that voice within you, reminding you of what you once thought, not just the noise of all the opinion-makers.
Of course this can all be misinterpreted: Dora thinks all modern communication and accessible information is evil! Not quite. Among the daily noise, we forget ourselves, and this is what concerns me most. We shut off our brains and shut out that inner voice of wisdom and become yes and no zombies. We’re being convinced that what we believe to be true is false and what others tell us is the absolute truth. When we no longer find time to be still, our own protection system breaks down.
When I finally put those books back on the shelf – Luckily I only had books. Today there are hundreds of apps to make life during pregnancy and with an infant “easier” with anything from clocking feeding times to detailing how far apart contractions should be to outlining what exactly a child should be eating. – I returned to the quiet. It was only then that I could honestly listen to that voice inside that really did know how to mother without the bombardment of “helpful” tips. Of course I didn’t do (and continue not to do) everything right. It’s a learning process, and always will be, but at least I can be true to myself and not to all those other people who believe they know better than I. And when I need help, which is often enough, I go to individuals I know and trust. Their advice is valuable because these people know me and my family and understand our circumstances. It is a living and breathing community.
As I believe is true about all things in life, it is about balance. We can’t go about in stillness all the time, and it’s not healthy – and if we were really honest with ourselves we might admit we have already noticed – to be consumed by noise. Allowing ourselves those moments of quiet can help strengthen that inner-voice, reminding us of who we are, even among the noise.
Of course the logical question follows: am I adding to the noise with my blog? Something for me to further ponder….