Becoming parents for the first time, we had plenty of preconceptions and thought ourselves prepared. Turns out we were a little naive and with Bowie now 1 & 1/2, there's no slowing down. Behind her limitless energy, determination, resilience and intelligence our little girl is extraordinary. She has all the characteristics of a "high needs" child.
Rewind to June 2013. The first few days after Bowie was born were very dark for me. I felt elated when I held my daughter, but I just couldn’t stop myself thinking “is this normal?”. I wasn’t aware that I would be needed every second of the day, that I couldn’t put her down, that breastfeeding was going to be so agonising. On day three I sank to the bathroom floor in the birthing unit and cried and cried while Bowie cried in my husband's arms outside the door.
Over the first four days having had a total of 6 hours sleep, we were beyond exhaustion. It was the beginning of what has become 19 months of sleep deprivation. Despite the temptation, we have never wanted to interfere with Bowie’s natural sleep cycle to fit our own. Although she wakes frequently this has not affected the quality of HER sleep so we continue to wait it out.
The next 6 months saw us trying to get into a groove. Except there was no groove, Bowie doesn’t “do” groove. She chops and changes and is far from predictable. We do have a routine that we stick to, any deviation can send our day crashing down around us, but the routine needs to be time flexible. For several months Bowie refused to be swaddled, worn or put down. We carried her facing outwards because she HAD to see what was going on and we watched her little arms flailing around while she slept. We spent hours bouncing her to sleep on a swiss ball, then once we managed to transfer her to bed she woke after 10 minutes and that was nap time over. All naps were cat naps. 27 minutes long to be precise. Again I would ask myself “is this normal?”
I look back at the first 6 months and I’m astounded that we made it through. Especially because we did not know anything about high needs babies. It was only a couple months back that I stumbled across this term — I could have died and gone to heaven. It was an absolute revelation to us both. This simple label hasn’t changed HOW we parent, but it has helped us to practice our patience when it is wearing thin.
At times I wish we had known about high needs children before Bowie was born, but the discovery has highlighted to me the need to educate. Most people have never heard of the term “high needs” but they assume this means the high needs child is spoilt, manipulative, demanding, controlling, self-centred and dramatic. But in reality the child is loving, independent, fearless, knows what she wants, enthusiastic and driven. I can tell you right now that these are excellent qualities for a child to have. YES, it is hard work and exceptionally challenging for the parents, but you know what? I am tired of society living in a parent-centric existence. We have children because we want to share our love and grace with them, we want to encourage them to be strong, have a mind of their own, to create and give something special to the world. How can we raise a child like this if we consistently try to control them? Do we want a world full of individuals who look outside the box when discovering who they are and what they are capable of? Yes. Yes we do.
Now I am not suggesting we all become permissive parents. That doesn’t get anyone anywhere. We need to set clear boundaries and limits and stick to them. These limits shouldn’t be extreme and should allow a child some breathing space. A caring and fair limit provide a child with a safe space to explore their own needs without hurting themselves or someone else. Finding the balance is challenging and will take time, many adjustments and probably tears on both sides.
It is estimated around 15% of babies are high needs, 40% are placid and the other 45% somewhere in the middle. High needs is used to describe the age group of 0-3 years, after this, they tend to be labelled as spirited. I love this term, it gives me warm fuzzies.
If you want to see the heart of a high needs baby then I suggest you read Dr Sears’ article on features of a high needs baby. There is far too much detail for me to delve into and give it justice at the same time, so I will list the features to entice you to do some further reading.
12 features of a high needs baby.
Cant put baby down
Not a self soother
So, what else can I tell you about raising one of these highly emotive beings?
First off, attachment parenting will save your life. Even when you feel drained of every ounce of energy and then some, you pull through. Dr Sears talks about a baby instinctively knowing when their mother is about to crack and reigning in the intensity. I have to agree with him. You get a short window to recoup before getting back to the grind. And it does feel like a grind sometimes. Going to bed at night you know that your sleep will be broken and that you need to start all over again the next morning. Actually, it is not even starting again, it is just a continuous loop. But you LOVE that loop (most of the time!). The snuggles all through the night when safely co-sleeping are magical. Listening to your baby snuffling like a baby hedgehog. I know many people struggle with baby sounds, but for me, it just reminds me of how blessed I am to be a mama.
I've talked before about the difficulty of receiving unsolicited parenting advice and still get a lot myself from people who mean well — advice that simply doesn't work for a high needs personality. It is hard to fully understand the whirlwind the parents of a high needs child are experiencing. But like any whirlwind, the intensity, velocity and ferociousness behind it is stunning. Powerful. Full of beauty. So please don’t judge. And if you are LUCKY enough to have one of these kids, then you will know what I am talking about. They are one whirlwind that you never want to end.