For the first six months of our son’s life, he cried about six hours a day. That was the good news. The nights were even worse. At night, the crying turned into screaming. Looking back on that time, I remember seeing parents and infants on TV, quietly gazing into each others’ eyes, and thinking that those babies obviously did not have reflux! I also wondered about the impact of the loss of that quiet “gazing time” on our relationship with our son and how that might affect attachment over time.
Now, with over four years of experience of caring for a child with reflux and a life filled with a constant bombardment of academic research, I would like to share with you some of what I have learned related to infants, chronic illness and attachment.
In the medical and academic setting, attachment describes the degree of confidence the infant has in responsiveness of the caregiver. More simply put, it’s about the relationship between the baby and the mother or father, or whoever the person is taking the most care of him or her. When researchers look at this relationship, or attachment, they usually considered the “quality” of attachment. That’s the first piece of good news. Here’s why. If we have made it this far, we have all been “attached” at some level. In other words, there had to be a certain level of attachment just to get what you as an infant (or your baby) needed. So, if your baby is gaining weight and thriving, you two are attached!
Now, let’s talk about the “quality” of attachment, by looking back at the definition of attachment. It refers to the degree of confidence the infant has in the responsiveness of the caregiver. So, it’s about responding. It’s not necessarily about gazing into the baby’s eyes, eighteen inches away, while the baby quietly eats. If you are a parent of a baby with reflux, you know all too well, that even though your version of infant responsiveness looks much different, you have none-the-less earned your own medal of honor (or medal of responsiveness).
The research should give us even greater confidence. Parenting comes in many different flavors. The amount of crying a baby does is not a predictor for attachment security. In fact, in one study looking at irritable infants and attachment, researchers found that under conditions of parental support, parents caring for irritable newborns had a more secure relationship when their infants were 12 months old, as compared to the control group.
To summarize, I’d like to leave you with words of wisdom of one of my senior professors of Family Studies. She is now experiencing life as a mother and grandmother well into her seventh decade of life: “We focus so much on infancy. I never really understood why. It’s really such a very brief time. As time goes by, you’ll find that you will be a parent, for a very long time.”
Published On: November 06, 2006