Around here our baby, our third child, has her very first head cold. And it's a bad one. She is one dripping, running, snuffling, coughing, feverish, red mess. I keep thinking how awful it must be for such a tiny baby to be fighting such a big cold. You know who else it's pretty awful for? The parents. The mama. Me.
As parents know, it's no fun having a sick baby. The main thing that makes it miserable is the worry and the inability to make them get better any faster. The other thing, as with much of life with a small baby, is sleep deprivation and loss of down time.
Having a third baby is an interesting experience. Going through parenting with each child is a chance to reflect on experiences with previous children at the same stage or going through the same challenges. I've been thinking about dealing illness when I was a first time parent. There was worry and anxiety to a much more heightened level, many more crazy mama visits to the doctor, and much more despair about the loss of sleep.
The last few days my baby's been unable to sleep well, snorting and sneezing herself awake. One night the fever was so high when she woke in the middle of the night I couldn't put her down in her own bed so she stayed tucked in with me after her feed. We even ended up being referred to the hospital. I briefly remembered when we went through this with our first baby we would have been beside ourselves with worry, possibly dunking the baby in a cold bath at midnight, then worrying whether we would ever get the baby out of our bed ever again.
This is the joy of having experience. We know that it will pass. We know that these moments are temporary. We know that sleep deprivation will not be forever. The experience we have has allowed us to be far more present for our child, rather than be consumed with our worries, and has allowed us to be far more present in parenting our baby through these moments.
So how does this help the first time parent? Or for any parent when faced with a new challenge on the parenting journey?
Niyama is the second limb of eight-limbed path in the Yoga Sutras. Niyamas are like guidelines for our personal behaviour and how we carry ourselves in the world. They are:
sauca - cleanliness (ha!)
samtosa - contentment and satisfaction
tapah - the flame that drives us, self discipline, will power
svadhyaya - self reflection and the intellectual understanding of the self
isvara-pranidhanani - surrender, faith in something that is bigger than ourselves
There is always an element of trying to cultivate samtosa in parenting. To find contentment in what is before us, not to wish our time away hoping for something else. As I mentioned, it is hard to be in this place when you are approaching a parenting challenge for the first time, whether you are a first time parent or you are facing a new challenge on the developmental path of your child. This is where it's useful to consider the final Niyama, isvara-pranidhanani.
Isvara-pranidhanani refers to acknowledging that not everything is in our control and that there are things in life that are beyond us. Beyond our will, beyond our control, beyond our efforts. It is the concept of surrender, of letting go. Of all the Yamas and the Niyamas, this is one that is the most esoteric and intangible. With all the others we can actively do something. Isvara-pranidhanani is the act of not doing something and allowing things to just unfold.
So with my third child, I have plenty of experience with sick babies and disrupted sleep. Years and years worth in fact. Enough to know that our poor nights will pass and tomorrow will be a new day. Enough to know that this stage while tough and busy will turn into a different stage with different joys and challenges ahead of us. Enough to know that if I dwell on the hard stuff, I won't have enough room left to enjoy the sparks dotted throughout each day.
If I were able to go back in time and talk to the younger and less experienced mama that I was, I would tell her that it's ok that you're worried and exhausted, that you're unsure and feel incapable. It will pass. It's ok that it's not all under control. All you can do is your best, then let go. Surrender your efforts and let things just unfold.
What challenges are you facing now that you can put in your best efforts and intentions, then surrender?