... and he was adorable and cute and cuddly and flirted with me. Nothing unusual about any of that. It was what I realized about myself that was somewhat unusual.
I haven't held a baby in at least 15 years. Now... some of that is just because I'm not around them very often. My adult daughter isn't planning to have kids; none of my nieces or nephews have gone that route just yet; and I recently moved and so I don't have any friends nearby who have grandchildren. The church I attend is made up of mostly older adults and we rarely have babies there. So I'm just not exposed to them very much.
But even if I did have them around, I know I wouldn't be holding them unless necessary (like someone just handing me their baby so that they can do something).
You might think this is because I don't like children. However, it's the exact opposite. Until recently, my life centered around children - my daughter, her friends, and those I babysat, nannied, or taught. I played with dolls until I was about eight years old and my dream was to marry young and have lots and lots of children.
I was one of those kids who couldn't wait until I was old enough to help out in the nursery at church and I was soooo excited the very first time a baby fell asleep in my arms. I started babysitting at home (with my mom nearby in case something happened) when I was nine or ten years old and then had a regular job babysitting by the time I was twelve.
I never worked in food service or retail as a teenager - I worked in gym nurseries or daycares. I was a nanny right after high school and then part-time again during college. I taught for about twenty-five years, with most of those years being in preschool special education. I was a child and youth minister at several of the churches I attended.
So why won't I hold a baby now if the opportunity presents itself?
Something that I have recently realized about myself is that if something hurts me badly, I try to cut off those emotions within myself to save myself from the pain... and I avoid any reminders of that pain.
The first time I did this concerning babies was when I couldn't have children - at first because I was in college and my husband and I knew we couldn't juggle our schedules or finances with raising a child at that time and then later when I actually realized I had infertility issues and had to work extra hard to get pregnant.
During the time I wanted a baby with every fiber of my being, I avoided holding them. This was while I was completely in charge of the nursery at church so it was a real feat to work there without that close contact. I just made sure there were plenty of people who had none of my weird qualms about this issue and no one ever noticed. In fact, I think they were glad they got to keep the sweet ones to themselves.
Then I finally got pregnant and had my daughter. I was ecstatic - probably the happiest I've ever been in my life. My best friends also had daughters within a few months of the birth of mine so it was a babyfest within our circle of friends. During that time, the earlier issue I had about holding babies had completely disappeared.
Then, about the time I thought that we were ready to have a second child, my husband left us. Since I had my daughter later in life, I knew that by the time I got remarried, I might not ever have another child, but I never completely gave up hope. In fact, I'm 53 now and only within the past few years have I totally given up the dream of having another baby, thinking that I might be one of those women who shares the pregnancy experience with an adult daughter who is also pregnant... that most people freak out about.
It was sometime during the separation and divorce that I again buried that part of my heart. I just couldn't hold an infant without that longing for another child tearing me apart. So I avoided those situations like I did during those years of not being able to have a child.
So... exactly what was the revelation from seeing the baby today? It was twofold:
- I had not realized how many years it had been since I closed down that part of my heart, and
- I do this with so many other things in life.
I am still exploring the idea, but I learned recently that one symptom of PTSD is doing just that - avoiding anything that reminds you of the traumatic event. It's something that I need to learn much more about and discuss in therapy, but I can't help but think it's not good. I've done this to myself in so many areas that it's no wonder that I feel very little joy in my life - I've shut it all down.
Maybe one day (after COVID), I'll again be one of those people who ask to hold that cute, adorable infant instead of wanting to run the other way. Maybe one day my heart will be healed enough to take that risk and, instead of it causing pain, it'll cause the joy I had when I was that pre-teen who was beyond thrilled to have an infant fall asleep in her lap.
Update on July 19, 2021 (about 3 months later)...
Today I saw another baby but it wasn't the baby that got to me. It was his bottle. He was drinking from the same brand of bottle I used with my daughter. I felt like I had been punched in the gut - just from seeing a baby bottle! This goes deeper than I thought...