Responding With Sensitivity

By , September 1, 2009 3:02 pm

Principle Number Three: Respond With Sensitivity. It seemed as if the universe was not willing to allow me to get this post completed on time. With strong opinions firmly in hand, I have sat down a dozen times to write this post…and nothing. Sure I have some drafts…some ramblings about babies, and how this pregnancy has confirmed and reinforced my feelings. But they all lacked a real story. But now, I see the reason behind these delays. It seems as if the universe wanted to show me a deeper and broader truth about treating the most vulnerable members of our society with dignity, respect and sensitivity.

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Very recently, on a beautiful sunny Wednesday afternoon, Sir Hubby receives a call from his brother. Their father has just been diagnosed with brain cancer. After an all night drive across the great state of Pennsylvania– Erie to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia — Sir Hubby and Sir Brother-In-Law arrive just in time to drive their father to his consult with the surgeons. Sir Hubby keeps me updated on his fathers rapidly deteriorating condition via text. “Dad can’t recall how to use his phone,” and, “Dad is calling his dog the wrong name,” and “Dad can’t remember why we are talking to the surgeon.”

The consulting surgeon has dismal news. The tumor is aggressive. The tumor is in the frontal lobe. It’s in the temporal lobe. It’s in the cortex. The tumor is called a Glioblastoma multiforme:  also called The Terminator. Surgery may not remove all of it. Surgery may leave him without the ability to talk or to process the speech of others accurately (also called aphasia). He may lose the ability to control the right side of his body. He may lose significant portions of his memory. They are hopeful that rehabilitation will help him to recover some of these abilities in the coming months– however, the average life expectancy after surgery is only 15 months. Understandably, his father is terrified at the very idea of waking up from surgery to discover that he has indeed lost the ability to communicate, to fully understand, to move without assistance. One of my first thoughts (right after feeling terribly sad for Sir Hubby, who lost his mother to cancer a mere week before our Bug was born 6 years ago) is “that is exactly how newborns must feel when they enter the world!”

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All during pregnancy and birth I believe that we are setting the tone for our child’s future…how they will handle stress, how they will view the world. I’ve always understood that newborn babies had a full, but immature, range of human emotions at birth. I have always felt very strongly about making the transition from womb to world as gentle, non-invasive, and as respectful as possible. The ability to be sensitive and the willingness to communicate with our babies is even more imperative during emergencies and under less-then-ideal circumstances. It was while attending a neonatal resuscitation training with Karen Strange, that my feelings and opinions about the conscious and aware prenate became a passionate part of the work I do.  I know from experience, and from listening to and witnessing the experiences of others, that not every pregnancy, birth and postpartum journey can be the empowering, uplifting experience that we all wish for. This never means that hope is lost or that irreparable damage is being done–or already has been done–to our baby. This only means that our ability to respond with sensitivity needs to be brought out of our bag of AP tools and applied liberally to the situation.

During this current pregnancy I have not been able to make every moment healthy, tranquil and peaceful for our growing LF#5 despite my strong convictions on the subject, my personal commitment to “practicing what I preach”, or the knowledge I have from my many trainings or certifications. Ambiguous feelings about an unexpected pregnancy.  Persistent nausea. Resentment at the loss of some short term career goals. Breastfeeding frustrations. Financial stress. And now, worry about Sir Hubby and his father.

My training with Karen Strange taught me one very important lesson: I can’t hide those feelings from my growing babe. I can’t trick my babe. S/he knows what I feel. S/he is preparing for the world by using my cues…will life be hard? Will resources be scarce? Will the world be a safe place where all forms of communication will be honored? I need to let my growing babe know that these feelings are not going to affect the love and safety s/he will be welcomed into the world with. I need to let my babe know that s/he will never have to handle things all alone. I do this by talking to LF#5 everyday.

These daily therapy sessions usually consist of waiting until LF#5 is active and awake. I make the choice to cease whatever I am doing and spend a few minutes rubbing my belly and saying hello. I review the past few hours of my day for the baby: “I got really worried while I was on the phone with your Daddy, didn’t I? That wasn’t about you, sweetie. That worry was from having your Daddy so far away right now. Next time he calls, I’ll let Daddy talk to you, too, just like he does before bed. How about we sing a song while you are up?” Obviously, nothing is going to erase the stress of our current situation or the pressing need to make very difficult choices for our family at the moment. But I hope that by choosing to talk it over with my growing babe, with the same respect for his/her level of understanding I grant my older children, that I am teaching LF#5, indeed, the world is full of conflicts, and hardships, and setbacks–but that is the reason we surround ourselves with family and friends and respond with sensitivity and respect to all living creatures.

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After my father-in-laws surgery, Sir Hubby tells me about the efforts he and his brother are making towards creating a more peaceful and gentle experience for his father. Holding his hand. Telling him where he is and what has happened. Sharing photos of his family and loved ones. Repeating and rephrasing instructions from the nurses to make sure that their father understands upcoming procedures or interventions. Singing to him when talking becomes too difficult or confusing. Helping him to brush his teeth. Helping him to preserve his dignity. Advocating for gentle, respectful, and sensitive treatment from his care-providers. He tells me how struck he is by the parallels between his post-surgery father, and our newborn children. About how his experiences with attachment parenting are helping him to feel like a sensitive and respectful aid in his fathers healing process.

We only have to imagine ourselves as a newborn—or as vulnerable as one– to see why responding with sensitivity is one of the most important skills we can cultivate– in ourselves, in our children, in the people who care for our elderly, our sick, our disabled, our tiniest, our most vulnerable. Let’s all remind each other to take a minute today (and the day after that) to honor the people we love (including ourselves) by responding with empathy, respect, and sensitivity as often as possible.  Life is too precious and too short to act otherwise.

One Response to “Responding With Sensitivity”

  1. Sabrina McIntyre says:

    So beautifully written Justine. You have been an inspiration to me and my family. I look forward to reading more from your blog. We will keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers.

    xo Sabrina

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