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Photo Credit: Louisa Stokes

An infant begins to fuss.  No one responds.  Her fussing becomes more and more urgent.  No one responds.  She begins to cry and within a minute loud high pitched wails come from the nursery. Her mother rushes in and picks her up. She talks softly to the baby, sings a little.  The baby continues to sob for a couple of moments.  But soon, nestled against her mother, she begins to relax. Her breathing pattern matches her mothers.  Her sense of connection, peace, and equilibrium are eventually restored.   She nurses a bit and then drifts off to sleep.

Now imagine a different scenario with a much different outcome.

A baby begins to fuss.  No one responds.  As her fussing becomes more urgent and devolves into full scale crying, her mother appears.  The cries are distressing.  Immediately she begins to check the baby’s diaper and assess if she is too warm or too cold, or possibly hungry.  As the baby continues to cry, the mother increasingly feels overwhelmed. Her body tenses and her breathing shallows.  Walking and jiggling do not seem to calm the baby.

If you are the new parent of a six week old chances are you’ve been through both experiences. Why is it that sometimes we can comfort our distressed infants, yet other times it seems to take so much longer?

The difference is as simple as breathing.

 

Mothers are hard wired to feel emotionally distressed at the sound of their baby’s crying.  Those uncomfortable feelings that swell up in us  have a purpose: to get us to respond to our child’s needs. It is normal and natural to feel upset when your baby cries.  We’re designed and meant to respond to our baby’s cries.

Photo Credit: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

Yet, these feelings might be more intense for the parent with BPD.   Additionally, the crying might trigger feelings of abandonment and unmet needs from the past.

Whether you have BPD or not, the key to responding to the emotionally distressed infant is to first, emotionally regulate yourself.

It might sound selfish to take care of yourself first, but it really isn’t.  Once you have  child, at least for the first couple of years, in the eyes of your child, you are a dyad.  Two intertwined beings.

Babies set their emotional and physical clocks, so to speak, by their parents. That saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, then nobody’s happy, ” is literally true! Think of yourself as the center of your child’s universe.  You are their sun.   Enjoy it while it lasts because eventually they will separate.

If you respond to your baby in an anxious and distressed state, the baby is going to respond by imitating your facial expressions, your breathing, and your emotional state.  In other words, if you are stressed, baby will get stressed.

On the other hand, if you are in an emotionally regulated state while responding to your baby, then she will mimic your calm state.  Emotionally regulating yourself teaches your baby the lifelong skill of emotional regulation!

One of the best ways to emotionally regulate yourself is by practicing Mindful Breathing while responding to your screaming baby.   Observe your breath.  Breathe in peace, breathe out distress.

Whenever my son is distressed and crying I check in with myself that I am in a mindful state of calm while I am responding to him.  If I feel overwhelmed and distressed, I practice mindfulness in breathing.

By taking calming and complete breaths, I begin to feel calm.  My breathing and heart rate normalize.  My body goes from tense to relaxed.  My baby begins to calm himself a little.  This state of emotional balance helps me to respond to him peacefully.  He feels this peace. He feels safe.  He knows that Mama is present.  That she is safety.  That she is there to meet his needs for comfort.  Together, we breathe.

 

Photo Credit: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

Parenting With BPD

Welcome to DBT Mama!

I’m Sara. I’m a mama.  I have Borderline Personality Disorder.   When I got pregnant I looked for information about how to parent effectively when you have BPD. There wasn’t anything available!

What I found instead was stuff like Surviving the Borderline Parent and Understanding the Borderline Mother. I don’t want my son to “survive” his childhood.  I want him to grow up in a nurturing and loving environment!  And I certainly don’t think using terms like witch, waif, queen, or witch to describe mothers with BPD is really that understanding.

Googling BPD and Motherhood will lead you to sites like The Psycho Ex Wife.

Witch, waif, psycho ex-wife.  Those were the options?  Sadly….it spoke volumes of the lack of information and support out there for parents with mental illness.

I wanted something more.  I wanted want to be a good mama.  I want to parent my child effectively.

I want him to have a stable childhood, to be emotionally healthy, and to think of me as his secure base.

So, being a smart and resourceful kind of girl I cobbled together a kind of  parenting  method based on DBTattachment parenting, and aspects of early childhood educational philosophies like Montessori and Waldorf.  This blog is my attempt to articulate it and share what I have learned. And hopefully learn from others! And continue learning as I go.

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