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Having a 'High Needs' Baby Almost Broke Me, But There Was an Upside

Photograph by Twenty20

My first baby was intense from the moment he was born. He wanted to nurse pretty much 24/7, without any breaks. It took forever and a day to get him to fall asleep. We basically spent hours bouncing him on an exercise ball until he settled. Then, once he was asleep, it was impossible for us to put him down. As soon as we did, his eyes popped wide open.

Self-soothing was not a thing for this child. He required constant contact, even when he was awake. He was a curious soul, looking around at everything, his eyes squinting and thoughtful. And did I mention he was super sensitive? He seemed to have trouble with transitions more than most kids. Changes in routine really messed him up.

At first, I didn’t realize he was different than other babies. And then I learned that there were actually babies out there who were pretty mellow, went with the flow, slept decently and could actually self-soothe. Imagine that.

I remember reading an article by Dr. Sears about what it means to have a “high needs” baby. I could pretty much check off every item on the list. But what stood out to me most is that Dr. Sears said high-needs babies are pretty much born that way. They are not how they are as a result of your parenting—their intensity is an in-born personality trait.

As the years have gone by, I have found that to be 100 percent true. The way my son was as a baby is just how he is, even today.

My son is smart as a whip. He learned to read very early, and has a particular penchant for math and technology. No joke—he memorized the multiplication table when he was 4 years old, and learned how to make Power Point presentations at that age too!

He is still intense, strong-willed and highly sensitive—and he still has trouble falling asleep, even after all these years. These aspects of him can be really difficult at times, just as they were when he was a baby, but I’ve learned over the years how to manage it all. Most of all, I’ve learned that when channeled properly, his sensitivities can be gifts.

But truth be told, I thought at times that maybe there was something wrong with him.

For example, I’ve learned that he needs boundaries and discipline just as much (or more) as the next kid, but that any kind of yelling or heavy critique will get under his skin more than most. I’ve learned that he is stubborn as all hell, but also that when he puts his mind to something, he will get it done and it will be amazing.

My son is an “old soul” and can feel the feelings of everyone else in the room. He doesn’t always open himself up to everyone he meets, but if you spend some time getting to know him and gaining his trust, he will pour his heart out to you.

I think the hardest thing about parenting my high-needs son when he was a high-needs baby was that I didn’t completely understand him yet. Sure, I loved him as any mother would, and I believed that somehow there would be a silver lining to the abysmal exhaustion my child was causing me.

But, truth be told, I thought at times that maybe there was something wrong with him. Or that I was messing up this motherhood thing in major ways.

All of that was far from the truth, though. My son was—and is—a passionate, emotional, thoughtful, brilliant soul, and as exhausted as he still makes me, I’m thrilled to see where his beautiful life takes him.

To all the moms out there with high-needs babies: You're doing a great job. It’s isn’t easy parenting a baby with this much fire in their soul. But I promise that you aren’t screwing up. This is just how your baby is, and your top job is to love and accept them for who they are.

Oh, and I promise that one day they won’t require you to hold them 24/7. And that they will sleep. Well, at least someday.

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