Monday, April 5, 2010
What a ride...
I wonder what she’s thinking. She stares intently at the toy hanging from her little baby gym, and works so hard to get her hands around it, then blows all her breath out her nose and starts to furiously flap her arms and kick, before doing it again. Now that she’s five months old I’m more confident attributing these little tantrums to excitement or frustration, but I’ve been speculating for months. Isn’t it strange that we know so little about those early years, about what it’s like? That artists, writers, have mostly ignored this mysterious time? There is a great book, called Baby in the Mirror by Charles Fernyhough, about this topic. It’s about a neuroscientist who studies early childhood development and has a baby himself, then writes a tender and sweet account of the first three years of his daughter’s life.
In my own first hormonal weeks with Hannah I worried about everything; whether she ate enough, grew enough, cried enough, cried too much, slept enough, slept too much, was she breathing okay, feeling okay, loved enough, dressed enough, held enough. She didn’t give me many cues to her inner state other than sleeping and wailing and precious minutes of awake time. Those waking times were a flurry of arm waves, big eyes, pursed lips and strange wiggles. She was a tiny alien with a completely new language. I expected gazing adoration, but she didn’t gaze in my eyes, she stared at my forehead. I didn’t realize that newborns’ eyesight is so poor that they are drawn to the area of greatest contrast, the hairline. As well as teaching me that, Baby in the Mirror gave me a precious, charming and incredible glimpse into how her consciousness was evolving.
Those early weeks were not only a sleep deprived haze for me, but a dream time for her – there is no difference between brain wave patterns during sleep and waking for a newborn. It is as if they are constantly in a dream. And what a dream! It’s hard to imagine how jarring that transition to the world must be. Babies don’t just come alive at the moment of birth – they have been preparing for that moment for months, with practice breathing, movement, swallowing, hiccups even. But imagine all the experiences that are new – vision, smell, cold, and the movement of their own limbs. Because their corneas are not yellowed with time, they see bluer, higher wavelengths than adults can, and their brains have not learned to distinguish sounds from their own echoes. The lack of processing available for all these new senses results in synaesthesia, which is the blurring between different senses. Smells may have colour and sounds may have tastes. What a green voice, a spicy sight! (Fernyhough 2009) This has been an incredible ride for me – but what a trip for her.