Ms. Garcia was fussy. She was tense and persnickety. She was one day old when I met her and addicted to meth. Understandably, she was not easily soothed.
Some of my best teachers were infants. There was a time years ago when I held babies at St. Luke’s Hospital in the nursery. It was a wonderful program initially created for newborns who were at risk for AIDS. But as crack grew to epidemic proportions, the program expanded to include drug-addicted infants. Most of the nurses were wonderful, but their work load was full, so they enlisted volunteers to help with the holding and feeding, giving the babies human touch when their families were unable to be there.
What I found fascinating about the infants was that instinctively they felt more comfortable in some arms rather than others. While Ms. Garcia would allow me to feed her, Mr. Brown did better in the arms of Cindy, one of the pediatric nurses. We all had our favorites. Because so many of the infants were taken from their mothers following the birth, they were referred to as Mr. and Ms. So & so since few had been named.
One important lesson the babies taught me is that we are drawn to some people and not others. Prior to that, I worked so hard to have others like me. I was not a popular kid. The more I tried to fit in, the further down the social ladder I fell. It never occurred to me to check in with myself to see if I liked them. So from the time I was in elementary school I measured my self-worth by the acceptance of others. Not a winning strategy.
The babies taught me to trust my instincts. To listen to the feelings I have when around others. We all come up with reasons why we don’t like one person, or why we like another. But what I saw in the hospital nursery was that the reasons came later to us. We like whom we like. We see it most in dating. I dated a lot in my twenties. I met a lot of people who were very nice, but I still wasn’t interested in them. When I asked, I would say, “he was boring,” or, “we didn’t have the same interests.” But the truth was, it just wasn’t right. Not because of our interests, that was incidental to my initial experience with the date.
As a psychotherapist this lesson has been invaluable. Since I see psychotherapy as a path back to trusting oneself, the relationship matters. When asked for recommendations, I suggest meeting with a few therapists so a potential client has a chance of getting a good feeling about their prospective therapist. This might be the first step in learning to trust themselves.
I learned to trust myself after working with the infants, observing how and with whom they bonded. I am grateful to the Misters and Ms.’s for this important lesson. The babies I held are in their twenties now. And I’m hopeful that they are returning to their natural state of being, in touch with their instincts. After all they gave freely and unknowingly, they deserve that, and so much more.
This is such an important–and difficult–lesson to learn. It’s as if your teachers were repaying you for your kindness in the teaching.