This is a subject that has been on my mind more and more recently. It is an issue that I think begins in pregnancy when many women experience the strange phenomenon of their body seeming to become public property, the bump being a magnet for the hands of strangers and acquaintances to touch. When I was pregnant I sent out a hands off energy, consciously putting it out there that this was my body. Since my daughter was born I’ve often been stopped by people wanting to ask me about her, how old she is and commenting in particular on her head of thick dark hair. Then the hand reaches out to stroke her hair or her face and this is the point at which my alarm bells ring. Initially I tolerated it but very soon I began to question just why this made me so uncomfortable and I came to realise that this was a violation of my baby’s autonomy. She hadn’t consented to these people entering her energetic space or touching her and this was not okay and so I began to take a step backwards when I sensed a hand reaching to stroke her little head. So far we have limited her physical closeness to her direct family and a few friends.
Perhaps some people might argue that a baby is not able to give or withhold consent. After all, they don’t yet talk do they? I would disagree. I believe even the newest of newborns are able to let us know what is okay for them and what is not if you are sensitive to their cues. My daughter is now eleven weeks old and she can very definitely consent or not as she wishes. When we are stopped in the street she will let me know if she wants to engage with a person through making eye contact with them, more recently through her smiles and by pulling herself up tall and using her hands to move away from me a little (I am a 100% babywearing mama). If she doesn’t want to engage she turns her head away, she fidgets and she moves in closer to my body. She also indicates her wish to engage or not on an energetic level but these cues are more subtle and as her mama I need to tune into these carefully. Respect for her autonomy is just as important at home and it is essential that we read her cues just as carefully. I ask her when we are playing “can mama have a hug?” and look and listen for her response. This extends into our activities so when for example we are doing our baby yoga, if I see her gaze begin to wander or if she tenses her arms or legs I stop. I don’t wait for her to cry. If she gazes at me intently or if she is smiling or making baby talk then we continue. We are also doing baby signing to help her communicate her wishes as she gets a little older. So I already sign for milk just before a breastfeed, and we will teach signs for all done, more, play, dance and so on to help her key us know not only what she needs but also what she would like to do.
By setting positive and clear boundaries now in which her autonomy is respected it is my hope that she will grow up with a strong sense of Self. She will be able to strongly say no when she needs to and will be able to clearly express herself verbally, physically and energetically with confidence. It is my role as the mama of a young baby to mediate between her needs and the wants of others. Her needs and wishes will always come first and if that means not allowing a visiting relative to cuddle her when she is letting me know it is not okay for her then so be it. Follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/barefootmamaandbaby