According to Erikson, our lives are a series of stages – beginning in infancy and spanning the years until our death in old age. Infancy’s life stage is basic trust and it’s life task is hope.
Sometimes, I think it was his traumatic transition, more than his damaged brain, that defined and protracted his infancy. For all the peace and nurturing my womb harbored, the labor, the resuscitation, the NICU, ablated all of that. I knew he was coming home wounded; what that meant was unclear.
Normal infants develop trust by the comfort afforded them by a person they come to count on. Once their cries are understood for meaning and acted upon, trust has begun. Once it is clear that the person who does this is present, comes when you cry or holds you close; the infant settles, develops a routine, enchants us with their serenity.
A NICU is bright, loud and lonely. Even sedated, an infant must know there is no one person that they can count on. By the time he came home with us, despite our taped voices in his crib, frequent visits and rocking chair feeds – we, his parents, were still strangers.
Initially, touch and sound connect the infant and then their sight completes the bond. It was touch and touch alone that Luke wanted until he was close to 6 years old. Eyes that could not see, rendered his hearing so acute, it was more agitation than comfort. Your voice was inaudible up against his wrenching cries. If he was not in your arms, you were gone and he was alone. Terrified, pained and overwrought, his cries commanded a response. Day, night, moving, still, tired, just awakened, hungry or fed; Luke cried with such a vengeance that his angst usurped your helplessness.
Each morning he awakened as if he’d never woken up with us before. Each night, unrelenting wailing, filled us with dread. Only in sleep and only briefly, could he be still.
He had no hope, because there was no peace to hope for, and we had no hope of ever being able to give it to him.
Ever so slowly, years in the making, we began to realize that whatever he was feeling, he was feeling it like it was forever. The only antidote possible; minimizing the things that ired him and trying to stretch out what seemed to ease him. These were not in parenting books, but a slow, tedious differentiating of his particular peace.
Trust is the reliance on the integrity, strength, ability or surety of a person or thing. As he bravely and generously gave his trust to us, he enabled in us a faith in ourselves. His trust made us not just better parents, but better people.
In the almost 18 years since his birth, Luke, still stuck in infancy, lives awash in trust. He knows we are here, going nowhere, and we will do our best to figure it out. Sometimes, that is easy; sometimes hours, weeks, months of confusion. But we always, eventually get it and thus, he has hope.
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