Rosie was a binky baby. An utter and complete binky baby.
I know not all babies love the pacifier. I have heard other mothers say they tried to give one to their babies only for the little one to spit it out in anger or disgust. For us, Rosemarie’s binky was part of her from the very moment we met her.
I think it was in her mouth the first time we saw.
“Mommy and Daddy are here!” an Oklahoma nurse exclaimed.
Anthony and I took slow steps forward and peeked over the shoulder of another nurse sitting in a cushioned chair. There, along her one arm, lay Rosemarie. Her cheeks puffed in and out as she suckled the binky, the round rubber circle of the Avent pacifier covering most of her tiny face.
Before we arrived, we had spoken to some nurses and the pediatrician in charge of her care. They each told us what a wonderful baby she was, how very easy to soothe she was. And they were right. She was all those things. But the binky played a large part. She adored it. In her teeny, tiny world, it was her favorite thing and it remained that way for the next few years.
This December, Rosemarie finally said goodbye to the binky for good. There are a few reasons I waited so long to rid her of the pacifier. Some were just about me as a mom in general and, to be perfectly honest, my own laziness. Others, though, were more complicated. I did not simply let time waste away while she continued to use a binky. I thought long and hard about that little piece of plastic and I made conscious decisions about it. I think I still believe I made the right ones.
Can’t Let Go
I don’t really believe in forcing transitions on babies. Each mother must do what she sees as right but for me, there is no need to force a baby into a change that she will eventually make when she is ready. As my mother always says, “She’s not going to walk down the aisle wearing diapers.”
For most of Rosemarie’s transitions, I simply waited until I felt she was ready and that worked for her. One day, when it felt right, I stopped giving her a bottle and she never asked for it again. After attending months of a Mommy and Me transitional program, I took a chance on leaving her in the room without me. Accroding to the teacher, she hardly noticed and happily played with the toys before her. After she showed interest in the potty, I brought home some Disney princess panties. She ran into the bathroom to try the potty and trained within a few days. She slept soundly her very first night in a toddler bed. I was lucky. She just didn’t have much trouble with transitions.
The binky was a different story. If I tried to take it away, she knew it. She cried for it. She begged. She cried for a new one if the nipple had a hole. She loved that binky. She was attached to it, physically, emotionally and every other way.
And as her mother, even though I knew she needed to be rid of it eventually, I did not feel comfortable taking it away before she was ready. I believed that if she had transitoned so easily before, if she had given up other objects without issue, there was something about that binky that was special to her. There was some reason she needed it so much.
Did her adoption play a part?
As I’ve discussed in the past, some experts believe in the existence of what they call the primal wound, the emotional wound left on adopted children by the trauma of being separated from their birth mothers. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if the primal wound exists. Since I was not adopted, I don’t believe I will ever fully understand it. For my daughter’s sake, I will try.
Regardless, I do think that whether or not the wound remains for years to come, the original trauma is real. I believe it is traumatic for a baby to be separated from the one being she has ever known. I believe it is traumatic to for her to no longer hear the only voice she’s ever heard, to no longer smell the skin that kept her safe nor feel the rhythm of the heart that beat above her as she grew.
As I pondered the reasons for Rosemarie’s over-attachment to her binky, her first days of life came to mind. Perhaps she found comfort in the little, rubber pacifier when her whole little world turned upside down. Perhaps it became her source of security when the mother she was biologically programmed to love was replaced by another.
Where Do You Go, My Mommy?
While I do believe Rosemarie experienced a loss when she was separated from her birth mother, I also believe she bonded with me quickly and completely. I made bonding a priority for us especially during her first few months. I held her skin-to-skin as often as possible and let her nap on my chest and in my arms. While some new mothers train their babies to nap in a cradle or soothe themselves to sleep, I did just the opposite. I believed Rosemarie should need me; I knew the more she needed me, the more our bond would grow.
Whether it was my actions or just the natural course of events, we bonded. In only a matter of days, just like any other mother, I became her favorite person. And like most children, when she was tired or sick or cranky or sad, she wanted me. While she could always separate from me easily outside of the house, she was very attached to me at home. And one of this attachment’s strongest times was the summer of 2013 when she was just about to turn two years old, the very same time I needed to enter the hospital for open heart surgery.
We had recently been working on cutting down the binky. Although almost two, Rosemarie spoke very few words. After consulting a good friend who works in speech pathology, we limited pacifier use to nap time and bedtime.
Then my surgery came. It kept me out of the house entirely for ten days. I have never really asked how Rosemarie was emotionally while I was gone because I couldn’t bare to hear it. I do know, though, that when I came home, the binky had become a 24-hour companion. I don’t blame Anthony who was home taking care of her. I am sure she needed it. And when I came home but couldn’t really care for her, she still needed it.
I know others may disagree. I know some will think I was too soft. But as someone who has had her run-ins with both physical and mental health issues, I know both are important. I knew Rosemarie’s speech could be affected but I also knew I wanted her to be okay emotionally. So, for a while, I let her have the pacifier whenever she wanted it. Once I was back on my feet and life was back to normal, we cut it back down to nap and bed.
Could this experience have affected her connection to the binky? Is it possible her attachment to it became even stronger when it once more became her source of comfort when her mother went missing?
I know. It sounds dramatic. I know I wasn’t really missing. I thank the Lord I only had to leave my daughter for ten days. Things could have been far worse as they are for others.
But none of that changes Rosemarie’s perspective of the situation. None of that means her two-year-old mind couldn’t have been anxious or worried and that the binky didn’t serve as her security.
The Time Had Come
As soon as Rosemarie turned two, she began talking much more. Over the next year, her vocabulary blossomed as she learned more and more words and strung them together to make sentences.
Unfortunately, her articulation of these words and especially her sentences was somewhat problematic. For a while, I thought it was improving on its own and with my emphasis on correct pronunciation, but one summer weekend in 2014, we attended three parties with three different groups of people. Watching Rosemarie talk to so many different children and adults, I realized how few people could understand what she was saying. The next week, I called a friend for a recommendation and set up private speech therapy sessions.
And after our first meeting, what was the first question Rosemarie’s wonderful speech therapist asked me? I knew it before she even finished the sentence:
“Does she use a pacifier?”
I answered honestly. I explained my reasons for letting her keep it. Our therapist was very understanding and kind. She didn’t pressure me but plainly explained that while there was no definite proof, it seemed many of Rosemarie’s speech issues were connected to the binky and while they would improve with therapy, she couldn’t truly learn to make certain sounds without being rid of the binky.
The time had come. I knew she wouldn’t adjust well so I made a plan. First, the binky was gone during the day. She could no longer use it nap. Much to my dismay, she pretty much stopped napping. Now and then, she would doze off in the car or after a very active day but for the most part, naps were a thing of the past.
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
In September, we began planting the seed. We told Rosemarie Santa would be taking her binky this year to give it to another baby whose family didn’t have much money.
She ate it up. She started telling others about her binky and Santa. She picked her special present she would receive for being so kind to this other baby: a Dora house.
For three months, we talked about it and talked about it. One morning in early December, our elves brought Rosie a surprise: a letter from Santa and a picture of Billy, the baby who needed her binky. Rosemarie was elated.
Two weeks later, we returned from vacation. Rosemarie and I went straight to my mother’s from the airport. Anthony, A.K.A. Santa, sneaked home to set up Rosemarie’s new bed, an early surprise! In a second letter, Santa explained that since Rosemarie would sleep without a binky that night, he wanted her to have a big girl bed fashioned with Anna and Elsa bedding.
When she walked into her room once we were home, she was amazed.
That night, we brought Rosemarie into her room for bedtime, an envelope in hand to send her binky to Santa. The scene was pathetic. Rosemarie sat on Anthony’s lap, clutching her binky to her chest.
“I don’t want to send my binky to Santa, Daddy. I’m going to miss it,” she cried, her blue eyes wet with tears and her cheeks red with flush.
“It’s okay, Rosie,” Anthony explained, “You know Billy doesn’t have a binky and he needs one. You have to help him.”
“You can do it, honey,” I said, “and then you’ll sleep in your big girl bed.”
This went on for a little while until we finally convinced her. I held out the envelope. She reached across with her little hand and dropped the binky in, only to burst into tears the moment it fell to the bottom. She reached out her arms to me and I hugged her while she cried on my shoulder.
And who else cried? Why, Mommy and Daddy of course. Like two fools, we looked at each other with tears on both our faces.
It’s Not Over Yet
That night, Rosie had a hard time falling asleep. I stayed with her. I laid with her. I sat in the chair and sang to her. And that has pretty much been the case for the past month. Rosemarie was a wonderful sleeper before. After a story and a lullaby, she would go to sleep on her own. She woke up here and there, of course, but for the most part, slept through the night.
Without the binky, she is much more needy at bedtime. Anthony or I stay in the room until she falls asleep and many nights, she wakes up crying more than once and has trouble falling back asleep.
I can’t lie. I hasn’t been that fun. And I’m a definitely more tired with less sleep but things could be worse.
As I said, I thought long and hard about the pacifier and made a decision to let her keep it for so long. I think I made the right one. I still believe Rosemarie’s experiences could have created an overly intense attachment to the binky and that taking it away too soon wouldn’t have been good for her.
Does that mean I’m certain I did the right thing? Of course not. Does that mean at 3 am when she wakes me up and begs me to lay next to her with my hip pressed up against the metal bar of her bed railing that I don’t regret not losing the binky two years ago? No, it doesn’t.
But, on the good nights, like last night when she stayed in her bed the ENTIRE night without calling me or crying or pitter pattering into our room, I feel good about my choice.
I feel good that while most nights Anthony and I suffer from our decision, I believe I saved my daughter from suffering instead. Furthermore, I think bedtime would have been much worse a year or two ago without the binky. I think it would have involved screaming and shaking and thrashing. Rosemarie is just starting to accept a little bit of logic nowadays. And I can use that to soothe her back to sleep. I would not have had that option before.
And I definitely know I am glad we used the method we did to say goodbye to the pacifier. While finding a way to make giving up the binky fun and exciting, we were also able to teach Rosemarie an important lesson in the process. We taught her something about giving to others and about helping those who are less fortunate with us. And we were able to positively reinforce that behavior by not only praising her for her altruism but by having Santa reward her as well.
She still talks about Billy. She still mentions him and how happy he is with her binky. If nothing else, that makes me happy. If nothing else, I know I did that part right.