Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Confessions of a Thumb Sucking Cure Fan

There are a million times a day when, as a new parent, my heart swells with love for my baby. I've written about some of them. There are also a million times a day when my heart breaks into tiny pieces for my baby. Some make sense to me... like when she gets all red and scrunches up her face, pokes out that quivering lower lip, and turns into a tomato. In those moments, which, thank the gods, are pretty rare, I would do literally anything to make her feel better again. Anything. I know it's totally normal that she gets gassy but still, it kills me that not all is right in her world. I feel pain every second that she is not giggling and smiling or peacefully sleeping or nursing or being quietly and happily alert.

Three or four times now, I've awoken to find Thora next to me, looking up at me sweetly and patiently and wide awake, with her thumb in her mouth. She looks perfectly happy, but for some reason this tears me up a thousand different ways and I'm not really sure why. Perhaps I feel guilty; guilty that I am so tired, that she woke up before I did and I didn't sense it within a millisecond, that she was considerate enough not to make a giant fuss, that she let me rest, putting my needs before hers. I don't know. Perhaps it's just the Jewish guilt I can't shake, or the Catholic guilt I married into, that is looking for failure on my part where there is none. Whatever it is, I hate seeing her suck her thumb. It pierces me in a vulnerable place that I don't like admitting I even have.

An aside: I also hate pacifiers. They seem to me like an easy way to shut an unhappy kid up without really addressing the problem. Pacifiers don't satisfy hunger, they don't change diapers, warm a cold baby, or do anything (as far as I can see) but provide cheap and temporary distraction. Okay, maybe that is a blanket statement - as I have only been a parent for four and a half weeks, I really could be talking out of my you-know-what. Admittedly, I have seen many babies be soothed by a pacifier and hey, if it helps, it helps, but it's an irrational feeling I can't talk myself out of. All the same, I do carry a pacifier in the diaper bag just in case she freaks out screaming in public because at the very least if she is ever that unhappy, I don't have to let everyone on the block know it. That has not yet happened. The one time she was so inconsolable from gas that I was reduced to trying one (at home, thankfully), she wouldn't take it anyway and secretly, I was relieved. It didn't occur to her to try her thumb then, perhaps because I was there with two milk-producing nipples, my arms, and my voice, and her daddy was there to sing and dance the gas bubbles into submission. Armed with all that, we eventually calmed her down and got her to sleep.

It's probably the most normal thing in the world for a baby to try sucking her thumb, after all, when she's hungry and wants me to know about it, Thora will try to nurse on anything: her shirt collar, her daddy's shoulder, my mouth, my nose. I know that fetuses will suck their thumbs in the womb. But when I see her with her thumb in her mouth, normal or not, I still hate it.

Maybe I do know why it bugs me so much. Here's a confession: I sucked my thumb for so long that I feel like I reached adulthood before I gave it up. I typically tell people I didn't stop until I was twelve. That may or may not be true. It may have been much earlier or it may have been much later when I hung up the security blanket and traded the thumb in for nail biting and, later, Newport Lights 100s (ugh). What absolutely is the truth is that when I was going through some pretty painful times as a teenager and in my mid-twenties, I tried everything I could think of to self-soothe and at fifteen, sixteen, eighteen, even twenty-five, I wasn't above trying to curl into a fetal position (listening to Pornography by the Cure on repeat, of course, or some other equally miserable record) and shoving my thumb in my mouth to see if it would help. It didn't really quite do the trick anymore, but it did conjure up some faint and weird muscle memory or whatever you might call it, back to when I dragged that stinkily delicious blanket around with me and sucked so long and hard on my thumb that my mother would catch me and snap "Get your finger out of your mouth!" or just "Finger!" for short, probably because she said it a hundred times a day.

But that blanket and my thumb righted all wrongs, I tell you. Why couldn't it be that easy when I was a teenager? Why can't it be that easy now? Why does Thora have some instinctive desire to soothe herself in that same way and why does it bother me so much? Do I feel like I am doing something wrong? Am I worried that she will become a nail biter, a smoker, or an obsessive Cure fan? Or is it the beginning of a lifetime of feeling like I have to do better for my child than I did for myself? Whatever the case, I realize I need to let myself off the hook. Which of course would be much easier to do if I never ever saw her with her thumb in her mouth ever again.


  1. Don't worry, sis. At this time in her life, I think it's natural to worry about everything Thora does. I used to be that way with Xavier, too. I worried about everything he did or didn't do--Was he ever going to smile on purpose? Was he ever going to sleep through the night? Was he ever going to turn over? Was he ever going to crawl? And so on...

    As you know, he eventually did everything he was supposed to do, and I'm confident he will do everything he is supposed to do. For example, we're still waiting for real words from him, and I know it will happen when he's ready. I see it happening bit by bit... he doesn't quite say "cookie," but he says "cuk-cuk" when we give him a graham cracker. "Cookie" can't be far behind.

    Anyway, regarding pacifiers, Xavier used one for a while--maybe for two or three months--and then he just wasn't interested anymore. I mean, he'd still pick it up and put it in his mouth, but he didn't need it to calm down or sleep. He just phased it out of his life on his own. And, by the way, he doesn't suck his thumb at all.

    I know it's hard to just accept that everything will be cool in time, but it's really true. Just keep being a caring, attentive, loving mom, and things will fall into place.

  2. I can identify with this post in so many ways. I was lying in bed with Anna when she was just a week old, sobbing because I didn't know how to ensure that she'd ALWAYS be happy. She's a thumb-sucker and a blankie lover, but she's also a bubbly, social, happy kid. (You may find with Thora, like with Anna, that not only does she thumb-suck when she's feeling a little uncertain, but when she's happily reading books or curled in my arms).

    You'll watch Thora become her own person, fresh and wild and moody and curious, and that's the evidence of what an excellent job you're doing.

  3. It's inevitable that we project a bit of ourselves onto our children. I do see where you're coming from, if you had a hard time letting go of your own habit. You already know that Thora's thumb sucking is completely normal. I think she's lucky to have found her thumb already, girl! Fingers are built-in pacifiers that come in very handy for self soothing, since babies obviously have a need to suck that goes beyond the need for food. Baby is in control of her own fingers and that's nature's plan. (Thankfully, baby is also in control of the pacifier - which can only be offered and never imposed.)

    I was not a thumb sucker past the initial period of experimentation, and I love it now when Adina sucks on her finger(s) - she has come up with some interesting combinations, and she looks so efficient and content. Last week she was sitting on my lap facing a doctor during a consultation, when suddenly the doctor burst out laughing, and sure enough she was staring at him while sucking noisily on her middle finger :) I was so proud of her. One of those things I'll be sure to tell her about.

    Mila was never big into thumb sucking, she tried it out and then almost immediately moved on - she opted for my pinky instead. She also turned down the pacifier, but later she figured it was pretty interesting and found good use for it during reflux times and long teething nights. She is pretty much over it by now, hardly ever uses it, and I don't think it's going to be a problem to drop it at some point. A friend's baby was big into her thumb, and she is now 2 years and a few months and has moved on as well.

    It's very likely that Thora will move on in due time, or the habit might not even stick at all. Either way, I am sure that she'll be a securely attached and confident little girl, and that her drive to self-soothe at this point is simply part of her enjoyment of life :)


  4. Hmm, 21 months later I'm still a human pacifier. I felt the same way you do about pacifiers but there are days I wonder if I made the right decision, because she seems to want to suck more than eat 90% of the time. If Thora doesn't want it, then I guess you're relieved of the decision!

    Am I a horrible mother--I don't remember ever feeling that anguish that you and Brenna described when my babies cried. I'm pretty sure I was OK knowing that babies cry. The most pain I've ever felt for them both was when they experienced severe constipation as toddlers. Red faces, grunts, cries, whimpers--the works. Just thinking about it turns me inside out! Luckily it's only been once or twice with Melody, but it happened to Theo quite a few times. :(

    I love your posts, Aimee, you're such a sweet, loving new mama!


Hi! Please leave a comment! I'm reading. :)