Learning to Communicate (An Elimination Communication Story)
Today I am sharing a guest post on elimination communication from Amy. She sent this to me a few months ago, and it’s taken me this long to get it scheduled – only because I wanted to follow it up with a post on potty learning. That post (Gentle Potty Learning Tips) will publish tomorrow. Thank you for kicking me into gear, Amy! Please read Amy’s bio at the end of this post.
Our son, Sullivan, was born unassisted at home. We ended up choosing an unassisted birth because we felt it would be the best start for a great relationship with our son (and we feel it was, too). I had grand ideas (as I’m sure most expectant mothers do) about how we were going to get everything right and be the best parents. Ever. In the history of mankind. I intended to breastfeed and was sure I would avoid all the problems other people had, in part from the information I had accrued and in part from birthing unassisted at home. I mean, it was natural, right? These women who had trouble breastfeeding just weren’t in tune with their bodies or their babies, right? Well, see below for more on that.
I also intended to start part time elimination communication (EC) with our child immediately after his birth,with a stash of cloth diapers on hand for backup. I had high expectations of how his life was going to start out, because I had spent my entire pregnancy educating myself about how to give him the best beginning, forge a strong bond, and create a wonderful breastfeeding and EC relationship with him. And damn it, I was going to be successful because, well, I knew everything and everyone else who had problems just wasn’t trying hard enough. Obviously.
When that six pounds, four and a half ounces of sweet little boy came flying into his father’s hands in one fell push, he had a different agenda. In spite of all my best efforts he had some trouble with breastfeeding – that’s another very long story, but suffice it to say we were back on track in a couple of days. My larger-than-life confidence was shaken, though. On top of it, we had moved into a new house the day before he was born (sooner than we expected at 36 weeks, 4 days). What a great housewarming gift! He was born on a mattress on the floor, and we spent weeks upon weeks swimming our way through parenting in a sea of boxes and disarray. My focus on getting nourishment into his body and finding enough stuff to function in the mess our home was put my EC efforts on the back burner, and they got left there a while (and charred pretty badly, too).
You see to top it all off, I had a baby who, for some reason or other, screamed bloody murder when he was naked. Though he had spent many of his first hours earthside naked (as everything was packed away, plus naked newborns are the best kind of newborns), he loathed being unclothed after he’d been dressed once. Oh, he was a cherub the rest of the time, never making a peep, but the instant we would start unsnapping the sleeper, he would start bawling. And I mean BAWLING. This kid had a set of lungs on him like you wouldn’t buh-lieve, right from day one! He could scream so loud it would literally rattle my eardrums.1
Here I sat with my sweet little baby, wanting to do EC with him and wondering how the mechanics of this would work if he wouldn’t even tolerate being unclothed, much less undiapered, for even a moment’s time. On top of everything, my husband had gone back to work only three days after the birth, and I had a house full of boxes I felt obliged to do something with. What a conundrum.
We tried all sorts of things to make changing clothes and diapers more fun, but to no avail. He would have none of it and within seconds of being stripped he was crying so hard he was coughing and sputtering. To top it off, the poor guy spit up often so we had to change his clothes a few times a day, which certainly exacerbated things. It killed me to see my baby so upset and though I wanted to do the EC so badly, I couldn’t bear to see my baby cry like that. Besides, I figured the benefits of helping him not soil himself would be far out-weighed by the detriment of having him cry inconsolably.
I couldn’t see him making any EC signals, either, like all the EC mommas said he would, and I figured I’d missed the boat. We fell into a pattern of rushing through clothing and diaper changes, trying to smile and sing while he howled and howled. A few times one of us would pick him up before the change was complete if he was getting too upset, but the problem was that when we put him back down again to finish he was even more offended and cried harder. I felt helpless and dreaded having to change him as it pained me so to see my otherwise cheerful, easy baby scream as though he was being hurt.
One day I was changing him and realized the dog (our Puggle, Daisy) was getting into the garbage bag I had just readied to take outside. Knowing the mess of week old stir fry I’d have to clean up if I didn’t stop her, I picked him up bare bottomed and ran to the kitchen hollering. Of course Sullivan stopped crying once in my arms and even smiled a little. He was being so sweet, I was hesitant to put him down again so I grabbed a diaper insert, put it under his butt and puttered around the kitchen a while, happy bare bottomed baby in arms. After a while, he started fussing and I guessed he might want to eat. I didn’t want to risk getting peed or pooped on while he was nursing, so I reluctantly took him back to put a diaper on him and, lo and behold, as soon as I put him down he peed. I thought, “Good thing I didn’t nurse him bare bottomed or I would’ve been peed on.”2 I put a diaper back on him (he screamed, as usual), and then I nursed him to sleep.
A few days later a similar situation occurred, but this time Daisy was being adamant that she had to go outside that very moment, barking and whining at a level that would try anyone’s patience. Insistent, whining, barking dog + howling baby = aneurysm for Momma, so I scooped up the bare-bottomed little boy again and went to let Daisy out. Of course he stopped crying, and I figured there was no point in upsetting him immediately with the dressing rigmarole, so I went to do a few things, tucking an insert under his bottom again. A while passed, Daisy came back in, I puttered more and Sullivan was a happy little man in Momma’s arms. So when he started fussing I assumed he was hungry and went, reluctantly as always, to apply the diaper. I put him down, prepped a diaper, he protested and then peed while I readied things. This time he dulled the screeching a little as soon as he had peed. I said something cheerful and goofy and, much to my surprise, my little boy who had never once had his clothes or diaper changed without screaming bloody murder actually kicked his little legs and – wait for it, wait for it – smiled at me! My eyes filled with tears. There is no way to describe the elation I felt at that moment to see my son laying there, naked and smiling. I figured I should take advantage of the situation, and we just enjoyed one another’s company for a few moments,3 me smiling and telling him what a good boy he was, him smiling and cooing what a good Momma I was. The memory of that time is absolutely priceless to me.
After a few moments he started fussing and crying again so I popped a diaper on him and went to nurse him to sleep. As I fed him it hit me like a ton of bricks – he was crying in my arms because he had to pee! He was happy afterward because he had been trying to tell me (as babies don’t want to pee on you) and, in his mind, I had caught on and set him down. He was pleased at our accomplishment!
Now we spend some diaper free time at least once, and often more than once, each day with Sullivan on a waterproof mat. We chat and sing songs and enjoy one another, maintaining lots of eye contact, often holding hands. Daddy gets involved too, and we do it as a family. Sullivan doesn’t flip out anymore (unless my timing’s bad) as he understands we’re communicating with him and we don’t want him to have to soil himself. The focus isn’t on the elimination but on the communication. At first, when he would pee I would make a tssss sound, and when he would poop I would make a k-k-k sound, always in combination with lots of smiles. It wasn’t long before he was imitating the sounds along with me while he went. A little longer and I realized he was making the sounds while he went, before I made them. Before I knew it, he was playing with his dad one night (wearing a diaper, on his playmat) while I was cooking and I heard him make the tssss sound. I heard Daddy say, “Oh, do you have to pee?” while walking to what we affectionately term the “diaper free zone,” and I heard my son make the noise more enthusiastically. Moments later I head Daddy say, “You did it! You told Daddy you had to go!” with such joy and pride in his voice, and I heard my son cheerfully giggling and cooing (where I used to hear tortured screaming), and I leaned against the kitchen sink for a moment and cried – hard – tears of absolute joy, peace and satisfaction at our accomplishment.
For many, this accomplishment may seem small, but for us it has been monumental. Not only were we able to help our son stop feeling tortured by a process, but we’re communicating with him in a really great way, and he knows it too. Of course, I’ve learned I’ll never be a perfect parent and natural things don’t always come naturally or easily4. I’ve also learned that, in spite of all that, I am the best parent for my son because flawed as I am, I’m perfect in his eyes.5 Further, I’ve realized that most things will evolve naturally, in their own way, if you give them the time and keep an open mind.
Amy is a former architectural/structural design-drafter, current stay at home mom (on a glorious but all too short 1-year Canadian maternity leave), and future hopeful stay at home or work at home mom. She and her husband, Kenneth, a carpenter, share their lives with their beautiful son, Sullivan, who was born early this May; their dog, a Puggle named Daisy, and four cats they never wanted but love nonetheless, Flipside, Turtle, Sonja and Miss Riot. They live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where they enjoy long walks (in the summer), ice cream and other dairy, yelling at the television, laughing ’til their cheeks and stomachs hurt, playing with their son, taking on home renovation projects, arguing about said projects and making up after said arguments, avoiding -40 temperatures (in the winter) and keeping stuff they don’t really need in boxes in their basement, complaining about how much room they take up and emptily threatening yard sales, among other things.
And as a happy footnote to this story, Sullivan is now eight months old and they are doing EC full time. Sullivan is 100% diaper free with very few misses!
- And I’m a punk/metal head! ↩
- To EC-ers: No, it hadn’t struck me, yet. ↩
- After cleaning up the pee, of course. ↩
- I think I always sort of knew these things but needed to be brought back down to earth. ↩
- My son teaches me something new each day, and it often helps me on my path of personal improvement. ↩
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"Learning to Communicate (An Elimination Communication Story)"
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