The visage that peeps out over the head of a baby on the cover of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer is the first clue: and it's a photo that looks incredibly like her. Tracy Hogg looks like an artful blend between Frasier's dishy and delightful Daphne Moon and J.K. Rowling without the acerbic edge. Like Mary Poppins sprung engagingly to life, the promise of Tracy Hogg is an enticing one to new parents and her book's subtitle explains why hundreds of thousands of new parents have been standing in line to buy this book: How to Calm, Connect, And Communicate With Your Baby. Heck: that Calm alone almost explains the book's presence on the bestseller lists: new parents are almost a captive audience, willing to part with almost any worldly goods against the promise of sleeping through the night.
In truth, however, this last is not a promise Hogg makes. "You need to know that it's going to take time for a child to sleep through the night." Parenthood, Hogg explains, is not a commitment that anyone ever said was going to be all sunshine and light. "What we have to understand and realize is that that's what the role of a parent is. You know, you're going to have some sleepless nights. It's not just when they're babies."
Though sleeping is one of the topics Hogg covers in some detail in her book -- how to attain it as well as where it should be taking place -- her message is mainly one of calming through connected communicating. Hogg does not so much whisper to babies as she has low-toned discussions with them: talking with the baby, not at them, and treating them like "a separate human being."
Hogg, who says she has over 5000 people in her practice, is the owner of Baby Technique, a retail store and baby consultancy in Los Angeles. It was one of her clients who dubbed her the baby whisperer. The relieved mother, whose child had been diagnosed with colic, was a horse owner who had seen the movie based on Nicholas Evans' book, The Horse Whisperer. It was clear to Hogg that the baby didn't have colic, "the problem was that the baby was overtired. I lived with the baby and her family for three days and three nights, and helped her develop a structured routine. Suddenly the colic disappeared and we had a calm baby on our hands. The client turned to me and said, 'You know, you're a baby whisperer!' She went on to tell other people about me and the name stuck."
The British born Hogg is a registered nurse whose early specialization was in working with handicapped children, something that she attributes to helping her to "tune in non-verbal communication."
Linda Richards: Had you anticipated the success of this book?
Tracy Hogg: No. I think that what's amazing is that I knew in my heart of hearts that it was a good book because of the common sense approach. And there was such a lot of reading and I hadn't really found anything out there that I could say to mums: this is great, read this. It was always too extreme one way or the other. So it just made sense to me to come out with something that was just basic, common sense with an explanation -- which is not always given -- so we don't start out with bad habits. Or, if we do, how do we break them? We're living in such a "let's fix-it" society. You know, it's like quick fix that, quick fix this, I need it now: everything is fast. And you can't really do that with human beings.
One of the things that reading the book recalled for me was when my son was a baby and I'd be pushing his stroller in a store or something and people would say: It's wonderful how you talk to him like that. They'd say it as though it were remarkable that I was speaking to him human-to-human. It would never have occurred to me not to talk to him as though he could understand because, at some level, I was sure he could. Reading Secrets of the Baby Whisperer it struck me that you would understand this: both the talking to babies and the surprise of some people who hear it.
That's what kind of confuses me. People say to me: Why are you talking to them like that? And I say: Well, because they're human beings. Most of the time [people] don't talk [to babies]. And yet we talk to pets and people say they feel silly talking to [babies]. I've never been able to comprehend why you would feel silly talking to your child. I can't tell you how many people that say: But he doesn't understand. We don't know when they start to understand but we do know that they can understand more than they can actually tell us. Then they say: Why do you know that's the cry for hunger? [It's because] I hear it every day: day in day out. They don't cry for no reason. There's a reason behind it.
Up until a certain age they do instinctive things. Small babies haven't learned that: When I cry, this happens.
Yes. They're not being willful or spiteful. What we do is teach them manipulative skills.
Parents. And we learn them not to trust us and we learn them to be afraid: they're all transference of emotions.
You come by your expertise quite honestly. Some inherent from your grandmother and your father and you're also an expert in your field.
You know, it's about being curious. I very rarely accept things unless I really, totally understand what it is. So if somebody says to me that I have to do something, I really have to know why I have to do it. I was like that as a child. Curious. And that's what I've tried to do with the book. Is not to say: Do this. It's to say: If we do this and we continue to do it, this is the result.
Are people sometimes afraid of their babies?
But it's because they don't know what they're saying.
Because one of the things you say in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer is that new parents are often older now than used to be the case. And people 35 or 40 years old are used to having control in their lives. And then all of a sudden there's this new and somewhat uncontrollable-seeming factor in their lives.
Yes: What did I do? And it's really about nurturing and teaching and being a role model. It's like a first relationship. In a new relationship you get all dolled up, don't you? And everything is perfect and off you go. And you do that a few times and then over time, because it becomes comfortable and the relationship moves on, you start meeting him in your sweatpants. And you don't mind if you've got your baseball cap on and your trainers. That's how it is with babies. We want so much for it to be perfect and we don't allow ourselves time to learn. So what we do is we get all this information and try this one week and try this another week and all for the benefit of making this relationship perfect. And sometimes we lose our own instincts and intuition and just common sense.
Or don't listen to it.
Right! Or negate it.
Is there a single thing you hear more than any other? A concern people have?
I think the sleep thing is really a major thing. You know: When can I have my sleep back? You need to know that it's going to take time for a child to sleep through the night. You've got to realize that there is going to be some lost sleep on and off throughout your life with a child. You know, I have an 18-year-old daughter who sometimes knocks on the door and says: Mum do you want to chat? At two o'clock in the morning. What we have to understand and realize is that that's what the role of a parent is. You know, you're going to have some sleepless nights. It's not just when they're babies. There are periods when they're sick or they're teething.
Or borrowing the car. [Laughs]
Yes! You know, my mum said to me the other night: I'm really worried about you and I could hardly sleep because you haven't had much sleep and you sounded kind of tired on the phone. When does it stop? When you draw your last breath! It doesn't stop.
The intention of the book is to nurture. What we need is healthy mums and dads. Because you know we've gotten away from the extended family: it's more nuclear and there's nothing worse than being stuck on your own. It's so isolating being a new mum if you haven't got a good safety net. But you know what I'm finding more and more is that mums are going against mums. The biggest thing is: Do you breast feed or not? [And some people will say that] you're a bad parent if you don't. Two friends of mine in Los Angeles who had been through everything together -- high school and boyfriends and breakups -- they had children. One breast feeds, one doesn't and they fell out. And I keep getting calls from lactation counselors saying: It's a child's right. Of course it's a child's right and I won't deny it's a child's right to have breast milk. What I'm saying is: You try and get a few ounces from a woman who's breast feeding, you just can't get it. There's no breast milk banks, well there are, but they're very few and we don't have proper screening of breast milk, so all of this: Point, point finger. It's a child's right. I'm an advocate for child. Well, give us a solution then and that's fine. I'll work with you. Don't dictate and point your finger when you can't have a back up.
I'll go to the ends of the earth for a mum who wants to really [breast feed] and I'll support her, but you know those that don't, it's not me to point a finger.
It surprises me how passionate people can be on some of these subjects relating to babies. I didn't know that.
It's passionate and it's sometimes too fanatical. [People can] get vicious about it. It's like this circumcision thing. You know, I've spoken to a lot of Jewish men and asked them: Can you remember being circumcised? I have over 5000 people in my practice and a huge proportion would be circumcised. I haven't found one who's said: Yes and I'm traumatized over it. But the statistics say that it's traumatic enough to make a man aggressive. And the thing about that mass murderer, what was his name? Ted Bundy. Being circumcised. I'm like [open mouthed]. To make a point that Ted Bundy was circumcised and so don't circumcise children? It doesn't make sense.
A lot of adult misbehavior is traced to what happens to them not even as children, but as infants. How valid is this?
The thing is, when they do sensible studies and research then I'm prepared to listen. Like then they did research about postpartum depression being a real illness to the point where some women could hurt the child. I'm from the North of England and we have a center there that supports those women. There was just a program on it in America and there was such an outcry. This program was done I think in the late 1980s or early 90s and the research that went into it was phenomenal and so I believe it and I looked at it and it made sense. I've been to the centers, it wasn't just thrown out there like a statement, like the circumcision thing. So the study and research for that has been going on for a long time and we're seeing results now on how we can change it and things are starting to change.
What doesn't make sense to me is when they take a study and they don't do it over a long time and they say: Oh it's because this happened in your childhood. So to me that's very frustrating. I was never fantastic at academics. I don't profess to be a doctor or a rocket scientist or a psychologist or anything, but I'm a great observer and I do my research and I think things through. And I've got a lot of experience in the area that I work.
Do you find people are overcompensating sometimes? Because raising children is a very important thing and a lot of people try so hard that they may be saying: Well, don't do this, just in case. Or: Don't do that, just in case.
Yes. And then what kind of society are we going to come up with? Let me just ask you this, I go to all these people's homes and it's usually on the refrigerator: Monday soccer, Tuesday ballet [and so on]. And I'm looking for family time. It's like my schedule: oh, you've got an hour here. Let's put an interview in. And then we're wondering why are [children] making friends outside the home and that starts to be part and parcel of their lives and then of course they don't want to spend time with you because: You've never spent time with me. Get it?
Yeah. Because you have to do it all through their lives. But then again, parents are concerned about television and video games and so on. But if children have been so entertained all of their lives, how would they know how to entertain themselves?
How old are your children?
Fifteen and 18. And between 15 and 18 is a great gap. I wish I would have had a child straight away, or waited until they were six years apart. Three years [eyes rolled heavenwards] it was the hardest thing. Hard. When I first came [to the United States from Great Britain] eight years ago I did the commute backwards and forwards. My husband got a job here and so I had to work, be a wife, be a mum. So I left the girls with my mum and dad to be schooled. Of course now some people looking for an angle say: Oh, she deserted her children. And I say: Would you like to see the plane tickets and my passport. [Laughs] Or would you like to see the phone bills? Sara is the eldest, she's with me now. She's left school. But Sophie lives in England with my mum right now.
Are you working on another book?
I'm going to do a feeding book. Not breast feeding: feeding. There will be recipes in there and weaning and I'm going to make a nice, fun book.
You're working on that now?
Yeah. I have some fantastic recipes for babies because I got them all off me Nan. Some with parsnip and the recipes she has for pasta. My Nan does this berry pie and rhubarb yogurt with champagne rhubarb. It's very rare to find champagne rhubarb and she's got a garden full of it.
What's the feeding book going to be called?
It doesn't have a title yet. But I'm doing a toddler book next. It was a two book deal: Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and the toddler book. But [Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers] is going to be from eight months to two years.
Is he a Brit or an American.
He's a Brit! From Sheffield.
You came to America together?
Well, Tom came first because of his job and I was leaving the girls and then going back and coming back. The transition was long. And I'm glad I did now. At the time I wasn't too sure.
Right this second you must be glad you did: This book is doing very, very well.
Yeah. Right this second I am. [Laughs] No, about two years ago I started to settle more.
How old are you now?
Forty. Life begins at 40. I keep getting really strange questions: Do I mind getting older? Does it bother me being 40? And I think 40 is really young. I'm like: What is this big deal with 40? I think I'm quite young. And my girls are growing up.
Anyway, there's not much you can do about it, so you may as well embrace it. It's not as though there's an alternative. [Laughs]
Yeah, it's a funny statement: Do you mind growing older? I don't think about it.
You felt Secrets of the Baby Whisperer was needed, but you had no way of knowing it was going to be this big.
No. [And it's all new to me]. I went to New York to do a deal and I didn't know anything about book deals or anything. So we got to Ballantine, I did the spiel and everything, we got back to my agent's office and the deal was two books for [a] $750,000. [advance]. I'm kind of dyslexic with figures. So I told my husband it was $7500. And he goes: Are you sure? And I said yeah. And I told my mum: I got $7500. And she said: Luv, that's fabulous! I said: It is, isn't it?
Everybody was screeching and happy. So Tom said: OK, but are you sure? How many naughts [zeros] are there? And I said: I'm not sure, but I know there's a seven and a five. He said: Well, OK. But are you sure it isn't $75,000? And I said: Yes it is! It is, Tom! It's $75,000! He said: That's great! I said: Tell my mum. I told her it was $7500. Tell my mum: call her up. And so we told her and she nearly passed out when she found out it was $75,000.
Well, I got off the plane and I'd been traveling and I was really tired, and Tom said to me: You know that $75,000? And I said: Yeah? And he said: It was $750,000. It didn't translate to me. And he said: It was three quarters of a million. And I had palpitations: I thought I was going to have a heart attack. And I said: Call my mum! And he called my mum and she couldn't believe it. I still don't believe it.
And to all appearances, the book is living up to those advances, Tracy. Which, to be quite honest, surprised me a little. I wouldn't have thought there'd be enough babies out there to push a book up the bestseller lists so quickly. And yet...
There are a lot of babies.
And we don't have the extended families like you had to give us that kind of guidance anymore.
Nope. And you know what, as well? I think people like me! [Laughs] And I have a passion for what I do which shows. I'm pretty happy.
You seem to have a secret for calming babies. What do you think it is about yourself that you're able to do that?
I just think I've got a great instinct and intuition and I think you get a confidence because you do it every day. It's just the way, I think, that I approach them. Because people say -- and I don't notice that I do this -- I tell mums to take three deep breaths, but usually I just kind of quickly center myself and then I'm very slow. That's why I'm doing videos, because it's not until you see what I do that you see what I do.
You're doing videos?
Yeah. I'm going to do a series of videos. I think they'll be really helpful.
Do you feel it's your special talent? Like, some people can draw and some people can cook and you're able to do this with babies.
Yeah. And there's not a baby I've met that I can't calm. It's just that I have a feel for them and a connection and I just go in and do it. And I can hear the tone and the pitch [in their cries]. I think it's because the baby senses that I know what I'm doing and it's not a rescue, it's like: Gosh, she really does know what she's doing. I love what I do. | March 2001
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.