TRACY Hogg, a nurse and best-selling author who was dubbed the "baby whisperer" for her ability to soothe prickly newborns and their anxious parents, has died. She was 44.
Hogg was the author of the 2001 book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect and Communicate with Your Baby. She was given the nickname by a Hollywood executive who, after observing Yorkshire-born Hogg with her colicky newborn, was reminded of the 1998 film The Horse Whisperer, based on a book by Nicholas Evans, in which a respectful, empathetic trainer, played by Robert Redford, heals an injured horse.
"She had the ability to come into the room incredibly quietly and settle the baby and handle the baby with such compassion and confidence and training. It was truly like the magic touch," said Elisabeth Seldes, a former film studio executive, who sought Hogg’s help when her son was born in 1997.
Hogg cared for more than 5,000 babies, including those of celebrities Jodie Foster, Cindy Crawford, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael J Fox and Calista Flockhart.
The services did not come cheaply: She charged $200 for a one-hour phone consultation, and $1,000 a day for live-in support. She made herself available 24 hours a day. Flockhart booked Hogg for seven weeks after adopting a baby in 2001.
Critics said that, despite the mystical connotations of the title, her book offered little more than common sense. Hogg agreed that, although there was nothing magical in her approach, it had "a lightbulb effect" on new parents.
She didn’t take sides on touchy issues such as breast versus formula feeding, but did not favour sleeping with one’s baby.
She used acronyms to present her basic guidelines for contented parenting, among them EASY (Eating, Activity and Sleeping for the baby; the Y stands for "time for You") and SLOW (Stop and remember that crying is a baby’s language; Listen to a baby’s cry to decipher its meaning; Observe a baby’s actions and gestures; the W, reminding parents to evaluate "What’s up?").
At the heart of Hogg’s message was respect for a baby’s individuality. Though adults may delight in seeing a naked baby, Hogg said she believed that the baby may react differently. When she bathed babies, she used a washcloth to cover their private parts.
"She was always concerned about teaching parents about their [baby’s] privacy, about their being actual little people," said her daughter, Sara Fear. "The babies had their own space."
Hogg also encouraged parents to talk to their babies. For instance, the first thing she said all parents should do when they bring a newborn home is give the baby a tour of the house. She always introduced herself to a baby, regardless of whether the infant was three minutes or three months old, and insisted on explaining everything.
When she changed a nappy, for instance, she didn’t just coo at the baby but talked her through the steps: "We’re going to change your diaper now," she wrote in her book. "Let’s just lay you down here, so I can undo your pants. I’m unsnapping your jammies now. There we go. Ooh, look at what lovely thighs you have. Now I’m going to lift your little leggies up. I’m opening your nappy. Oh, I see you have a little parcel for me in here. I’m going to wipe you now."
Some parents looked at her as if she was mad, but Hogg insisted there was wisdom in her approach.
"Babies are sensate creatures," she told an Australian newspaper in 2001. "When you are tired, they pick that up, so it’s OK to say to a baby, ‘I don’t know why you are crying, but I’m going to figure it out.’
"It’s about communicating and having a continual dialogue with the infant."
When she talked with babies or their parents, she made liberal use of endearments such as "luv" or "darling," all delivered in a thick Yorkshire accent.
Hogg was born in Yorkshire into a family of nine children. Her family was so large that she and three of her siblings were sent to live with their grandparents, who became key influences in her life.
Her grandfather, who was the head nurse at a mental institution, took Hogg to visit the children’s ward when she was seven. She related to the children with such patience and warmth that, after several visits, her grandfather encouraged her to consider becoming a nurse, like him.
When she was 18, she entered nursing school and became a registered nurse and midwife who specialised in children with disabilities. "To help them," she wrote in her book, "I had to learn to understand their language and to become their interpreter."
She called her grandmother Florence her greatest influence. With her gentle and intuitive ways, Florence was Hogg’s role model.
When Hogg moved to the United States in 1992 with her second husband, she sent her two young daughters, then eight and 11, to live with their grandmother while she established herself as a baby nurse. Her decision opened her up to criticism when she became famous, with articles suggesting that she had abandoned her own children in order to care for those of the rich and famous.
However, she defended her decision, saying that she still saw her daughters often and wanted them to have the parenting she enjoyed with her mother and grandmother. Her daughters later went to live with her in Los Angeles. She opened a baby equipment store in the city of Encino and sold bottles, blankets and other baby care items online through a website.
Her first celebrity client was Marilu Henner, one of the stars of the hit Seventies and Eighties sitcom Taxi, who was so pleased with the help Hogg provided that she passed her name along to her friends. Ms Seldes coined the baby whisperer name after Hogg calmed down Seldes’ infant son, whose colic, Hogg discovered, was actually reflux.
Thanks in part to celebrity endorsements, Hogg won a $750,000 advance for her first book, which was on bestseller lists for 11 weeks. She then wrote Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers (2002) and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, an advanced guidebook on sleeping, feeding and behaviour challenges, which is to be published in January by Simon & Schuster.
Hogg was diagnosed with melanoma about two years ago. She had an operation to remove her oesophagus, which left her unable to eat, unless her food was "mushed up like a baby’s".
In the week before she died, she was covered in towels before being lifted into a bath by nurses, an experience that allowed her to feel for the first time as an adult why she took such pains to cover babies with washcloths before bathing them. "She had the same trust in the ladies taking care of her that she tried to teach parents," Ms Fear said.
In addition to Ms Fear, Hogg, who was married and divorced twice, is survived by another daughter, Sophie; her mother and her grandmother.