Tracy Hogg, a British-born nurse and best-selling author who was dubbed the “baby whisperer” for her ability to sooth prickly newborns and their anxious parents, died of melanoma Nov. 25 at a hospice in Doncaster, England. 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 Hogg with her colicky newborn, was reminded of the 1998 movie “The Horse Whisperer,” based on the novel by Nicholas Evans, in which a respectful, empathic 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 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 and Michael J. Fox. When “Ally McBeal” star Calista Flockhart adopted a baby boy in 2001, she booked Hogg for seven weeks.
Critics said that despite the mystical connotations of the “Baby Whisperer” title, her book offered simply common sense. Hogg agreed that although there was nothing magical in her approach, it had “a light-bulb effect” on neophyte moms and dads.
She was not an extremist on touchy issues such as breast-vs.-formula feeding, but did not favor sleeping with one’s baby.
At the heart of Hogg’s message, however, was respect for a baby’s individuality.
“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.
“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.”
Hogg was a Yorkshire native from a family of nine children. She and three of her siblings were sent to live with their grandparents, who became key influences in her life.