Attachment parenting in a disconnected world

Archive for April, 2012

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in / my heart)

When alt.D1 was tiny, she cried a lot. She cried in the day time and the night time.  She cried when she wasn’t being fed, she cried if she was left alone for a second. She cried if you tried to sit down when you were holding her.  We put her in the pram and we went for walks, mostly she cried, sometimes she fell asleep.  We paced the floor with her chewing on one of our fingers, we bounced, we rocked… you get the idea.  She was LOUD and SAD.
I would push the pram down the hill to baby groups, and they would hear us coming.  “Oh we heard alt.D1, she’s git such a sweet cry!”  I would grit my teeth – it wasn’t so sweet at 2.30am,or 2.50, or 3.20…  People arriving after us would say “We knew you were here already, we could hear alt.D1, she’s got such a sweet cry…”  Sigh. 
There were nights spent watching reruns on TV through cordless headphones while we wore tracks into the carpet trying to get her back to sleep.  There were days when nothing was achieved, having been spent trudging round town with the pram in an attempt to get her to sleep, and when that was achieved, I daren’t go home because the eyes, those big brown saucer eyes, would pop open as soon as we crossed the threshold.
Then, when she was about four months old, we had a revelation.  We bought a sling and it changed our lives.  I am never more evangelical than when I am talking about my sling!  Seriously: Our. Lives. Changed.  
Suddenly, we could wrap up the baby, and within five minutes she would be asleep.  We could do the pacing around bit, or we could mow the lawn instead, baby in tow!  Dinner could be prepared; better yet, actually eaten whilst it was hot!  Wow – who ever would have thought!
I ordered the sling online, having tried putting Alt.D1 into a borrowed one at someone else’s house.  We’d been given a baby carrier with webbing, buckles and straps, and although it was complicated to put on the wearer, Alt.D1 had liked it and seemed more settled.  She had fought it (loudly!) when turned in towards my chest, but on turning to the outside world, she had been absorbed and fascinated, and, it seems, sometimes bored to sleep! I had read on the internet about the risks of hip dysplasia in such kinds of carriers, and realised it wasn’t putting her in the most comfortable position.  A different kind of sling, a long stretchy wrap which is tied to the adult, not involving buckles or straps was the answer.  And we all loved it.
She would sleep in the sling where you would never have thought it possible.  Suddenly our lives had changed for the better.  We had a portable child, and more to the point, a settled child.

Jean Liedloff recognised a huge impact on children’s development when they are carried.  She calls it “the in arms experience” in her book The Continuum Concept.  Liedloff noticed that the babies of the Venezuelan people that she studied were carried by their parents all the time.  They were, as a result, easier to hold, because they were used to it.  They didn’t fuss and stretch and go stiff as a board like Alt.D1 when I tried to put her in the car seat.  They didn’t bend backwards in the middle, striking out towards the floor.  We noticed a change in Alt.D1 immediately we started to use the sling.
So, when Alt.D2 was born, we didn’t need to think about it.  She went in the sling straight away.  I can’t imagine how I would have managed with two small children without it, to be honest.  The baby would sleep, cosied up on my chest, and I could play with the big one.  I could prepare food, walk to town, play dragons and princesses, or hide and seek, while my baby was contented and snoozing.
Even now at almost eight months old, Alt.D2 loves going in the sling.  She’s a bit heavy for the stretchy wrap, (although we both still prefer it if I’m honest) so now she’s in an Ergo Baby Carrier, a more structured version, similar to the traditional “mei tie” carriers used by asian people for many many years but with a modern twist.  She can go on the gront or the back, and everyone’s happy.  She can even nurse in there (obviously not on the back though!!)
Alt.Father is pleased to wear the sling, too.  I deliberately chose a plain navy colour, which just happens to match his favourite jumper.  In town one day, two teenage girls did a double take in the market while he was out shopping with Alt.D1.
“Oooh, I thought that man had two heads!” one said to the other.  Alt.D1 was peeping out of the sling, apparently suspended from her dad’s top!  He’s even had one on the front and one on the back on more than one occasion!
There are more benefits than just the practical.  In the early days with Alt.D2 I was finding it hard to really appreciate her.  I was bonding more slowly than I had with Alt.D1.  But by wearing her on my body for long stretches of time, hours while she would sleep, wake, feed and sleep again, all without being parted from me, our bond strengthened immeasurably.  She was always within kissing distance, our hearts close together.  She was comforted by the sounds she had heard within the womb; my muffled voice and my heartbeat.  I got to learn her ways, the rhythms by which she lived, and her cues for hunger, tiredness, and so on.  We enjoyed what has been termed “the fourth trimester”.  I now have a happy, confident almost-eight month old, and she and I are as in love with each other as we could possibly be.
So as I said earlier, I am positively evangelical about babywearing.  I will enthuse to any new parents, or parents-to-be about how a sling changed our lives and saved our sanity.  You can borrow slings from local “sling libraries” before you invest, and there is a host of different designs, patterns and colours to choose from.  Among some friends of mine, slings are talked about in the same way and with the same enthisiasm as the latest designer clothes.  We are “sling geeks” if you will!
Carry that baby, you won’t regret it.
The title of this Post comes from a poem by e e cummings: 

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                  i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Bright Blessings to You, New Mother

I have been struggling with a bit of writer’s block this week, trying to pick the right topic for discussion.  I thought I would share something that’s becoming a local phenomenon where I live:  The Blessingway.

Having babies, going to war, same thing, right?

Not quite, but in Native American traditions, the preparations are similar.  Last weekend I gathered with a group of women for a version of the Blessingway ceremony.  My friend (let’s call her Margaret) is expecting a baby, her first, who will be born some time in the next few days.  Needless to say, anticipation is running high! The women who attended the Blessingway are all friends of the mother-to-be, and we came together to give her our blessings and share our hopes for her over the coming days, weeks and years.  We lit candles, read poems and wove a bracelet for each of us.  The time we spent was special, and hopefully Margaret drew strength from it.  Hopefully she will continue to do so. 

The blessingway tradition is not widely known about, and it contrasts with the usual kind of baby shower, giving soon-to-be mothers an opportunity to be a little introspective and to be made a fuss of.  Both of these things seem to vapourise as soon as baby arrives, so maybe it also serves as a kind of “last hurrah” to the woman as a single being, before she no longer has an “Inside Baby” as Margaret puts it! It’s a chance for the woman’s “Tribe” to celebrate who she is, and the amazing journey of motherhood she is about to embark upon.

I have now attended three blessingways, one of which was my own for the arrival of Alt.D2.  Each has been different, somehow reflecting the groups of women involved, but each time I have experienced a really strong sense of how spiritual we can be when we light a few candles and focus our thoughts.
“Are you doing witchcraft in there?”  Alt.Father’s question with one eyebrow raised… not quite, but it is a bit magical.
I sought a bit of help with the planning of Margaret’s blessingway from Shari Maser’s excellent book, full of ideas and suggestions of things to include.  For example, we each brought a bead with us, which were put together on a necklace for Margaret to wear or look at and be reminded that we were all thinking of her.  We passed a ball of yarn around, weaving bracelets which Margaret tied for us.  So now I have a piece of purple yarn wrapped round my wrist like a teenage friendship bracelet, and every time it catches my eye, I think of Margaret.  All the women present that evening are wearing the same kind of bracelet, and we’ll remove them only after the baby is born.

The practical preparations we make for birth are many: clothes, nappies, somewhere for the baby to sleep, plans for where it will be born… we put a lot of energy into that side of things.  A blessingway helps to remind all present that motherhood is about to begin.  And as Margaret said so succinctly, being somebody’s mum “is a very big thing – it’s massive”.  I agree totally – it is the hardest job I have ever done, but equally the most rewarding.

While we’re waiting for the baby to put in an appearance, here’s a poem that was read at Alt.D2’s blessingway, and at Margaret’s:

Bright Blessings to you, New Mother!!
“Sacred Mother
I hear you calling
Sacred Mother
I share your voice
Sacred Mother
I know your secrets
Sacred Mother
I’ve made my choice 

Blessed passage
Through the window
Blessed falling
From life’s great tree
My arms wait here
To receive you
Sacred Child
Blessed Be!”



Since becoming a parent, I sometimes worry that the range of my topics of conversation has narrowed a little.  I can chat for ages about the merits of one kind of nappy over another, but since I can’t even remember the last time I went to the cinema, let alone what it was I saw, there is little chance I’ll be discussing the latest blockbusters.  As for bands I’ve been to see in concert or clubs I’ve been to… sadly these are distant memories at the moment.  So I have been transformed into some kind of “nappy head” who can only concentrate for short periods before being distracted by my children.
The other thing that has happened is my short term memory has been blasted into pieces.  House keys?  Not quite sure where they are.  Paid the milk bill?  How about the car tax? Um…
Baby brain has well and truly set in.
Two things in particular have happened to me to confirm without doubt that “baby brain” exists.  One is amusing, one less so and far more expensive:
Before Alt.D2 was born (about 48 hours before she was born in fact) I managed to drive the new car, less than two weeks old, into a carpark bollard.  Said bollard was, somewhat ironically for a baby brain induced incident, in the carpark of the local maternity unit.  Alt.D1 said “don’t cry, mummy” and Alt.Father said “that’s what insurance was invented for…”.  That was the expensive one.
In a former life I worked in an office, and often had to collate papers, stapling, hole punching and filing.  One afternoon shortly before I went on maternity leave with Alt.D1, I had a big stack of papers to sort.  I dropped into a rhythm of clip, punch, file, clip, punch, file, when the stapler came to a stop.  Having sought out new staples and re-filled, I picked it up to start again.  “Oh hang on…” I thought, “best check there are enough holes in the hole-punch…”  Luckily, as soon as the thought entered my head, the one that immediately followed it pointed out that I was obviously losing my marbles!
A great friend of my dad’s used to claim that mothers give half of their brain to their first child, and half of what is left to the next, and so on with each subsequent baby.  That doesn’t hold much hope for mums of large families, does it?  I did wonder whether there was a good reason for this apparent deterioration of our intelligence, and apparently there is.  Our baby brains are supposed to make us better mothers!
While women are pregnant, according to research by Professor Laura Glynn, our brains start to filter out the unimportant stuff, so that we can focus on our new baby.  This makes sense to me.  A child’s reliance on its parents is so important that it seems logical that we should evolve some way of ensuring we concentrate on their needs first.  Of course as parents we want to put the children first, but this goes beyond conscious decisions about who gets the last piece of cake or who wins at Snap.  This is something much deeper.
I haven’t been able to find out whether it’s true or not, but I was once told that film makers use the sound of a newborn baby’s piercing cry as a subliminal sound effect in scary movies.  This is designed to make us feel on edge, nervous and anxious.  If their cries are being used to this effect by others, it stands to reason that new babies are pretty good at drawing our attention.  “Look at me,” they are saying, “I have requirements that need to be met!”

All of this seems to be telling me that being a parent is so much more than a full time job.  We are meant to become totally absorbed, and keeping conversations going on other subject matter, sometimes on any subject matter goes way down the list of priorities. Maybe that’s how it should be.  Babies are little for such a short space of time that a few months of fuddle-headedness seems a small price to pay.  Perhaps we should step back and take time out to just listen and be there, learining about our babies and how they fit into our world.  

I’m pleased to say that the garage did an excellent repair job on the car – you would never know!  In the meantime, I think I shall invest in a notice board and rediscover my love of to-do lists  If only I could remember where I left my pen…

I’d love to hear about any of your baby-brain related incidents.  Please do click on the comments link below and leave me a message!

The Tribe

The Alt.Family were fortunate this week to spend some time with our good friends at their farm community in beautiful Herefordshire.  Alt.Father was enthusiastically wheeling compost in the vegetable gardens, while Alt.D1 and her friend ran around in the sunshine kicking footballs, riding bikes, picking up stones and generally getting grubby.  Alt.D2 worked on her sitting-up skills, and for me it was a chance to catch up with a good friend who I don’t see nearly often enough.
I have heard it said that the friends you make while you are breastfeeding are often some of the closest.  This is apparently because of all the oxytocin and other love hormones going on in your body.  While these are supposed to be primarily for the benefit of your relationship with your baby, there are side-effects which reach out and intensify the other relationships you are forming at the time.  
When Alt.D1 was born, I began to appreciate how far away geographically Alt.Father and I actually are from our extended family.  Grandparents and great-grandparents are upwards of 2 hours travel, and the nearest siblings about the same distance away.  Our children would be growing up without Aunties and Uncles and cousins in the next street, or even the next county.  Although we have email and phone and skype, we would have to find our own way through the parenting minefield without the constant presence of the former generations of our family.  I can see how those distances might not seem far to some, but to us, it was and still is, far enough to make a difference.
As a mother, I found myself on the circuit of mum and baby groups, classes, coffee mornings and get-togethers.  Throughout my year long maternity leave, I was drawn to people with similar ideas about parenting, and from them I started to learn more about myself.  Although we were getting on with the parenting part of life, other things were taking a back burner.  Jobs around the house and garden that were impossible to tackle with a baby on your hip were filed under “A” for Another Time.  Alt.Father suggested that what was needed was something like an old style community, a tribe, where the mothers would get together to carry out the daily tasks while the big kids watched the little kids and everyone helped each other out… he might have been being a tad idealistic, but was he wrong?
In the rose-tinted past, before we created methods of communication that made it easier to be further apart from each other, families stayed local.  Sons and daughters learned from their parents and other elders in the community, and were often able to rely on friends and neighbours for support.  Do you know the names of your next-door neighbours?  How about the people either side of them?  Or the ones that live opposite?  I know my immediate neighbours, but not many more than those, and I am slightly ashamed to admit that. 
If you look to developing nations where tribal living is still commonplace, you can see the benefits.  You don’t hear of problems with breastfeeding.  Support and encouragement for that, as well as all the other aspects of being new parents (both mother and father of course – this is about so much more than just mothering, and not all about breastfeeding) is readily available.  I’m not saying it’s all great, but there must be a reason that our ancestors chose to live in tribes.
These days we are in a fortunate position that we are able to choose our own tribe.  Our neighbours might not be our first choice, but some of the mothers I have met in the first four years of my parenthood have somehow come together to make a new kind of community.  

A while ago I read an article by Teresa Pitman entitled “Finding Your Tribe”.  The author echoed Alt.Father’s words about old fashioned communities.  I got together with a group of local mothers, to talk about parenting, to carry out tasks and to offer each other some support.  A little tribe was forming, and it is in no small way thanks to those women that I made it through some of the difficult challenges I faced as a first time mother.
I have been thinking about the ways we reach out for new tribes in our modern daily life.  Whether it is through neighbours, toddler groups, or internet forums, mothers at least are drawn to each other.  Teresa Pitman says:

“We truly are social animals; we need to be with other people to feel good, whole, and happy. It’s worth the effort to create tribes, however small and imperfect they may be.”
Sadly, most of the families in the little tribe that Alt.D1 and I belonged to have moved on in one way or another.  But sitting with our babies on the grass in the sunshine in Herefordshire this week, as my friend worked on a decorating project, I was reminded of how it had felt in those days.  Our first-born babies were tiny little things, and it had been their arrival that had caused us to seek out likeminded people for support.

My friend and her family are now part of a bigger tribe in their farm community, emphasising to me the need of human beings to be part of something.  
No man is an island, and nor is any family.

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