Attachment parenting in a disconnected world

Posts tagged ‘Jean Liedloff’

Touching tales

The Alt.Family have been away for a while, taking some time out in the rain!  A very wet holiday, and uexpectedly without an internet connection… so, belatedly, here is the post that you should have had last week!This video has been doing the rounds of facebook over the last couple of weeks, but just in case you haven’t seen it yet, I want to share it with you now:

The baby in that film is so relaxed, there’s no question she is enjoying all the sensations she’s experiencing; the warm water, the gentle touch of the nurse.  I have never made the most of baby massage with my two, but having seen this, I wish I had done.  There’s so much to be gained from the experience, for the parent as well as the baby,  I would think.
The skin is an amazing human organ, passing all sorts of messages to the brain.  Touch is important for babies and children (in fact for all of us, who doesn’t like a hug?) for so many reasons.  In fact, Deborah Jackson dedicates a whole chapter of her book “Three in a Bed” to the importance of touch.  She points out that before birth, the child and its mother communicate solely through touch.  They rely, she says, “on physical contact for information”.  Yet when a baby is born, we are almost afraid to touch it.  We are blinded by the apparent fragility of the newborn, and need to be reminded that this new little person has never before been “untouched”.  
How scary that must be for them, how alone they must feel!
 
I suppose this builds a little on the idea of wearing your baby in a sling, thus mimicking the sensation of being inside the womb.  The baby feels secure, snuggled from all sides, and is happy to sleep and wake, and feed and sleep again, in something resembling its own familiar environment.  It really is like a massage from all directions!
When Alt.D1 was born, she was whisked away from me to a rescuscitaire on the other side of the room.  She’d been distressed during her long and uncomfortable journey into the outside world, and they needed to check her over.  I needed stitches, I was still uncomfortable, but I was aware of the importance of skin-to-skin contact for my new baby.  I suggested perhaps she could have that contact with Alt.Father, whilst I was being attended to.  I was met with a confused look from the midwife.  The baby was wrapped up so as not to be cold, and she waited to be put on my chest when I was once again sitting.  I felt a bit cheated, although she was nice and clean and not slimy.  She hasn’t suffered through not having had immediate skin-to-skin contact, as far as I can tell, and we’re a very cuddly household (as you can probably imagine!) so hopefully we have made up for it since.  
Alt.D2’s experience was different, in that she was delivered straight into my hands and up onto my chest (very slimy, that one!).  I held her for a while, and then Alt.Father held her, also skin-to-skin, while I bathed and had more stitches (don’t ever ask me about my stitches!).  Then we attempted biological nurturing, where the baby finds its own way to its first feed.  This was with limited success, but all the while giving Alt.D2 constant contact.  We weren’t hurried to dress her immediately, and we all loved it.
I read a passage in “Three in a Bed” where the author describes being encouraged by writer Jean Liedloff to hold her young daughter up by her ankle.  I tried it with Alt.D2 (about 6 months old at the time) and she loved it!  She absolutely howled with laughter, grinning and dribbling upside down into her hair.  I mentioned it to Alt.Father, who looked a bit sideways at me, but later admitted he’d tried it with her at bedtime, and conceded that it did seem to make her very happy (weird child, loves being upside down!). So maybe we should be a bit braver in how we handle our kids.  I should probably put a disclaimer in here, shouldn’t I?  People, be a bit careful, use your common sense, but have a good giggle – remember how much you used to love dangling head down from the monkey bars?
 
There has been much research into the health and healing benefits of touch.  Kangaroo Care for premature babies has yeilded amazing results.  This technique was introduced in the early 1980s in Columbia, a country suffering from high infant mortality rates.  The babies were placed inside their mothers’ clothing, against their chests, where they remained for 24 hours a day.  Similar methods, where babies born early or with low birth rates are held by parents or carers for several hours at a time, have been introduced in many hospitals around the world.  It’s hard to believe that premature babies were once kept away from the touch of their parents and nurses in the belief that risk of infection outweighed the benefits of physical contact.  

It seems that it works both ways, too.  The touch of her baby was enough to rehabilitate Australian coma sufferer Emma De Silva, whose husband and family had been told there was almost no hope.  Their incredible story can be seen here.  Get the tissues handy before you hit play, though!  What an amazing testimonial to the power of touch.

 

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)

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