Attachment Parenting. Or as I Like to Call it, “Parenting”
I’ve searched for attachment all my life. I think I’ve always known this but its only recently become obvious. I found it confronting and somewhat humorous that one of my many counselors wrote in bold as I told him my story, “NO ATTACHMENT”. Wow – thanks for that – just incase I still had any doubt. I wonder how much more I would have achieved in my life if I wasn’t so busy searching for something, someone to be attached to. To belong, feel safe, own, love and have love reciprocated. Like a smorgasbord if we are allowed to indulge, take our fill, immerse ourselves fully, gluttonously, entirely, we quickly lose the desperation to grab and store, we quickly learn that we just need to take what we need, that there is abundance. If we aren’t allowed to feast limitlessly the ‘hunger’ for it, the need, the ache, the longing and the focus is always there, distracting us from anything else. Attachment needs to be taken for granted in the most wondrous sense of the word. Can we ever reach the goal of non-attachment if we were never first truly attached? Can we ever leave behind what we never had?
As I look back over my life as far as I can remember I have sought out a ‘significant other’. I have longed to belong to someone, something, a group, a community, a movement, a person, a parent. Hmmmm. A parent. Does it all start there? Does the young duckling search for something to follow until he finds it? I’d say yes. Without going into detail my birth and the 3 months that followed it were far from ideal. In fact id say they were horrendous. I had bugger all to do with my mum, and my dad left for a trip the next day. Bonding? I don’t think so. Attachment? To what? I was premmie, drugged, hospitalized, humidity cribbed and formula fed for 3 months. No touch, no cuddles, no breastfeeding, no warmth. I looked over my mum’s day book from the weeks around my birth. I would be left alone, untouched, unattached for days at a time.
So I went on search…I searched to belong at school, at work, in social groups, in family, in other people’s family. Nada. I’ve always had friends, workmates and a full social life but I was always juuuuuust on the outer. That crib lid has always provided just a half an inch of distance between me and rest of the world. I have always wanted a best friend. Like in the movies. Sentimental maybe but I see it in real life…it does exist. I want to be someone’s flamingo…not Denny Crane’s, but someone’s. I search for community and am intrigued and fascinated by eastern culture’s sense of oneness and belonging. I am drawn to the concept of shared housing and living and the old adage, “it takes a community to raise a child”. Maybe it does…maybe it just complicates things? I don’t know…but it sounds so much more compelling than the western forcing of independence and separateness.
As a consequence or perhaps, the gift in this experience is that I changed it all when it came to how to raise Faith. I certainly didn’t hesitate in answering “hell no” to the question of controlled crying. Nor did I hesitate in the decision to ‘baby wear’ consistently until Faith could crawl. The alternatives seemed foreign to me and so I seemed to have unknowingly(at the time) embarked upon ‘attachment parenting’.
The scientific research for the skeptics out there is bountiful. Google it.
Baby wearing and Co-sleeping
“Carry your baby??” What about my own time? Don’t I want to do things for myself? Don’t I need space? By devoting my own time now, I am honoring myself as a mother. By allowing her unlimited access to my space now, it will become our space where she will always feel she can return, where she knows she is loved. By giving her my space I am hoping to allow her the freedom to feel space without loneliness in the future – I am hoping that her cup will always be full.
I might have it all wrong – I might be spoiling her. I would rather err on the side of spoilt than have her forever searching to belong, I know that road and it’s a lonely one.
Its very hard to be open and honest about this and not offend someone, given the nature of parenting, doing our best with the knowledge we have at the time and of course different perspectives. This coupled with defenses and comparisons can be ugly. I only aim to share openly and honestly MY experience and my understanding and interpretations.
And from that place, I ask, what is the obsession with putting the baby down? Why does it make everyone so edgy to have me hold her? Faith and I are happy…but apparently, that’s not the point. “Put her down put her down you’ll have more freedom, you’ll be able to do what you want”. Right – well perhaps at this stage in her life and in mine it should be about doing what she needs and her freedom and besides…I am doing what I want…look – 2 hands! (The joy of a good baby sling)
“Keep her horizontal”, my 94-year-old grandmother keeps telling me as I arrive, baby in sling, vertical and happy as Larry. Needless to say, this is not happening. “You’ve made a big mistake sleeping with her – the men – they don’t like this”. My nanna would prefer I popped my daughter in her cot, in her own room at 7pm and not return until 7am. Hmmmm. This explains a lot about my family. So while I politely ignore her and thank God for the language barrier that prevents me from getting into this with her, I feel sad that so many babies are left out in the cold – figuratively, or literally. I can honestly say that sleeping with Faith has been the most wonderful experience (we didn’t use our cot). And ‘the men’, in this case, my husband, love it. In the beginning she made many little squeaks that kept me from sleeping terribly soundly. Perfect design if you think about it – a built in device to keep me aware of her while I get used to having her in my bed. These gorgeous sounds only lasted a couple of weeks and I was sad to see them go. The pay off was the quiet and the sleep that came with it. While Faith woke every 2 hours for a feed, it was easy to pop my boob in her mouth, make sure she had it sorted and fall back to sleep. It made attending to her belly easier – I could rub those bubbles out with my eyes closed and remain horizontal (nanna would be happy). If she needed a little pat or a cuddle back to sleep – there I was. Neither of us needed to fully wake up. She didn’t need to cry out and I didn’t need to get out of bed. If I needed a hand I’d just nudge my husband and he would take over bubble duty. As the weeks passed the feeds were more spaced and the sleeping more sound. Sometimes I would wake up and just watch her sleep, listen to her breathing and wonder what she could be dreaming about as she giggled, fluttered her eyes and made little noises. I wondered when other mothers would see this so intimately? I feel like as I watch her sleep or wake to find her nestled into me or with her feet up against my thighs that it’s a recharge – if we have had a full day or a rough few hours awake, or I’m wondering what on earth I’m doing, this quiet time allows me to reconnect. Not just with her but with myself and the bigger picture of who she is and my role in her life – the importance of the day’s happenings. I am so grateful for this time.
Safety seems to be the biggest concern for those who have never done this. Personally I feel a lot more confident with her in my bed near me than in another room were I can’t see her, hear her or feel her. Animals sleep with their young and, hello, we are animals. It works in so many ways, including in their emotional and physiological development. Again – Google it. When Faith wakes up, she sees me. She bursts into a bright smile and coos loudly. This is her start to the day. Breakfast in bed and cuddles with mum and dad. The thought of her waking up alone and having to cry to get my attention breaks my heart and sets an edgy tone to the start of the day. I know it’s done every day but I personally couldn’t do it. We don’t have a lot of crying in our house. The average time spent crying for children in the west is approximately1.5-3 hours a day as opposed to at least half that in cultures where babies are held close to the mother. For us, Faith has never cried for longer than 20 minutes and that is a very bad day. Usually, we go days without a cry.
Baby wearing goes hand in hand with co-sleeping. It’s the same kind of principle. Many believe babies should be carried until they are mobile, and then they are meant to crawl, walk or be carried. I’m yet to use a pram and I have no desire to. Because I wear Faith I can kiss her and touch her through her naps, I can regulate her temperature, I can feed her on the go or for her top up feeds without her waking from her sleep. She has special look-out time where she experiences the world at my eye level and our face-to-face time is just priceless. She experiences the world with me – cooking, washing and conversations with others. She has no need to worry about protection and rather than her brain being in a constant state of stress and survival she is at peace and able to absorb the world around her and I. I don’t engage her all the time – she is happy just watching me, watching what I’m doing, taking it all in, joining me in what I do. We may chat as we go or have a play in the mirror, but basically she eats when she wants to as she has access and sleeps when she wants to and takes in the world for the rest of the time. I’m there for her when she needs it but otherwise I just do what I need to do, with her attached to me. She sleeps longer on me, the top ups and constant movement and connection with me are key to this. We walk to the shops, have hot chocolate, talk to people on the street and all the while she is involved, at my level, observing, listening and drinking it in. and there is no crying. We practice EC and for the first 6 months of her life I knew every noise, when she needed to go or what she needed. Also her dad can walk her to sleep to give me a break if needed and she sleeps and is comfortable in the sling through all situations.
Another Social Outing, Another Day of Justifying my Child-Rearing Ways
“But how will she learn to crawl if you’re always holding her?” Faith crawled at 6 months and well. She walked at 12 months and is such an independent and confident toddler. Not because I forced her into being independent but because she feels safe, her cup is full and she has good attachment to me. She feels safe to explore knowing I am there when she turns around to find me, as I always have been.
We are born the most dependent species yet in the west we are so preoccupied with forcing independence on our babies as soon as possible, regardless of the cost. “I would put the baby in our bed, but then they get used to it…” they say. No, if it was a matter of them getting used to it why wouldn’t they “get used to” the cot? “But it only took 2 days of her ‘crying it out’ for her to stop – and now she is so good! She never wakes at night”. Hmmmm. Firstly, relatively speaking, leaving a 6 month old baby to cry it out over a 2 day period is the equivalent of leaving a 40 year old to cry it out over 160 days. If I cried and was ignored for that long I would give up trying to be heard too. Second, feeding at night is important –hind milk (brain milk) increases in production during the night. Babies are, nonetheless, adaptable and they will stop eating if we make them. I understand that sometimes, its just not feasible. A mum needs her sleep to function and be a mum, but there are ways of doing this so the baby is not left alone and abandoned. Third, what is with the obsession to make babies “self settle”??? When was the last time a friend came to you upset and you turned away from them, shut the door and told them to self settle? Or did you hold them and tell them it will be ok. If a 3 year old came to you for a cuddle scared would you ignore them? I doubt the majority of us would even ignore an adult stranger, yet we turn away from the our precious children and want them to work it out themselves, calm themselves, sooth themselves, find comfort alone, lie in fear or pain or in wonder? What would you want if it were you?
“SCREAMING IS GOOD FOR THE LUNGS LIKE BLEEDING IS GOOD FOR THE VEINS”
Babies sleep better in the bed because it feels right – because they are with their parent, their protector, their only source of love. I often think about when I was little and I would go and stay with my nanna. She loved me, I loved her and I loved to visit, but I was always a bit scared at bedtime going off to my own room to sleep in the dark by myself. What if I needed her? What if I had a bad dream? If I did I would lay there too scared to move or go down the dark hallway to get her. I think of this and then I imagine a baby, new in the world, unable to do anything on their own, left in a dark room on their own. What if they woke up scared? They can’t call out “mum! I’m scared!”, they cant get up and go to you the way a 4 year old might, they cant rationalize what that scary noise was, or understand that it was just a bad dream. Or that the tummy ache will pass, or that the tooth will come through eventually. The only thing they can possibly do, is cry out. How else can they convey that something is not right? I then think of all the times I was a young girl and would fall asleep in mum’s arms watching the TV, or curled up with her on the couch and how warm and nurturing that felt. As a mum now I know that each night brings a new situation. How can we throw a blanket statement over the first three years – “yes she is a good sleeper”? It all depends! In one month we can experience sore teeth, tummy pains, needing the toilet, a blocked nose, a bad dream (for those nights where nothing else seems apparent!) I want to address all her needs – not just when she is awake but when she sleeps too. I think of all these things and know in my heart that my baby belongs with me. In my bed, in my room, and I will answer her cries, every time.
1. A model or replica of a human being
2. an object designed to resemble and serve as a substitute for the real or usual one
A friend recently scoffed that I was Faiths dummy. Besides the fact that this doesn’t make sense, I am proud to have made my breasts available for her. Nothing soothes sore gums like sucking on a boob (I’m led to believe). Nothing calms quicker, nurses bumps on the head quicker or puts baby to sleep quicker. Except maybe a dummy. See above dictionary definition to capture the irony here.
I’d like to make it clear here that I have nothing against dummies per se. I was quite prepared to use one…I had bought 3. But call a spade a spade; don’t pretend that the ‘pretend’ spade is better than the ‘real’ spade, just because you don’t see it everyday or because it makes you uncomfortable. These mothers are quite happy for the baby to suck on a dummy for comfort but not my breasts? “Oh, is she just comfort sucking? Or actually feeding?” Really? Is your baby guzzling a supply of milk from some parallel universe through that dummy? No? Comfort? Right then. A friend calls them mother replacements and while I sense disapproval in her tone I understand the need for such things if mum isn’t around from a young age, or prepared to make her breasts available. Whatever works for all involved is fine, as long as the acceptance is a two way thing, and the reality check about who is a dummy and what is a dummy is well understood :)
At the end of the day I remind myself not to focus on the end outcome. I focus on each moment and what I can do to honor the role of being a mother as each situation presents itself. It is momentary after all. Ive had my whole life to focus on me. I said to my husband when Faith was born. “I will raise her by feel”. There are arguments for and against everything, there are different circumstances in everyone’s life, each mother has to do what each mother has to do. Some have twins, some have illness, some are ignorant to other methods, some work, some have un-dealt with issues, some simply believe that stern is best. Most importantly for me – what I would urge all new mothers to do – is to TRUST your instincts and trust your heart. Follow what feels right, follow the natural mother within you, the animal instincts we are so often taught to ignore. Don’t listen to the “experts” if it feels wrong, they are experts today but what about you? You are the mother, you are the expert. You have generations of instinctual guidance within you. Trust yourself, trust your baby to tell you what he needs, trust that your body and heart can provide everything your baby needs. Feel your way. With love. Your heart always provides the right answer. x
As for me, Ive done enough work on myself now that I am comfortable with where Im at and where Ive been. I no longer search for the missing part as a daily endeavor, or a must have to be happy. I love my friends, I have lots and they all provide love and support for me as a friend in their own individual ways. Again the gift in not having been bonded solely to one has given me the ability to meet so many and build special relationships with each person. Its not lost on me that a number of my friends are women my mums age…or that my husband is significantly older than me. I am human after all :) And while I find a maternal comfort in having them in my life I absolutely adore them as people and get as much joy out of hanging with them as I do anyone. I may never have the fullest cup or all of the emotional characteristics of secure attachment; I may need the occasional reminder that I am loved, but all in all I am one happy camper, in a camper, with my darling man and my gorgeous girl, who will hopefully gain as a result of my experience and subsequent inquiry.