Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wearever After.

Today marks the beginning of International Babywearing Week . You might remember seeing pictures here of me wearing Nissa in a baby carrier, and today I want to take some time to tell you why babywearing means so much to me as a parent.  Recently, the babywearing industry has taken some big hits in the media, and I wanted to share our babywearing story to hopefully change your perception of baby carriers and those who choose to wear them, even if just a little bit.  My story is raw and real and it hurts to talk about, even after all this time.  But it's mine.  And I want to tell you about how wearing my has children shaped me into the mother I am today. 

When my first baby, Inara, came into the world - I knew that things would never be the same.  I held her tiny hands and breathed in her amazing new baby smell and vowed that I would move heaven and earth to protect this tiny little precious soul.  When she cried, I cried.  When she looked up at me with her great big inky blue eyes I wanted to be the first thing that she saw.  And as she slept I wanted to lie next to her and watch over her all through the night.

At first, the decision to wear Inara in a baby carrier seemed like a natural extension of parenting for Yousuf and I.  We just couldn't imagine not having her close to us all the time. What we also never imagined was just how important a role babywearing would come to play in our life as a new family of three. 

To say that Inara had a rough start is the understatement of the century.  Without getting too far off topic, I will say that Inara had an incredibly difficult time with breastfeeding, and that her struggle basically shaped our entire newborn experience.  Her poor oral development meant that she couldn't nurse and she couldn't use a bottle, so I basically pumped around the clock while I watched Yousuf fed her with an eyedropper at first and then graduated to a syringe (they actually sell syringes for feeding babies this way, which is something that I found simultaneously horrifying and yet was incredibly thankful for).

In between those hour-long feeding/pumping sessions, we never got a respite.  Inara was inconsolable.  She was hungry and hurting and she couldn't sleep.  She actually never slept for longer than 15 minutes at a time, and she would wake up shrieking - in just the exact same way that she fell asleep - over and over again.  The only way to soothe her was to hold her upright and walk, swaying gently from side to side.  When our arms got tired we would put her in the baby sling, her head lying against our chests (She never wanted to lay down in the sling - which I later found out is not the optimal way to wear any baby.  Here is a great overview of positioning and sling safety.) and she would finally drift off into a brief, fitful sleep.

There were times that Yousuf's feet went numb because he was standing and swaying with Inara tucked into that checkered sling for so many hours. But it was the only way she could get any comfort...and so we did it for her.

One night as I fought with Inara to try to get her to nurse, both her and I crying of course, she had a seizure.  She started banging her three-week-old fists into my breasts, pushing me away.  She turned her head to the side and jerked, arching her back and gurgling fluid.  Her eyes rolled back into her head.  I thought she was going to die.  It lasted for no more than a minute, but it wasn't the last time it happened.  It was probably the most horrific thing I have ever seen.  Afterward, she didn't want to eat.  Every time I held her she turned away, screaming.  I felt rejected, inept.  She continued shrieking and flailing and thrashing until Yousuf tucked into a baby carrier and walked away.  Away from me.  But finally content. That was one of the last times Inara ever nursed.

Soon after, Inara was diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease - and after a violent episode during a hospital test where she aspirated barium into her lungs, she was put on medication.  Her frightening seizure-like behavior was attributed to Sandifer's Syndrome, a rare disorder in which an infant feels such great pain that their nervous system basically switches off in order to protect themselves.  It made sense that Inara had wanted to be held upright and couldn't bear lying down, as she needed gravity to keep the burning stomach acid from coming up into her throat and lungs.  We were told that there had been some damage done to our tiny baby's esophagus and that under no circumstances were we to ever lay her down flat.  That meant she had to be inclined during feedings, diaper changes, bathing, awake and asleep times.  We found ways to prop up her diaper table and I held her in the bathtub when we washed away her acrid-smelling vomit again and again.  But whenever she was sleeping and awake, she was in a baby sling.  It was the only way the three of us could ever get any rest, and the only way to ensure that Inara was not constantly screaming out in pain.

Sadly, Inara's nursing difficulties were far from over.  Due to that trauma, Inara began to exhibit symptoms of Attachment Disorder, and it was mainly directed towards me.  My heart broke into a thousand million pieces every time she refused to make eye contact with me.  Every time she pushed me away with tiny balled up fists. Every time she preferred to be comforted by her father instead of with me. 

Inara's mouth still wouldn't work properly and so as we ran from doctor to lactation consultant to surgeon to correct the problem I would wear her against my body in a baby carrier.  I would lie her against my heart so that she could be remember my sound, and be soothed.  I would tuck her into my collarbone so that she could remember my smell without fear.  And I wore her upright so that she could look at my face and see that it wasn't sad.  Wearing Inara allowed her to trust me again.  I spoke to her in hushed tones while she lay against me, no matter what hospital we were in and what procedure we were undergoing.  I told her that I loved her and that I was sorry.  I begged her to trust me again and I promised her that I would never leave her alone in pain and confusion.  I promised to keep her close to me so that she could learn that her Mama was safe.

And I did - I kept my promise.

I wore her every day until she started looking at me instead of away from me.  She began to coo and babble when I entered her field of view.  She started snuggling into my body instead of pushing me away.  She fell asleep and woke up, not screaming once.  She did all those things in a baby carrier. To this day, I am so thankful for those fabric ring slings, pouches, wraps and Mei Tais that got us through our very darkest days together.  Without baby carriers I wouldn't have been able to comfort my infant.  I wouldn't have been able to keep her pain away.  I wouldn't have been able to regain her trust.  I wouldn't have been able to become the mother that I am today, and Yousuf and I wouldn't have been able to experience exquisite moments like these:

Today, Inara is just fine.  She no longer has any symptoms of reflux disease and her oral issues are a distant fading memory.  She is so smart and bright and I thank my lucky stars every time I get to see her gorgeous smile. Inara went through so much in her first two years of life (she has other medical issues that are constantly being monitored) and babywearing helped us face hospitals and tests and procedures with ease, all the while enforcing our bond of love and trust in one another. Inara is such a strong and healthy little girl  - she has such a great big fighting spirit, and I am so glad that she is here and that I get to be her Mama.  She still gets scared from time to time, and she worries that I will leave her when she gets hurt or needs me (I don't know how she can remember back to when she was an infant - but I guess an experience like hers is hard for anybody to forget), and so we still hug, cuddle and wear her from time to time - just to let her know that we will always, always be there for her.

Inara's infancy taught me so many lessons.  It taught me to trust in my ability to love and nurture another human being.  It taught me to listen to my intuition and work through any seemingly insurmountable problem.  Most importantly, I learned to throw back my head and laugh.  I learned to embrace every single joyous moment when the times were good to sustain me through the times that weren't.  Inara taught me all that.  What a smart little girl.  And when Nissa came along three years later, I already knew what to do.

At the ripe old age of three days old I popped her in a ring sling:

 And then a wrap:

 And we hit the ground running (or jazz-handing, as the case may be).

Yousuf did too (by then he was an expert):

And you know what? Everything turned out just fine.

Looking back, I have to say that the one constant that soothed any hurt and calmed any fear was always babywearing.  I feel so strongly about the importance of wearing my children, and it has lead  me to meet and help so many other amazing parents in their own journey.  I was lucky enough to start a babywearing group (Centre County Babywearers) in Central Pennsylvania with some of my dearest friends.  Later, I served as a founding member on the Board of Directors of Babywearing International, Inc. (a non-profit group dedicated to babywearing education and support), and currently as a moderator on the forums at - the premier online resource for all things related to baby carriers (if you ever could imagine any question related to babywearing, I can guarantee that you will find an answer there!). 

Ultimately babywearing is a choice.  It's a choice that I am so lucky to have had available to me, and I do so dearly hope that my kids will have the same choice available to them when it's their time to take on the mantle of parenthood (if that's what they choose for themselves).  At the start of International Babywearing Week, I urge you to find out more about babywearing.  Even if you haven't made the choice to wear your baby (and it is your choice), this is the perfect opportunity to become more aware of babywearing.  The challenges facing the babywearing industry are real and need to be addressed. (You can find out more about these challenges and how to help at the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance website and at the blog Becoming Mamas.)

Babywearing is about so many different things to so many different people, and that's what makes it so valuable as a parenting tool.  A parent or caregiver might decide that it's the convenience, the comfort, the style, the attachment, or the many health benefits that attract them to babywearing.  I have met new parents, experienced parents, adoptive parents, gay parents, single parents, grandparents and all kinds of in between who have all told me about how wearing their children feels like a natural way to extend the respect and nurturing that our babies so greatly desire and deserve. It was that way for me too, but it has also become so much more.

For me, babywearing was a matter of survival. 

I am so proud to be a mother.  I am so proud to be a babywearer.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Related Posts with Thumbnails