Being honest about our journey as a parent – how one mom is bearing it all

Ewa Partum, Exercises, 1972

Image via Wikipedia

Being honest about your journey as a parent can be healing for you and inspiring for others. I just read this post about one woman’s journey to Attachment Parenting, the hard way. This is a powerful, moving and beautiful piece. It is truth.

Some may see me as the first kind of AP parent she describes, the kind that always knew AP style practices were for her (even if she didn’t know there was a name for it). I knew I wanted to breastfeed and babywear before Baby came… but I didn’t want to co-sleep and had to because that is the only way she (or any of us, in the end) could sleep.

I also think, sadly, that Eileen’s story is not unique in the sense that many AP parents I know passed through Post-Partum Depression or Post-Partum Anxiety (including me) on their journey to finding out who they are as a parent. We are a bunch of sensitive souls, the ones that in the end put bonding and relationship first. Among bloggers in particular (I’d love to gather real stats) I suspect the number of moms who had post-partum issues is stageringly high. I think many of us blog because we are driven to seek out community, because we need to talk and we need to not feel alone.

Conversely, I will also say that I have met parents who have travelled the opposite journey. They started off with a whole host of hippy/AP intentions and just couldn’t make them work in real life – either the kid’s temperament just didn’t respond to the classic Bs (bedsharing, babywearing, etc) and/or they cracked. They didn’t have the support of a village, they didn’t have information or experience and they just couldn’t do it anymore (all that co-sleeping induced night wakings and endlessly handing over your body – uh, boobs – to another being). The story can run both ways. All are true, all are real, all are equally valid and even can be ‘right’ for different families.

I am touched but also kind of invigorated by this post. I urge you to go check it out. See what reflections on your own journey it brings up. A mirror as clear and honest as this, always helps us see ourselves a little more clearly, too.

What does the AP label mean? – a bloggy answer to KellyMom

Babywearing Favourites

Image by Virginia Zuluaga via Flickr

Here is a cute little article about not self-flagellating with AP rules, about following the spirit rather than the letter of Attachment Parenting ‘law’: kellymom.com :: There is No Doctrine for Attachment Parenting: Being AP is a Frame of Mind!.

I agree with Diana West from KellyMom’s sentiment but I still find myself arguing with her in my head – about tiny little details, mind you. I totally share the feeling that many moms can’t or don’t feel the pull to follow every AP practice but that does not stop them from being natural-minded moms who put their kids first and for whom the aim is to create a strong, solid base and a secure attachment with their children. We all do the best we can and none of us is perfect – I sure am not! It is the intention and the overall approach that matter in whether somebody can feel part of this movement, generally. In fact, I would go so far to say that it should be a totally self-nominating group, if you feel like an Natural mom, you probably are… but here I want to make a slight distinction. My bug is with mums who are doing none of the AP style behaviours (as described by Jean Leidloff or Dr Sears) and still want to claim to be AP, somehow. I have come across some mums like this. They will tell me they are very attached to their kids and think that means they are ‘attachment parents’.  Through my co-sleeping, breastfeeding blurry eyes I squint at them, too tired from all that baby-carrying to really argue (lol).

And yes, they may, as I think is Diana’s main point, still foster a very strong and secure attachment with their kids. We should not lose sight of this: it is this goal of achieving what psychologists call ‘secure attachment’ that unites us, really, rather than the means we chose to achieve it. So, yes, we all make the choices we make and that doesn’t make us bad parents, neither does it mean your child will not be securely attached to you (as is vital for their social and emotional wellbeing later in life)… but… but that isn’t enough to say you practice AP. Attachment Parenting as it is generally defined now does refer to the means. What we have in common, as a group, is not just that we put relationship at the center of our parenting, it is also about how we chose to foster that closeness, especially in the early days. It does refer to these crazy sacrifices some of us chose to make, these difficult, unpopular, sometimes socially marginalising parenting choices some of us make (like co-sleeping, baby-wearing, extended breastfeeding, etc.) and our clamoring under the label of Attachment Parenting (as unflattering as these words may be) helps us find a safe-haven, a community of other ‘crazies and hippies’ that have made these same choices, too.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I readily accept under the Natural Parenting label any parent that makes any attempt to parent from the Heart, who practices gentle, compassionate discipline (from the original greek meaning ‘education’), who considers the environment in their choices and who often puts their kid first, honouring their needs and wants as a whole, complete little human of equal value in the family (not one who should just fit in with the parents’ schedules and dreams). Still, I wanted to add this short little caveat and perhaps reserve the AP title specifically for those who are committed to those practices (yes, even when we can’t do all of them, all of the time – agreed).

So, I agree with Diana and I want to take a second to remember that labels (as reviled and vilified as they are) serve a purpose, too, sometimes a unifying, comforting, even healing one, that makes us feel part of a family, not ‘freaks’ (as I overheard somebody calling people who breastfeed toddlers, the other day). We are not alone and while KellyMom’s Diana is right that we absolutely should not punish ourselves if we can’t tick every box on Dr Sear’s list, it is also not ideal, in my view, for the title to become so loose as to become meaningless. Not every giving, caring parent is an AP parent. If you tick none of the ‘main’ boxes, if you do not co-sleep, breastfeed on cue or babywear most of the time then you probably aren’t an AP parent… that doesn’t mean you are not a great, responsive, gentle and natural parent, it just may mean those things aren’t for you. Or, as Diana points out they may not have worked for this baby specifically.

But even as I write this I find myself faltering. I do want this label to have some meaning, for it to refer to a specific set of practices to which that some parents commit (not because they read it in a book, but because it felt right). However, I also want this label to be inclusive. I want it to describe a broad approach of being responsive to a child’s needs and feelings knowing that how we respond to these needs will vary from child to child. I want to go to gatherings of attachment parents and find a spectrum of practices represented under this banner, not a tight group of rule-based parenting zealots. I want to welcome in those who tried to breastfeed but whose kid was losing weight so they switched to formula or those who believe co-sleeping is best for newborns but found it just didn’t work with their child. I guess what I want ultimately is not an exclusive little club of APers that I can find refuge in, what I want is broad acceptance of these practices within the wider society. This stuff is normal; it is alright to make these choices… just as many other practices are great, too.

So, what is in a label? Does it matter if we include everybody who puts relationship and ‘attachment’ first or if we include, from among them, only those who specifically adopt this set of practices? Yes and no. Ultimately it doesn’t matter and we can all get along no matter what our mothering, parenting choices, surely… but a name is used to simplify communication, to help us know – in this case – what parents we have most in common with. I say keep ’em both. We have words that describe parents committed to parenting from the heart and putting the child at the center of the relationship: positive parenting, gentle parenting, natural parenting describe this kind of parenting all of us here recognise and adhere to one extent or another. And among these positive parents you will find us, the attachment parents who all share some specific ways of putting these general principles to practice. Is that not worthy of its own label?

Pic of the week: our co-sleeping nest!

This is what co-sleeping looks like in our house:

Technically, here I am sleeping on Anya’s bed… but often, by morning this is the arrangement we are in.

Seeing as yesterday I fell asleep with Anya and failed to post my would-be Wordless Wednesday, this seems an especially apt photo to post!

You know you are a hippy-mama (or papa) when…

How many of these can you tick? Frankly, two or more and you are a hippy-mamma! I know, I know, you don’t think of  yourself as a hippy… the question is ‘do other people?’

For the record, I am not the hippiest hippy in the valley, I tick 14 out of 20 of those. Now, fess up and leave a message if any of these sound like you :p  Feel free to add your own on, too!

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Edit [Jan/6/2013]: Yes, I went for sillyness here rather than full acuracy. My back never ached wearing my baby – who I continued to carry in an ergo until she was past 2, for example…

1 Award, 7 Secrets I Have Been Keeping and 15 Mommy and Photography Blogs

I have been nominated for a Stylish Blog Award by the lovely Rachel of Racheous, bless her. It seems like this ‘award’ is one of those happy-viruses that gets you to play a game (which in this case involves answering some questions) and then tag other people, whose work you admire, to do the same. Here is the scoop on this one, to accept the award I must:

  • Thank and link back to the person who gave me this award.
  • Share 7 things about myself.
  • Pay it forward to 15 recently discovered great bloggers.
  • Contact those bloggers and tell them about the award.

So, first and foremost: thank you Rachel you are gracious as well as Racheous and I think everybody should go over and give you some blogging love. You deserve it truly.

7 secrets revealed:

  1. I suffer(ed) from postpartum anxiety. The symptoms are much eased now and, though they were scary to me, never interfered with the practical skills of mothering or indeed with my bond with my beautiful daughter, they just somehow cast a shadow of self-doubt over my inner being. More on this to come, no doubt, as I  have been meaning to blog about it forever but finding the words just didn’t come.
  2. We have not vaccinated Anya. We may or may not do so in the future. I was not vaccinated myself except for immunizations I had to have for school in Portugal (Tetanus) and some for travelling to exotic destinations. So far, at least, I chose to treat Anya naturally, only. For me this is a decision based in love. I know this is super controversial which is partly why I have not blogged about it yet, either. Again, consider this a teaser of posts to come.
  3. I hate sleep training.  Many people I know have done it and this is no judgment of them – you did what you had to do for your family. I can understand mammas that sleep train their babies as a last resort, because they have to, for themselves, for their sanity. I really get it. Honestly, nothing has brought so much empathy and understanding to me as motherhood. However, I don’t get it when it is defended as a good thing for babies or as a given for all families. I mean, I understand that it might be necessary for families to function, for mother’s (especially working mothers) to finally sleep. I don’t at all buy into the whole ‘getting babies to sleep on their own early helps them become more independent and better sleepers in the long run’ or the converse argument that ‘co-sleeping leads to soft, spoilt, dependent babies’. For one it doesn’t make sense that doing what at least 80% of the world does in bringing up kids leads to dependency and adults who can’t sleep properly. Clearly they can. And, for two, I was brought up like this myself and am perfectly good at ‘self-soothing’, thank you very much. In fact I have always been a great sleeper. My mum just trusted that when I was ready to sleep alone I would and guess what, it worked. I feel the same and am inspired to trust nature, biology and my baby’s own sense of inner timing in finding when she is ready to sleep on her own. [I wasn’t going to quote science ‘cos I think you can always distort or pick at research to make the point you want, but then topically the Times just published this: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1083020.ece with some of the arguments from neuroscience as to why co-sleeping is best for babies. So, there it is, one reading of the science on this.]
  4. I am drawn to unschooling. Alas, I am not sure it is for me, the whole home-schooling thing. I mean I think it is awesome and yet my feeling is that for it to work the parent doing the homeschooling has to have a real passion for it. After all, that is the point you are trying to impart to your kid. Unschooling is all about letting your kid follow their interests and trusting that they will be thus driven to learn what they need to, not only to further their hobbies but to get on in life. Now, surely, the best and highest way to ‘teach’ this is by example, no? So while I heartily embrace the principles of unschooling and totally want to encourage my kid to freely follow her passions, I need to follow mine too and see where they lead, and being a home-teaching (un-teaching?) mum may or may not be it. But then I still have time to see how that develops within me. In the meantime, I would say that my every interaction with my daughter has been in the spirit of unschooling or child-led learning and we are both the richer for it. I don’t force learning on her but I do watch closely and support her need to explore whatever is catching her interest at that time. Again, this may turn into a post in its own right. Watch this space.
  5. I have a guru. Yep, I am sure that sounds bizarre or unusual to many of you. I usually substitute it for the word ‘spiritual teacher’ which seems a bit more palatable, nowadays. Guru, in the original hindu, means ‘remover of darkness’. This points to the fact that a guru does not teach, they only remind you of your original essence by ‘removing’ what is not you, whatever doubt or insecurity is clouding  your vision. It is very sad to me that the word ‘guru’ has become synonymous with all kinds of crazy things, especially in the US. It is unfortunate, too, that most people automatically assume that those who have a guru are weak and dependent or something like that. For me having a spiritual teacher or guide is freeing – it is somebody who a) provides a living example of effortlessly being in the Now, not of human perfection – a contradiction in itself – but of living comfortably, harmoniously and effortlessly with imperfection, if that makes sense; and b) somebody who knows ‘me’ well and can catch my ego-mind at its tricks. Many very spiritual people don’t have a teacher. They say they don’t need one. That always sounds a bit like a paradox to me. If they think they are above teaching is that not a likely sign that their ego is in charge? Some people are at ease and done with ‘searching’ – that is another matter. But if they are in some sense still seeking some kind of relief or self-development and convinced they are better than those who turn to a guide… uh-oh: alarm bells. Only the ego would think it is above teaching and guidance, no? I do think we are in a new era where the role of the guru is much changed from the traditional role it had, mostly in India. Many people are waking up, becoming self-realised or enlightened through their own life-trials with no guru to guide their way… then again many people are not. But when the student is ready the teacher will come. No need to force it. I, too, used to think I didn’t need a teacher, now I am very grateful for the presence of Mooji in my life. The inner-guru still reigns supreme, of course, always. Your ultimate guide is God… or some may call it their inner voice or intuition but sometimes an outer voice of reason, that keeps us grounded and catches us out – especially when we think we have got ‘it’ – can be super useful.
  6. I like reality TV. I know, from the sublime to the ridiculous, ei? Well, there it is, I do. I have always been a people watcher and I consider my love of reality TV (things like Wife-Swap or The Apprentice) as a kind of extension of that. Many of my friends are surprised by this. Many of my friends don’t even own a TV and when they do watch a screen it is a documentary or a French film. I obviously attract that kind of intellectual friend… and yet as soon as they find out my own viewing habits, well… but it is all good fun to me and all about balance.
  7. I love my husband and my daughter dearly. I guess you already knew that, if you have been following this blog, but I just wanted to throw that in again, for good measure, ’cause you can never say that too much!

Blogs that I love:

On birthing and mothering:

  1. There’s a baby out there, that’s the reality – makes me laugh
  2. Uninteresting::Amo-isms – real, insightful, personal account of a journey through mommyhood
  3. Freechildhood –  opens my mind to birthing and mothering alternatives (but no activity on there of late… has she moved?)
  4. I’m unschooled. Yes I can write. –  lovely to learn about unschooling from the perspective of the (grown) kids
  5. Attachment Parenting – the title got me first but I keep reading for a ‘daddy’s perspective’
  6. Natural Mama –  kindred spirits, producing a blog full of insight and practical tips
  7. Erin Ellis Homebirth Midwife – strong on the politics of homebirth
  8. My Funny Bunny – cute, funny and linked to an ethical store
  9. Classic Mommy – down to Earth, human and easy to relate to
  10. Women in Charge – beautiful, healing and inspirational birth stories
  11. Journal of a Mom – touching, honest and with great, original photos, too
  12. Raising Kvell by Mayim Bianik (aka ‘Blossom’) a clear, passionate and articulate advocate for attachment parenting

For photographic inspiration:

  1. Beth Armsheimer – wowee! I love her tones and textures, they really capture a mood
  2. Becoming Mom – a mommy blog with GREAT photography
  3. Robyn Russell – OMG you have got to check out her newborn photos!!

And for good measure, one bonus slightly off-topic blog:

  1. Food Politics – interesting and informed commentary on, well, the politics of food :)

Attached to attachment parenting?

AP ID

I wish they had given this practice another name. Attachment Parenting?! What were you thinking Dr Sears?… Okay, okay, I know you were thinking about Bowlby and the ensuing experiments on monkeys – where the ones who didn’t form a proper bond (or ‘attachment’) with their mothers failed to thrive (to say the least). But really attachment is such a harsh, sterile word, so shunned by Buddhists and the like… Couldn’t we call ourselves ‘proximity parents’ – where it is all about being in contact or in close proximity to your kid at all times to form a strong parent-child bond? Or bonded parents, for that matter? Ahh, well, be sure to consult with me next time :p

Whatever… somehow I fell (inevitably some might say) into this mode of parenting. I wrestled with it some. It is not only the name I don’t like. I also don’t like dogma or doctrine. I mean some people really seem to take these guidelines as rules, laws to be abided if you are to be a good, alternative parent. And yet I find that as a descriptor for the type of parenting Kai and I naturally gravitate towards this pretty much nails us. I mean – as the card says – we believe in bonding at birth (by having the baby on mother’s chest as quickly and for as long as possible, for example), breastfeeding on cue, baby-wearing, bed-sharing, night parenting, extended breastfeeding, etc. Yep, if you heard this description you would say ‘these are attachment parents’. It is a pretty good description of what we do but it is not a prescription. I would never take these as rules to live by – nor would I pass them on to somebody else as something they should do.

I guess that is what bugs me about some of the attachment parents I have met. They are extremely inflexible in their beliefs. The approach has become rigid in them, like an old school religion. It has lost, in their practicing of it, its flexibility, its spontaneity and its heart: which is to be responsive in the moment to your child’s needs, knowing they can and will change.

It is absolutely not about following a script and doing this because it is what is right or what you should do for all children. For me ‘attachment parenting’ (I am sticking with that word, as that is the one in current usage) is alive. It is a breathing into an experience, a way of being with your little one, of being observant, attentive and responsive, of ‘listening’ with all your senses and your heart to what is best for you and for your baby in this encounter, a-fresh, each time meeting them as if for the first time. You’ve got to remain open and see what comes.

To his credit, that is what Dr Sears says, too, that you should keep reviewing your parenting practices and keep only those that still work for you and your family. I do like that man’s writings.

My point is that I surround myself with mothers who may or may not be ‘attachment parents’ but with whom I share a willingness to see what works for us while respecting what works for others, a commitment to learn and keep learning, to debate, observe and be okay with being imperfect, admitting our vulnerability and our flaws, knowing that is what makes us human.

At the same time, I am proud of our parenting approach, especially because this is not an easy path. Attachment parenting (even in its loosest sense) involves sacrifice, hard work and dedication, above and beyond some of the expected sacrifices of motherhood. Now, I find I am taking a moment to step-back and review our last few months in this new life of ours and noticing that, yes, I belong to this ‘club’… kind of despite some of its members. Here, if you will, are my Attachment Parenting Credentials:

– Anya slept on me, skin-to-skin for the first 6 weeks of her life
– She has slept in our bed ever since
– I have been breastfeeding on cue (including through the night) since she was born, which makes it over 8 months (not bad considering I wasn’t sure if I’d make it 3 months, at one stage)
– Anya travelled exclusively by sling or in arms for the first three months of her life (except in the car, of course – alas). We have used the Ergo since she was four months old (and could sit in it upright). We occasionally use the pram, too. Hey, she weighs over 22lbs already! And my back ain’t super strong… plus nowadays she enjoys it.

As I say some of this I fell into. I had not intended to have Anya sleep on me for 6 weeks… not at all! I didn’t even intend for her to sleep with us to begin with. I had a little bassinet by the side of the bed that stood mostly empty. Even before I knew that much about attachment parenting, it turns out that was the kind of approach that suited Anya’s temperament best. She finds it hard to go to sleep but wakes very easily, at the slightest sound, temperature change or movement (especially in the early days), which means that once she is asleep it is best not to move her! Sleeping with us was really the only way for all three of us to sleep at all.

Overall, I am very happy and proud of the parents we have grown into, the deep listening we have made time for – for each other, for our daughter – and of our commitment to doing what we feel is best for Anya and our family, even when it isn’t always the easiest.

As we build ‘community’ we find an affinity with those who parent from the Heart, be they attachment parents or not. Here, I am celebrating 8.5 months of doing it our way!

Things I have googled since having a baby

Baby Led Weaning

Image by moon_child via Flickr

Things I have had to look up on ‘the oracle’ (google) since having a child:

– what does green baby poo mean?

– what is a ‘lotus birth‘?

– how do attachment parented kids turn out?

– how do you do ‘elimination communication‘?

– what temperature fever should I worry about in my baby?

– what does ‘baby led weaning‘ entail?

– is baby hitting herself normal?

– what are the ‘symptoms’ of teething?

– is it normal for a baby to have an extremely sweaty head at night??

Kind of thought it was fun to share as it sheds light both on ‘normal’ (?!) motherly concern and some of the different phases my babe has been through. I have blogged about many of these themes before, of course, so you can find my reactions to them in previous posts :)