I first became aware of the concept of Attachment Parenting several years ago when it was featured on a TV programme. I was only about 17 or 18 at the time, certainly with no plans for children, but instantly felt that, for me, attachment parenting was right. AP has been in the press a lot lately (thanks to that Time magazine cover) and it seems to me that it’s being viewed from a slightly skewed perspective. There’s nothing new about AP, it’s not some fashionable fad (though it would be nice if it were a bit more fashionable!), and it’s not the sole domain of the middle classes. It is, quite simply, the most natural way of child rearing. It is the way we have been looking after our babies since time began.
There are a couple of different takes on “the rules” of AP (Dr Sears or Attachment Parenting International) but to me AP is simply about respecting your baby as a human being, an individual, who has needs and feelings and who deserves to be listened to, rather than a manipulative troublemaker who needs to be conquered.
Anyway, fast forward to my 23 year old self, and I was pregnant and in the middle of studying for a nursing degree. My relationship had sailed off up the proverbial creek and my family were all off merrily living their lives in other parts of the country, unable to offer much practical help. I was not exactly in an ideal situation! I was lucky enough to be able to take a year’s break from my studies but would eventually have to go back, and I had an idea that this single parenthood lark might be kind of hard (though I didn’t fully appreciate quite how hard until I was actually doing it!) so naturally, I wanted to make things as easy for myself as possible. I remembered hearing about AP and was familiar with John Bowlby’s attachment theory (upon which Attachment Parenting is based) so did some more research. Everything I read convinced me that this was the most natural, instinctive and stress free way of parenting.
When my baby was born she knew what she wanted right from the start (still does) and refused to sleep anywhere but my arms. On one of her checks the midwife, noticing the happy little bundle in my arms as I sat propped up by pillows in bed, commented wryly “won’t sleep in her own bed then, eh? They’ve all got their own little personalities, haven’t they!” and that was that. At night we worked out our own sleepy dance, always aware of one another, in tune, our breathing and heartbeats each soothing the other and when one woke and stirred the other answered, then both relaxed again, comforted by the other’s presence. It felt natural and right and we both got lots of lovely sleep. And now that she’s (almost) a toddler (eeek!) nothing beats waking up to a beaming face, delighted babbling and a cuddle every morning. And, OK, sometimes her beaming face is only half an inch away from mine, and is accompanied by a little pokey finger in my eye or up my nose, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the beginning, when she was sleepy she just drifted off in my arms, if I tried to put her down she woke up – so I learned pretty fast not to try and put her down! Instead I snuggled her into my stretchy wrap sling (I used a homemade one) and got on with things. Kind of, I mean, I’d just had a baby so I wasn’t exactly polishing the silverware, but I could make myself a sandwich! Later, I experimented with woven wraps (my first was a Didymos Indio, which I have now had converted into a ring sling by Ocah, I have also been the proud owner of a Lenny Lamb, a Didy black linen geckos, and an Ellevill Jade Candy and I have a Girasol Earthy Rainbow at the moment which is just beautiful!), and several SSCs (my Solarweave Connecta was perfect for a holiday in the Spanish heat; my Boba 3G was great when she got a little bigger and I am currently in love with my Babies in Space!). I did use a pram at times but would often end up carrying my daughter and pushing the pram with the other hand, hardly the easy option! She was perfectly contented in the sling so whenever possible I would always choose that.
Happily, breastfeeding came pretty naturally to us both and after the first week of feeling as though she had needles instead of gums everything settled down and I slowly learned what a great tool it is. When she had her heel prick test and cried, a quick nurse settled her down again. When we were out and about and I had baby brain so bad I could barely remember to change out of my slippers, there was no need to remember bottles and flasks and formula, it was impossible to forget my milk (isn’t nature clever)! When she woke up in the middle of the night I didn’t have to traipse downstairs, boil the kettle etc, I just pulled her in close and fed us both back to sleep. I never had to worry whether she was getting enough because when she let me know she was hungry I fed and when she was full she stopped. Nothing could be more simple! Nursing grew on me as she grew, almost without me realising, until I deeply loved our milky cuddles, loved that it was our time, loved what I was providing for her. Now, just past her first birthday and capable of becoming rather irate, to put it mildly, if she’s not allowed to play with mummy’s phone/cup of coffee/other expensive or dangerous thing, nursing is just the thing to distract us both and de-escalate a potentially heated situation.
It’s not easy being a single parent. Sometimes it’s hard. Really, really hard. And I didn’t even have one of those babies who thinks that night is day and wants to be up playing all night, or a colicky baby, or one with tongue tie or reflux. I didn’t get mastitis or post natal depression. I had a baby who slept pretty much when she should, fed well, gained weight, only occasionally covered me in sick and was generally a pleasure to be around. But she still cried. Every now and then (for what seemed like eons, though was probably around 40 minutes, tops), despite being happy in her sling all day, and despite being snuggled next to me all night, milk on tap at her own personal 24/7 snack bar, despite being loved more than I ever thought possible, she still just cried. It drove me to despair. I felt isolated, my friends were carrying on with their lives and I was totally out of the loop. And even though friends from my antenatal group reassured me that all this was normal, they all had the respite that a partner provides, which I did not. Mostly though, it was just lonely. I didn’t have anyone to share in my delight at her first gummy smile or the moment she focused on her stuffed toy (she was clearly a genius!).
It’s hard to have the courage of your convictions too, when faced with the mum at baby group who boasts that her baby only sleeps 12 hours a night because she didn’t breastfeed or co-sleep and you’re so tired that you honestly think you might die from tiredness and your baby wakes up every hour, on the hour and there’s no-one else to get up with them so you can have a lie in, there is only you. And I wavered many times, wondering if I was doing it “right”, feeling like I couldn’t cope, wouldn’t be able to go on (drama sometimes gets the better of me). But then I’d remember the alternative. Constant clock watching and having to be super organised. Fight against my baby and my self instead of going with the flow and what feels natural. Train my baby to sleep alone without reassurance even of my existence, teach her not to ask for help or expect comfort with “controlled crying”, while I sat downstairs listening to her scream, suppressing my most basic instinct to comfort my child and I don’t think that would be easier at all.