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(Mis)Adventures in Attachment Parenting

I’ve always been an “all or nothing” kind of girl.  I’m not very flexible and I hate change.  It’s not one of my finer qualities.  I tend to set impossibly high standards for myself and inevitably fall short of whatever picture perfect scenario I envisioned.  So let’s talk about attachment parenting!

When I was pregnant, I decided pretty early on that this method of parenting really resonated with me.  Unfortunately, thanks to a few squeaky wheels and a rather sensational TIME cover, when attachment is used in front of parenting, its got some negative buzz.  But really, this parenting theory is one based in love, empathy, respect, and (I feel) common sense.  Since we’re on the subject, I’ll just mention briefly that I recently revisited Dr. Sears’ Attachment Parenting Book, and it mentions several times that the ideas presented are merely guidelines for parents, and that ultimately they must decide what does and doesn’t work for them.  And considering the hurdles we’ve encountered along the way, that’s been very reassuring.

First guideline:  Birth Bonding.  Baby is born (without medication, if possible), placed on mama’s chest, and the bonding begins.  Ideally, breastfeeding happens within the hour.  I’ll never forget the way Willow’s little body felt on mine after she was born.  So soft and warm!  We attempted breastfeeding soon after without success.  Before I knew it she was whisked away to the nursery to get cleaned up.  They kept prolonging her stay there in order to get her body temperature (which was only slightly low) up.  I never had any feelings of detachment from her as a result of this time apart, but it did make the crazy experience of birthing her seem less real.  It felt strange that she wasn’t in my arms.  Birth bonding semi-fail.

Another pillar of attachment parenting is co-sleeping – or, in the Baby B’s context: Bedding Close to Baby.  This topic is controversial in and of itself and I read a whole other book on the subject.  As long as you do your research and make sure you practice co-sleeping safely, I believe it can be a wonderful thing.  Baby feels safe and secure because you’re there beside them, thus helping everyone to sleep better!  Plus, you don’t have to leave the bed to breastfeed!  (Another Baby B!) What a great idea!

Well, that obviously didn’t work from the beginning because Willow couldn’t latch.  I was getting out of bed and hooking myself up to my hospital grade breast pump every 3 hours so we could give her milk via a bottle.  What made it worse was that my pumping schedule didn’t always line up with her eating schedule.  It’s pretty safe to say that none of us got a restful night’s sleep.  Ever.  Six weeks of that sent me into a cruel depression and I had to stop.  Breastfeeding fail.

We still thought co-sleeping might be a good idea, though.  Willow definitely seemed to sleep more soundly when she was on our chests or nestled into the crook of an arm. 

She looked like a little doll in our giant bed and we would drift off together peacefully….until the noises began.  It didn’t take us long to realize that our daughter was the loudest, most fidgety sleeper of all time.  Squeaking, grunting, groaning, squealing.  You name it.  All while sound asleep.  We likened it to having a baby raptor a la Jurassic Park.  It always seemed to get worse as the sun was coming up – right around the time that our sleep deprivation from earlier in the night (and all the previous nights) really started to hit us and please, please, just let us sleep one more hour!  Please!

It was with droopy eyelids and a sense of melancholy that we tried to get her to sleep in the nursery.  We have a lovely little nursery and a lovely crib, which I was planning on transitioning her to eventually.  Its right next to our bedroom so we wouldn’t need a monitor.  The only problem was…she wouldn’t sleep in her crib.  As soon as we put her down on her back, she woke up and wanted none of it.  Every time!  What to do??  Well, for a few weeks she slept in her bouncy chair.  In the nursery.  It was the only thing that worked.  Some nights I even put the chair in her crib, hoping that she would become familiar with the space.  I definitely missed her those nights (and often still do), especially when Tom wouldn’t be home until 3 a.m.  Just when I was about to cave and bring her into bed with me, I’d hear dinosaur sounds through the door and remember that it probably wasn’t a good idea.  Co-sleeping fail!

Let’s move on to another B:  Babywearing.  The very traditional (and some might say ancient) act of wearing your baby seems to have endless benefits.  The close contact releases oxytocin, which results in a stronger bond!  Babies who are worn are calmer!  More organized!  Learn to talk faster!  Learn social behaviors quickly! And – you guessed it – it promotes frequent and easy-access breastfeeding!  Wah wah.  I will admit I still haven’t fully explored the avenue of babywearing.  I have a very nosy baby.

Willow is okay with being worn until she isn’t.  I think it all has to do with her desire to see everything.  From the very first moments of her life on the outside she was trying to hold her head up and look around.  Her quiet, observational tendencies are still ridiculously cute.  This kid doesn’t miss a thing.  I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years she were to say something like, “Mommy, remember that time when I was a baby and you were singing that song about my cheeks?  That was silly.”  Right now, because she still hasn’t mastered head control, my only option is to wear her facing me.  When she was smaller she would just go to sleep when I did this, but now that she wants to take everything in, its difficult for her in that position.  (Also, we both get extremely sweaty after some outdoor babywearing.)  I certainly wouldn’t classify this one as a fail, but more of an ellipsis.  Once she’s really able to hold up her head (she’s getting close!), I’d like to invest in a carrier that will let her look forward.  Or that will let me wear her on my back.  That would be fun.

There are a few positive addendum to these B’s.  Thanks to a wonderful milk sharing group, I have been able to feed Willow breast milk that some very generous mamas have donated to me.  I have to ration this very precious stuff, but every bottle I give her that isn’t formula makes me happy.  Breastfeeding win.

When Willow was around 7 or 8 weeks old, I suddenly got the idea to swaddle her for a nap.  We tried swaddling our little baby as soon as we got home from the hospital, but she fought so relentlessly to get her hands free that we eventually gave up.  Looking back I think we were hindered by two things:  we were too afraid to do it tightly enough, and she was too small for our handy velcro swaddle wraps.  Now that she was nearing two months old, it was easier for me to wrap her really tightly and not worry about her fragility.  I swaddled her, gave her a binky, and….her fussing stopped and her eyelids couldn’t stay open.  After a little rocking she was not only asleep – but asleep in her crib.  Since that day every nap and every night she has slept, swaddled, in her crib.  Sleeping win!!

The ultimate purpose of attachment parenting, aside from creating a fulfilling relationship with your child, is creating a confident, happy, and independent adult.  As a first time parent (and second, and third…), I think its easy to worry about how every little thing you do might affect your baby as they get older.  Sooner or later, you’ve got to relax a little and know that 99% of all that worrying is pointless.

I got my proof when we traveled to New Hampshire last month for a wedding.  It was our first long car trip and biggest social event we would take Willow on/to.  She was wonderful on the 6+ hour car ride there, and then decided to sleep through the rehearsal dinner.

That night she slept just as well in our hotel room as she did at home.  The following day she sat on my lap very politely through the wedding… and then took a little snooze during cocktail hour.  At the reception she had a bottle and listened to the speeches.  Once the music started pumping and the dancing began, she decided to call it a night and fell asleep in my arms.

She was the only baby at the wedding, so naturally she was going to get some attention.  But I was a very proud mama when we heard over and over again how cute she was, how polite, how sweet!  What a good baby!  What a calm baby!  She doesn’t miss a thing, does she?  She’s so alert!  I can’t believe how quiet she’s been!  I can’t believe she’s sleeping through this!

I believe that we have been blessed with a very sweet child.  Now that she’s finding her voice, Willow isn’t shy about letting us know how she feels…

…but its obvious that she has a lovely, good-natured disposition.

That being said, I can hope that a big reason she already seems so well-adjusted is because of how we’ve been raising her.  If she cries, we respond and make sure she has whatever she needs – whether its food, a clean diaper, a change of scenery, or just snuggles.  It’s rare for her to really cry now.  We know her well enough to anticipate her needs, and she knows she doesn’t have to work herself up to communicate with us.  When she wakes up in the morning or from a nap, she looks around and practices making some sounds before letting us know (by calling, not crying) that she’s ready to get up.  I’m happy knowing that she is unafraid and comfortable in her crib.  When we walk into the room, we’re greeted with coos and smiles.  When we venture out with her, she is most often in a state of quiet alertness, processing everything around her and never getting too overwhelmed since we are always right there.  She’s never been away from Tom or me for more than a few hours.  When we’re home together, she is either in my arms or only a few feet away where she can see and hear me.  I think our daughter knows that she can trust we will always be there.

So yeah, maybe everything hasn’t gone according to plan, maybe we’ll never be able to fulfill every “B”, but we must be doing something right.  That’s something I’m very, very proud of.

One Response

  1. Mrs. Moore June 2, 2013

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