Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Accidental Attachment Parent

I was a stay-at-home mom for the first 18 months of Gigi's life. I hadn't expected to love being with her so much. I also hadn't expected how lonely it would be, and how difficult. Gigi was demanding as a baby, in that she would scream if you put her down for more than a few minutes. And she would cry if, even when holding her, you sat down! She wanted to be in motion, and she wanted me as her method of transportation. I had envisioned my life being much as it was before, only with a baby in the room. That's hilarious to me now. The total naivete of an expectant first-time mother is astounding. You can't tell them how it really is, though later they'll be mad that you didn't. No one can prepare you.

I remember feeling jealous of women with babies who cooed happily in a swing or bouncy seat for long periods of time. But I soon came to love carrying Gigi in the "babywearing" style of the attachment parents. It wasn't anything I had intended to do, in fact I distinctly remember coming home one day a few years earlier and telling my husband about a fellow graduate student who was doing the whole attachment parenting thing with her child; I said it was ridiculous.

It was Gigi who turned me into an attachment parent. She simply needed to be held to be okay, and I responded in the only way I knew how: I held her almost all the time. And as long as we were attached at the hip (literally!), Gigi was a happy baby. A few times we tried to "make" her sit in the bouncy seat or swing, letting her cry and fuss. It didn't work. It was unbearable for me. Everything in my being cried out 'pick her up!,' and when I did, the relief -- hers and mine -- was immediate and palpable.

The funny thing is, I had to do some reading to reassure myself that what I was doing was okay, because everyone around me thought it was rather crazy. Both grandmas were convinced we were "spoiling" her and made sure we knew how they felt (to be fair, they did try to restrain themselves, but in the end they just couldn't help it). At the grocery store when I had Gigi in the Bjorn rather than a stroller, women often commented about it. (Though we were living on a university campus, we did not live in a freethinking culture; rather, we were surrounded by conservative wealthy suburbanites.) My reading not only reassured me, it made me feel that I was doing the right thing for Gigi, and I learned that I certainly wasn't doing any damage by practicing the most primary mode of baby care. (Though the difference here was that I was doing it alone, for Gigi wasn't accustomed to being passed around to many different arms like babies in other cultures or in large families here; as a result, she wanted only me to hold her and the work of carrying her was predominantly mine.)

At a certain point she became very heavy in the Bjorn and I began searching for other ways of carrying her. I bought a nice padded sling, but it was too late. Gigi hated this new contraption and refused to sit in it. My weary back demanded that I try something new. We popped her in the stroller, now facing forward (she had HATED riding in it in her infant carrier, so we'd hardly used it for the first six months), and she loved it. Though she still wanted me to carry her most of the time, she would happily ride for longer and longer periods of time until, finally, she was able to do entire outings in the stroller.

One day I realized I hadn't carried her in the Bjorn in a very long time. I put it on, and popped her in, and just about fell over. She was just too heavy for me. To my surprise, I felt sad. I hadn't known the last time I'd worn her in it that it was to be the last time. I missed the feeling of her warm, heavy baby body. It had been difficult, physical work for so many months, but now I missed it. I miss it still.


Nabeel said...

but have you ever thought that it's not the baby's fault (not necessarily fault, but you know what i am saying) .. the mother's that were happy, perhaps they used various techniques to make their babies behave well or in a way that they wanted, which you didn't know about?

Kaza said...

I know what you mean Nabeel (and thanks for visiting!). I don't mean to suggest that it was Gigi's "fault" that I did this. We tried so many things, and in the end it was just her temperament, it was what she needed. And once I'd read that so many people, both here and in other cultures, practice babywearing, then I realized that it wasn't so odd after all. It was the right thing for Gigi, and for me, and in the end, I really liked it. Even if my next baby is more easygoing, I'll do a great deal of babywearing. This was more a way of just telling how I came to the practice. Thanks again for stopping by!