The first few months of motherhood are, for many of us, a bewildering time. You think you know what it’s going to be like, but you don’t, however well prepared you are. You may not feel that you know very much at all. I felt absolutely clueless.
One thing I did know was that my small person and I were not very interested in being apart. Yet we came up against a huge amount of societal pressure to separate, almost immediately. A friend advised me to formula feed so I could get my body back, or at least supplement with formula so that I could have some distance. I didn’t want distance. Everything I read told me to put my baby down “drowsy but awake” after feeding lest he should become overly dependent on me and uttered dreadful warnings of rods and backs. I tried and tried, I sat and stared at his fluttering eyelashes to make sure they weren’t getting too heavy, ready to pull him off the breast if he looked like he might be heading for the dreaded sleep. It was stressful and counterintuitive. Health visitors advised me not to allow him to use me as a dummy. I rang the (utterly brilliant) National Breastfeeding Helpline in a total panic because my baby wanted to feed all the time and I couldn’t work out if he really needed it or if he was just using me for comfort. The wise lady on the end of the phone paused and then asked gently, “Why do you think it’s wrong to comfort your baby?”
I loved being with my little person but everyone kept telling me that I should want to be away from him. I left him for the first time when he was five months old. Because my husband and I kept being told that we should value our marriage and have quality time together. So we left the baby with my mum and walked up the road to the pub to have an apple juice. We downed our drinks and ran home to our baby where we both desperately wanted to be.
Instant independence and space from each other are recurrent themes in many mainstream parenting advice materials. If you breastfeed a newborn people will applaud you. If you keep going much past a year, they will start asking when you’re going to stop or “admit” in hushed, mortified tones that they’re still doing it too because they can’t stop. As if it’s a crime.* Babywearing a two year old, you may find yourself asked, “Can’t he walk? Is he lazy?” When your child is told to jump into a swimming pool without you and they’d rather hold your hand, you may find your instructor frowning, head tilted in concern, “He’s very… attached, isn’t he?”
Well, yes. My son is attached to me. Surely that is a wonderful, positive and biologically normal thing? Shouldn’t I be his rock, his safe haven, and shouldn’t there be a loving and secure connection between us? Attachment is not a dirty word. And as anyone who has studied child development and attachment theory will tell you, true independence comes when the child has a secure and safe base from which to explore the world. Respecting our children’s needs and valuing the relationship between parents and children will pave the way to independence far more valuably than insisting on children being able to manage things by themselves before they are ready.
I am so grateful that I am surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends who also value attachment. A husband who told me to breastfeed as long as me and small one want, who can wrap with the best of them and happily embraces our family bed. A mother who breastfed all of her children including, within my memory, my baby sister. A best friend who encouraged me to safely bedshare when I was exhausted by trying everything else, and a whole local gentle parenting community who have had my back (and each other’s) through every parenting challenge along the way.
Love your babies. Cuddle your babies. Think about that feeling when your little one heads off for school or you go to work for the first time and your heart breaks a little, and the joy when you see them at the end of the long day. Honour that feeling. There’s no shame there. You’re not weak, you’re not overly attached. You are connected to your child and that is a beautiful thing.
Attachment is not a dirty word.
Further Reading If You Fancy It
Information about safe bed sharing practices can be found here: http://breastfeedingtoday-llli.org/the-safe-sleep-seven/
Some irresponsible reporting in the media recently about bedsharing safety. This great article clears up some misconceptions. https://www.cibii.co.uk/co-sleeping-is-it-safe-is-it-the-same-as-bedsharing/
The beautiful woven wrap in the photo is made by the wonderful Firespiral Slings: https://www.firespiralslings.co.uk/
Disclaimer: While breastfeeding, babywearing and bedsharing have been an important part of our journey, I fully recognise that they are not for everyone – the question at the heart of this is the connection between ourselves and our children, however that blossoms.
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