Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Attachment parenting: My wake-up call

When we first found out we were expecting G, I was 20 and in college. He was a "happy accident"; we had been preventing because we weren't prepared for a child, but obviously fate had other plans. We amassed all the typical baby-things, thanks to gifts from friends, like strollers and a crib and a walker and all sorts of things. We intended to share our bedroom because we had no choice, but we were solidly of the belief that babies slept in cribs away from their parents. I was all for a natural, intervention-free birth (which unfortunately ended up not being the case), and was happy to try breastfeeding, but I was sure that if neither worked out it wouldn't be a big deal. I wasn't even against c-sections necessarily because of the health benefits of a drug-free labor and birth for mom and baby, but because I was (and am) afraid of major surgery and its after-effects. The only even remotely "crunchy" thing that we intended on doing was keeping our son intact. Otherwise, we were pretty sure that we would be playing it by ear, and that we had made our solid parenting decisions, and that nobody had a right to tell me that I would more than likely change my mind once our child had arrived.

Oh, how naive I was.

I was less than a month short of 21 years old when G arrived on March 29, about two weeks before his estimated due date of April 16th, 2007. His birth was odd; my water spontaneously broke at about 2 AM on the 27th, and Hubby and I panicked and ran to the hospital after I spent a good half hour standing in the shower, leaking like nobody's business while he threw together bags and made a few phone calls. After that, we waited for 18 long hours to see if I would have any contractions on my own, and despite a number of positions tried and a lot of walking, we got nowhere. Without the help of any knowledgeable birth assistants, only the well-meaning hospital staff, and with the urging of my mother, we gave in and started the pitocin. Who knows if things would have been different if I would've had access to a doula. 36 hours after my water broke, G was born. His cord was wrapped once around his neck, his APGAR scores were great, and after being home less than 24 hours after being released we were called back in because he was heavily jaundiced. A lack of education and a lot of problems led to him being exclusively formula-fed before two months of age.

The strangest part came when we brought him home and all he wanted was to be held, hugged, and in constant contact with us. We tried keeping him in his crib at night, and were greeted by hours of high-pitched screaming from a baby who slept so much better when he was in our bed. He loved being in a carrier, loved being cradled and talked to, and generally messed up every preconceived notion we had about how a baby should be carried and where a baby should sleep. When he was in his crib he was miserable, angry, and never stopped crying. On more than one occasion of our attempt at getting him to sleep alone, he vomited on himself and his crib. I looked all of this up online after "giving up" one more time and bringing G into our bed again, expecting to be told to ignore my instinct to bring him back to our bed and to sleep with him safely beside me, sure that I would find page after page of parents who had experienced the same thing and had found some secret. I had no idea whether or not I was doing the right thing by calming my baby and myself by bringing him into our bed with us - I was just sure that it was somehow wrong. Babies belonged in cribs, right?

Except everything I found referenced my parenting preferences as "attachment parenting". I saw pages telling me I was right, and that I was following my parental instincts when I brought my son in to sleep with us. I learned about parents who had been in my shoes, who had been so sure of what should be done, only to find that things were completely different. I learned about parents who used the cry it out method of teaching newborns to sleep alone in separate rooms and cribs, about parents who left their babies alone to cry for hours on end and who offered no solace, no comfort when they went about cleaning up the vomit and tears that ensued. I began to feel as though leaving my baby alone in his crib to cry and scream was abandonment, that I was showing him he would never be able to depend on me or any other adult to tend to his needs when he was unable to do so himself. I began to inexplicably find myself getting angry when I read about parents who used CIO methods on their kids, who refused to carry their babies, who insisted that infants who bed shared or co-slept and who were carried instead of pushed around in strollers would become spoiled children and adults who were unable to care for themselves.

It became second nature for me to carry my son in a carrier. Although we no longer shared the bonding experience of breastfeeding, we bed shared and wore him, and found ourselves with a happier baby who tolerated us better, and whom we could in turn better tolerate. The screaming fits and long nights were over, the resentment was gone. The change was night and day.

So when we found about a year and a half later that yet another form of birth control had failed us, we didn't ask questions. The birth, while not completely intervention-free, went much better with the assistance of a local doula. Although we still had a myriad of problems with breastfeeding, we made it for months longer than we had with G. We wore him in carriers and slings, we used cloth diapers (and still do!), we fed him organic baby food and started solids with him on a case-by-case basis when he was ready for them, or seemed interested. Although we do all vaccinations but influenza, I learned significantly more about vaccines, their contents, and how they've changed in the last two decades. We bed shared from day one.

We are now the proud parents of two well-adjusted, happy boys. G spends most of the night in his own bed in his own room, now, but still comes into our room early in the morning and snuggles up in our bed with us. A sleeps in our bed still, and we expect he'll be closer to two years old before we start working on getting him into his own bed, too - about the same age G was when we started moving him into his own bed. Our kids are not spoiled, they aren't overly dependent on us, they aren't coddled. They are brilliant, both over the 80% range for height and weight, both well-proportioned. A will eat almost anything (I attribute this to a more varied diet while pregnant and the fact that he was breastfed longer), G is more picky. They are both ahead of their peers, both fearless, both amazing kids with wild imaginations.

And they have taught me that kids need their parents to care for them the same way we have for centuries: by using cloth on their bottoms, sharing cloth on our beds, and keeping cloth around them to keep them close to our hearts.

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