Attachment Parenting International has developed a list of eight basic tenets of attachment parenting (AP). I really have to laugh because last week was the first time I had ever heard of Attachment Parenting International or became aware of any sort of ‘list’ to check off to see if one qualifies as practicing AP. It has been very interesting for me to read through it all, and more importantly, reflect on how I apply these principles in our family each day. It has been particularly interesting to reflect on how these principles have changed and developed in our family the past thirteen years as the babies have come “fast and furious” as Danielle says.
I am going to take each of the tenets and share my reflections on each one and how they have worked for us over the years. I think I will do this in a series of posts, starting with how we came to learn and live the AP lifestyle.
Part I: Our Introduction to Attachment Parenting
When Nicholas was born almost thirteen years ago, (yes, this mom of a bunch of littles is about to become the mom of a teenager!), I was clueless about parenting, let alone any style of parenting.
My preparation for birth amounted to the literature passed to me from my OB at the time, who was chosen for me by our insurance company. I followed every suggestion in the birth literature, I didn’t dare ask any questions. My quiet remarks about desiring a ‘natural birth’ we’re belittled with ”It’s okay honey, you don’t have to do that, we’ll take care of you.” I often wouldn’t bother talking about my desires and concerns because I figured they wouldn’t be ‘allowed’ anyway. My first birth experience was terrifying and brutal. My first few months of motherhood were worse.
We brought Nicholas home to our tiny little apartment. We were newlyweds in a new city with the closest family two hours away and no friends. During the pregnancy we decided that I would leave the work force and be a stay at home mother. The decision was based more on finances than principle. Tony was a full time student and part time package sorter for UPS. My job as a cashier payed little more than minimum wage. We didn’t know anyone to babysit and daycare was financially out of the question.
The decision to breastfeed was also based finances rather than principle. Paying our rent each month was a struggle, how could we even think about adding the cost of baby formula to that? I was naive enough at that time to think it would be a piece of cake too.
Those first few months we parented exactly the way everyone was badgering us to. “Don’t hold the baby too much, you’ll spoil him.” “You have to teach him to sleep through all night long now or he never will.” (Now the problem is getting that strapping lad out of bed every morning!) We were miserable, Nicholas was miserable. We were so sleep deprived and stressed out. We couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t ‘get’ this parenting thing. It hurt our hearts to hear our newborn cry in his crib each night, but we were told that it was best for him in the long run. It killed me to hear him cry all day long because he wanted to be snuggled and nursed, but I was told I could only do that every four hours.
Then one afternoon, I sat on the couch to nurse him. It was a big production every four hours. He was often so exhausted from hunger and crying that it would take fifteen minutes or more to coax him to latch on properly. I was often so tired, sore, and irritable, I would fight feelings of resentment toward that little person that was keeping me up all night. But this particular afternoon, a small miracle occurred. Once I got him latched on, he nursed for a few minutes, and then - we fell asleep! We didn’t just doze off as we often did while nursing. We fell into a deep, relaxing, much needed slumber. Right there on the couch, together, for six full hours. I remember I woke up, looked at the clock and nearly panicked!! Oh, my! What have I done? I slept with my baby! I’ve ruined him for life, he’s going to grow into a spoiled brat! But…. He slept!! I slept!! We finally got some sleep!
That night we put him in the bed with us. We became ‘closet’ co-sleepers. The imperative word here being ‘sleepers’. This wasn’t based on any deep principle that baby needed mommy, we just wanted some sleep!
But it felt so right and natural. It felt like something fell into place. What I was feeling in my heart as a mother began to make more and more sense to me. It occurred to me that when he was crying throughout the day, he was not doing it to frazzle me, or because he hated me. (Yes, I often though he hated me and that was why he cried.) It was his way of telling me that he needed something. Someone. Me. His mother. He didn’t want to be held. He needed to be held. To hear my familiar heartbeat, to smell my familiar smell. He needed to nurse, not only for nutrition but for comfort. He didn’t need a fake soother in a fake swing. He needed the real thing, his mothers breast and the familiar way she moved. We began to recognize and respect that our baby had needs beyond the basic cleaning and feeding, needs that should not be dictated by a clock.
I bought a “Snuggli” baby carrier at the thrift shop and began strapping him to me throughout the day. He blissfully slept right between us at night. I would just sit and snuggle with him during the day, interacting with him while he was awake, holding him close while he slept. I would nurse him when ever I sensed he needed to nurse, not when the hour struck on the clock or when he had to work himself into a tizzy to tell me he needed to. My feelings of resentment began to dissipate. I no longer felt my baby hated me. Our family began to develop a sense of peace.
We did most of this in secret for awhile. I felt like I was breaking so many ‘rules’. I felt like a rebellious teenager! One day I was invited to a LLLI meeting by the wife of one of Tony’s coworkers. That first meeting changed everything. I met other mothers that didn’t hesitate to hike up their shirt and nurse their baby whenever and wherever he needed it. Many of these mothers slept peacefully at night with their baby right next to them. They held their babies in slings, soft ones without buckles even! Of course there were many things that still seemed very very weird to me. Like the mom nursing a toddler! Or the mom with a baby and two older siblings that slept in her bed at night, and the mom who used cloth diapers. Oh, and then, there was the mom with FOUR KIDS!! But I realized that what I was learning was natural and good. I realized that my baby wasn’t ruling our household or making demands on me. I realized that I was simply getting to know this little person intimately and helping him to grow and develop in a respectful and peaceful manner.