I read too many books when I was pregnant, caught up in fevered dreaming of the mother I was going to become. I would be gentle, I decided, responsive, attached. I read Penelope Leach and William Sears, Sue Gerhardt and Sheila Kitzinger. I believed that if I was assertive and prepared enough, I would be able to have a positive natural birth.
I decided to set myself one seemingly simple objective – I’d try not to let my baby cry. I would hold her, breastfeed her, respond to her, keep her close day and night. I would not let her go hungry, or feel cold or lonely. I’d do everything I could to meet her needs and make her happy.
Of course, all the birth preparation in the world can’t prevent preterm premature rupture of the membranes. I was stuck in latent labour for 5 days, compounded by increasingly painful interventions, until D’s faltering heart necessitated an emergency dash to theatre, where she was hauled out with a pair of forceps. I suffered a major haemorrhage during the delivery, and D was unexpectedly tiny and a bit bashed up from her rough journey into the world. I attempted to feed her, but was soon too weak to hold her because of my blood loss. Within hours she developed hypoglycaemia and I had to lie and helplessly watch a nursery nurse force a teat into her mouth and fill her little tummy with formula.
D spent the next night of her life away from me. I needed a 9 hour blood transfusion and was too ill to hold her. The midwives took her off while it happened, fed her from a bottle and passed her around between themselves. In the ward I could hear newborn babies crying everywhere. My mind raced; was it my child crying for me? I realised I didn’t even know her cry, couldn’t recall her face, had barely inhaled her delicate smell. I began to wonder if I had even given birth, or was still pregnant and just dreaming some terrible nightmare.
I slowly felt myself come back to life as the strangers’ blood drip dripped down into my veins. I was able to feel my limbs, lift myself out of bed. I desperately needed to be close to my child. I rang the buzzer and begged the midwife to bring her back to me.
When we were reunited D was yellow and sleepy. I laid her on my chest, her tiny cheek pressed against my heart, and together we just fed and slept and slept and fed. But the paediatrician kept coming and taking blood from her heels, told me she was jaundiced and needed phototherapy. For two days my little baby was strapped in a biliblanket, on top of a UV light. I would only get her out to feed her or change her nappy. It was agony to suppress my need to hold her, to keep her close. I hunched by her crib for hours, holding her tiny hand to try and keep attached to her. She weighed 5lb1oz and was fragile as a little bird.
Eventually we were allowed home from hospital, but I was slow to heal. I was badly stitched and in pain for weeks as a result. D had a tongue tie and breastfeeding was painful too. She started being a sick a lot, and cried for hours on end. Colic, the Health Visitor told me. She’s sick because she’s overfeeding. Try giving her less milk. Breastfeed more, the midwife said. It’ll help her get over the jaundice. Try massaging her tummy, try infacol, try gripe water.
D continued to cry a lot, and be sick a lot. Al went back to work and I tried to do all the things those books had told me – I breastfed on demand, I kept her close all day and all night. I cuddled her all I could. She still cried, and I held fast to the belief that her cries meant something, that she was trying to communicate an unmet need to me. I felt like a failure. Maybe she was crying because of her awful birth, or because I didn’t hold her enough in her first few days. Because I let those midwives take her away, because strangers fed her when she needed me. However I tried to soothe her, nothing worked. She cried and cried.
I had read about ‘babywearing’ in the Dr Sears Baby Book when I pregnant. To be honest, of all the tenets of Attachment Parenting™, it was the one I felt least sure of. It seemed pretty out there – surely it would be exhausting and awkward having your child tied to you all the time? I remember looking at the lovely soft moses basket I had set up and thinking, I’m sure my baby will love lying in there. Of course, D simply hated the moses basket. She screamed if you laid her down, and threw up if she was laid flat on her back. After a few days of trying, I gave up trying to settle her in there, and the basket sat unused for the rest of her infancy.
When I was pregnant I bought a secondhand Moby wrap on the recommendation of a friend. I’d been too scared to put D in it at first, because of her low birth weight and fragile little limbs. But I soon realised that her reflux meant she was unable to sleep when laid flat, and she needed to be held upright for 20 minutes after every feed. I was feeding her every two hours, for 40 minutes at a time, and if she was set down for even a second she started screaming. I had read other mothers singing the praises of slings for helping them cope with refluxy colicky babies, and by this point I was willing to give anything a go.
I wound the fabric round me, scrutinising the instruction leaflet closely, and failed to get it right several times. Eventually I felt brave enough to put D in. She was having a particularly bad day, and I was utterly exhausted from the lack of sleep, the marathon painful cluster feeds, the mountains of laundry, the fact I’d been living off hobnobs and dried almonds for the best part of a week. As her tiny body was enveloped by the soft fabric she instantly relaxed. She gave two tiny wails, turned her head to one side, and fell promptly asleep.
I sat down on the sofa and drank a whole cup of tea. Then I made another one and drank all of that. I put the washing machine on. I put my feet up and watched a whole episode of Homes Under the Hammer. D woke up, and I fed and changed her. She cried a lot as I dressed her again. I still had the Moby tied around me, and I picked her up and popped her straight back in. She was instantly peaceful, and within a minute she was asleep.
As I sat there, feeling her little body perfectly nestled against mine, my heart began to shake. I felt this huge, all-encompassing tidal wave of love crash over me. I cried and cried as the oxytocin poured through my body, overwhelming me with how much I loved my little girl, as I saw just how beautiful and perfect she was. I realised that I never had that magic moment so many parents get when their baby is first born. I never had that instant rush of love. I’d felt fiercely protective of her, but somehow joyless too. Suddenly, belatedly, I was experiencing a feeling of love like I had never known.
The Moby wrap became the very best thing I ever spent £20 on. I put it on first thing when I got up, and carried D as much as I could. We walked for miles, explored mountaintops and woods and waterfalls.
It became a place of peace and happiness that helped us get through those tough early months. Every time I cwtched her up she would fall asleep listening to my heart beat. That blissful oxytocin buzz would kick in again and I would be reminded anew of how wonderful motherhood can be.
D still suffered from reflux and ‘colic’ until she was 6 months old, when we discovered she had multiple food allergies, which were making her sick and causing her to be in constant pain. Her tongue tie had been divided and breastfeeding was going well, so we both embarked on an exclusion diet, and within weeks her symptoms disappeared and she was happy, healthy and thriving.
Around this time she had finally grown too big and strong for our beloved Moby and I began to explore the world of woven wraps. Nearly a year later, I still carry her every day and it is a huge and wonderful part of our lives. I really enjoy helping other parents take their first steps into babywearing, especially if they’re dealing with a poorly, colicky child. Using a sling has helped both of us cope through a very painful and difficult time, and it enables me to be the loving, responsive mother I dreamed I would be. People often comment on the strong bond that D and obviously share, and I am sure carrying her has helped to foster that.
D rarely sleeps in the sling now. She wants to be involved in everything I am doing, and the sling is her platform for doing just that. But every so often, she will ask to get up just so she can snuggle in. And as I feel her suck her thumb, nestle in and place her ear over my heart, that tidal wave of love comes rushing round us both again, as strong as the first time I ever wrapped her up.