In recent weeks I have been forced to begin a process known as de-stashing. For the uninitiated, this basically means selling off the majority of the slings I own. De-stashing is rarely fun, especially if signifies a financial crisis or the end of babywearing days in the household of the seller. In my case, the timing belt on my car broke and mangled various parts of my engine. Then my lovely old cat Meg became progressively more ill, and ended up in the emergency vets with breathing problems. Both events have landed me with big bills that need paying before Christmas. As my only vaguely covetable asset, the slings have to go. Obviously, this is a total first world problem. You could probably include it in a meme about middle class motherhood, right next to worries about your child preferring buckwheat to quinoa. Owning even one sling is a privilege, and I am well aware how many families would love to afford a single basic wrap.
When people first start out babywearing, they’re often horrified by how much woven wraps cost. I was definitely one of these people. I just couldn’t understand how anyone could spend more than £50 on a piece of cloth, especially one that was inevitably going to be covered in sick and bogies and mashed banana.
I paid £20 for my Moby and wore it every day for months. But D was sick an awful lot, and as babywearing became such a crucial part of coping with her reflux, I worried about washing it and being slingless, even for 24 hours. So I bought another one, and it was a little bit prettier and a little bit more expensive than my first.
As I’ve detailed before, using a sling quickly became something that we loved and enjoyed immensely. It helped me bond with my beautiful little girl, and brought enormous freedom and comfort to our lives. The happiness we both felt was (and still is) utterly priceless. Suddenly, it seemed a lot more reasonable to spend money on something that made such a huge difference. And as D began to grow heavier I started looking for my first woven wrap.
I still wasn’t going to be one of those crazy women spending hundreds though – my budget was £40, right at the bottom end of the scale. I joined the Affordable Slings Facebook group, and managed to pick up a brand new size 5 Ellevill for £45. I can still remember the excitement of waiting for the parcel to arrive, watching for the postman, hurriedly signing for the recorded delivery before running inside to open it up.
D and I loved that wrap. I mastered a Front Wrap Cross Carry and took her everywhere in it. But it was turning to autumn and the long tails dragged in puddles as I wrapped and unwrapped her out and about. I hired a half-buckle meitai to see if it would prove quicker and easier. And then my parents paid for one for me as a birthday present. It was very pretty, with a body panel made from a raspberry-coloured Girasol wrap and Russian dolls on the hood.
And so suddenly I had a stash. Two stretchies, a woven wrap, a meitai and a Boba (ostensibly Al’s, although I paid for it). I’d tried hard not to get sucked into the consumerist baby marketing thing. I’d bought nearly all of D’s stuff secondhand, except her car seat and her cot mattress. I guess I still clung to the ethos that all tiny babies really need is to be clean, fed and cuddled up next to you. The hoarding of slings seemed to go against this somehow. How many slings did I really need anyway?
Unfortunately, I had a baby that liked being awake at night. Every night. For hours. And as any mother with this type of baby knows, an internet-enabled phone is a godsend in those long, lonely sleep-deprived hours. The Facebook sling pages are incredibly soothing when you just need something to look at as your baby settles into another marathon feed/wind/sick/feed cycle. I imagine 80% of the slings I have bought have been acquired between the hours of midnight and 5am.
When I went back to work I had just survived 8 months on SMP, and got used to living on a shoestring. So even though I was now earning half of what I used to, I still had more money than I had become accustomed to. I added up all the money I had saved by breastfeeding – every tub of formula we didn’t have to buy, every bottle of wine I didn’t get to drink. Every night out I had to say no to, because I was putting my baby to bed. D has various food allergies which mean I can’t eat eggs or milk or soya. So I added up all the cakes I didn’t eat, and the lattes I didn’t drink, and the chocolates I had to turn down. I figured that all of that together was blatantly worth a wrap at the end of the month.
And that’s how I reached peak stash – a wrap a month, some very cheap and some not so. A golden wrap on D’s first birthday, to celebrate a whole year of night feeds and no sleep. An Okinami Sia when she turned 18 months, for adding another six months to that total. And a FireSpiral, and a Girasol, and a Pavo. A wrap in every length. A ring sling,or two. And I loved each one, and used them all. And I began the Cwtch-Up Pontypridd group, and began getting donations, and lent out the ones I wasn’t using to other families.
And then money got tight, and I realised I had to let them go. So I am selling as many as I can. And it hasn’t really been fun, but I am glad I have had the opportunity to own, and use, and love so many amazing carriers. And the memories of the cuddles, and the adventures, and the joy they have brought us will last me for many years to come. I know that these slings will carry new babies in other families, enable mothers to share that same special closeness, give fathers a brilliant way to build their own unique bond with their child.
I am down to just a few slings that I can’t let go. I’ve lent the most sentimental of them away to friends, to carry their little ones, in the hope they’ll come home again. I’ve committed to learning new carries, so I don’t need one in every length but can do more with the wraps I do have. The most expensive sling in my stash cost me £65. The rest were £40 or under.
I am also incredibly lucky to have made wonderful, generous friends in the babywearing community, who trust me enough to holiday their wraps with me. So every few weeks a different sling comes to stay, and I endeavour to use it as much as possible, to break it in and soften it up and just enjoy it lots before passing it on to the next person in line.
A regular topic of conversation at our slingmeet is whether it’s acceptable to buy another sling if you already have one, or two, or ten. At this point, I like to crack out the shoe metaphor. Really, we could all get by with one pair of shoes. But most of us prefer trainers for running, smart heels for the office, sandals for the beach, wellies for the woods and hiking boots when we’re off up the mountains. If you walk a lot you’re probably going to invest more in your shoes than someone who drives everywhere. If you carry your child every day, in all weathers, it’s reasonable to have a decent sling, and possibly more than one.
And ultimately, if you can afford it, and can use it, then why not? There aren’t many hobbies you can share with your child. It isn’t like you’re spending your money on cocktails, or slot machines, or parachute jumping or some other pastime that doesn’t benefit your family at all. Babywearing has huge, well documented benefits for your child. It’s hardly a frivolous indulgence. As long as you’re not cutting back on the weekly grocery shop to stalk the latest Oscha release, it’s nothing to feel guilty about.
So the key question isn’t really how many slings do you actually need? Because you can carry in a bedsheet, a blanket, a towel or your arms if you really need to. It’s a privilege to carry your child, to have a child to carry in the first place. Whether you exclusively use a £20 Palm and Pond meitai or have a pile of Artipoppes worth more than my car, it’s worth remembering the carrying bit is more important than the carrier. So as long as I have one, I’m happy (provided that one is a FiSpi, of course).