Before you have a baby you are full of ideas of what things you will and will not do. You won't be using dummies, you will be using a certain brand of nappies, you won't be plonking them down in front of the tv to get a break, you will spend all your time entertaining them. I know it's a well versed song but you really know nothing of the reality.
I didn't read any parenting books pre-sandy. You might think this was because I couldn't be bothered but it was actually because I already knew how I wanted to raise my child. I knew nothing of Gina Ford and controlled crying, of EASY routines and baby whisperers, and of the concept of attachment parenting. All I knew was I was having a baby and my husband and I would do what we wanted. When women working in mamas and papas told me "oh I just let mine cry" I just smiled and walked on, superior in the knowledge that this was my baby and I would do what I damn well liked with him/her. Him as it turned out.
Regardless of whether you subscribe to theories of parenting or your own ideas this is probably going to be threatened immediately after your little ones arrival by the institution of the hospital. And this will vary to large degrees depending on the hospital you attend. I attended the princess royal maternity hospital at Glasgow royal infirmary. When my baby came he was put on my chest for skin to skin. He started to suck a little after that. That was my request and indeed something the hospital promoted. However, they then brought in the magical post evacuation tea and toast and the woman who did it picked my son off my chest. "I'll put him in the cot while you get your tea" she said, lifting my 15 minute old baby off me, wrapping him in a blanket and placing him into a cold Perspex box on the other side of the room. My husband looked at me and the woman left and our tiny, confused newborn - who had only ever known the womb and had just found a whole new world - started to cry. Stuart promptly took him out and held him and he quietened down then gave him back to me, and he proceeded, for the next 5 days, to only cry two more times in hospital (during a forced bath and when I was told to just leave him on the ward while I went to the canteen for dinner, where babies weren't allowed). Honestly the whole hospital experience is hard to change from. They enforce a routine that you have no say in as its policy and you are so bewildered by medical intervention, and the fog surrounding your general mindset from having pushed a person out of you, that you let it happen. You let them tell you you can't sleep with your baby in bed. You let them force you to change him in the cot and in the cot only, even though it is impractical. You let them send your husband away for half the time you are there, regardless of the fact he is half of the team making and caring for your baby. I suppose many people get off easily, being incarcerated for only a day, sometimes less, but if you combine an epidural with jaundice you end up with 5 days on the ward which feel like a lifetime and result in you going home and putting your baby down to sleep in his cot like they told you before promptly breaking down in tears worrying that you will wake up and he won't be alive any more. The same institutionalisation makes you unaware that you can breast feed lying down in bed (sleeping while you do) and results in you sitting up for 6 hours straight in the middle of the night feeding a newborn trying to stay awake and failing and again manically weeping as the tiredness is so much you can't take it anymore. And when you do eventually get it together enough to take your baby out you put him in a big open space in a pram, the complete opposite of the secure and warm womb he is used to, and it proceeds to break your heart as he cries the whole time lying in that massive white bed as you wish you were back in the safety of home, and so does he.
So once my baby arrived all my ideas of what I would do seemed to go out the window as the enormity of the hospital experience clouded my judgement. Luckily it didn't take too long for us to work out what worked for us. Well, I say we worked it out, but actually sandy did all the working. Babies are tiny little bags of meat who are apparently born three months too early because otherwise they wouldn't fit out of our narrow pelvises and thus spend the first 12 weeks of life doing exactly what they would do in the womb - eat, sleep, grow. They are ill equipped for maintaining their own temperature and their brains are too underdeveloped to understand that people who are gone will come back. When we got home sandy took over and managed to overrule the inflexible policy of the hospital. He demanded two things to keep us all happy: 1. That I feed him, and that I feed him as often as he wanted. And 2. That I hold him, and that I hold him all the time. And thus a chain of events took place which resulted in me becoming an advocate of "attachment parenting" without even knowing the term or what it entailed, which I expect is exactly how attachment parenting wants the theory to be used.
Attachment parenting's key theme is that a baby's parents spend time with their baby. That's pretty much the crux of it. A baby who is used to constant contact with their parent, having all their needs met by that parent, for all of its life, expects this to continue after birth. I was already breastfeeding and so I breast fed on demand. I quickly realised that the only time my son cried in the early days was when he was hungry. If he wasn't going to sleep it was because he was hungry too. So I fed him. The joy of breast feeding is the simplicity of the process. The more he wants the more I make and as he grows it changes to his needs and if he wants it NOW it is ready and he can have it. Because of all this breast feeding it soon became apparent that I would not survive if I had to be awake the whole time he was feeding. I was knackered so I lay down in bed and fed him there. And I learned to fall asleep while he did this. And he stopped when he was full and he slept too. And 10 weeks on he still feeds with me lying down at night and we still fall asleep together there and we wake in the morning, him safe and content between his mum and dad in a bed that smells of his family and me having had a more or less full nights sleep. That's the joy of co-sleeping, it just makes so much more sense than putting your baby to sleep in a cold unfamiliar basket, where your baby cant see or feel its parents and where he or she will sleep much less soundly and for much less time. And as for the pram it has come to be used now, don't worry, but for the first few months if your baby wants to be right beside you, warm and safe, at night, why wouldn't he want that during the day too? Enter the sling. What more genius idea is there than taking a baby who technically should still be in the womb, and recreate that situation (warm, close, tight and with mum)? So sandy went in his sling and each time he fell asleep within minutes, waking only to tell me he was hungry.
And may I now outline the whole philosophy behind attachment parenting?
The Three Bs
- Breast feeding
- Bed sharing
- Baby wearing
The joy of all of this is that I didn't need a book or a website or a charismatic entity to tell me to do this. All I needed was my baby. Funny how someone so small and new was far more wise than all the supposed intelligence and wisdom of a hospital.
We are now approaching week 11 of Sandy's life and the end of the so called fourth trimester. He is still breast feeding and currently we enjoy the benefits of the night time 'dream feeds' where he doesn't even seem to wake to feed, he whimpers with his eyes closed and I feed him and he goes back to sleep. We share a bed at night, the three of us, and I never worry about his well being and I feel strangely lonely if he's not there. He still uses his sling though now he sticks his head out the top wanting to see the world so we plan to upgrade to a more supportive one which will allow him to go on my back as a more attentive passenger. I feel like all of a sudden he is no longer a newborn and that tiny baby phase is inching away with every minute of each day. I am sad to see it go but I'm happy to see my boy developing into himself, becoming a player in the game more than a spectator. Today he watched the formula one and spent the morning chatting with his dad, saying 'a gloooo' and mimicking the shape of his mouth and his tone, talking during the gaps in a conversational back and forth style. I can't believe how interactive he is now. And as we turn this corner to a new phase I am grateful to him for dictating the terms of our relationship. I will continue to listen to him and give him what he needs, and I fully expect the three Bs to take precedent in our lives.