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Monday
Oct042010

Babywearing

Tristan was strolled in an umbrella stroller. It wasn’t until I went to La Leche League while I was pregnant with Meghann that I ever even considered Babywearing. We got a Snugli, dark blue corduroy one that had zippers, on an angle, so I could unzip and stick my breast through for the kid to nurse, all while remaining covered and modest (a concern I gave up mid-way through my nursing career). This was 1984. 

The Snugli was a puzzle of flaps and snaps; it took an entire family of engineers to strap the thing on. Through trial and error, I finally figured out to put the baby in after putting the carrier on. One try doing it while the baby was inside already ended in with the baby falling onto the bed… at least I’d had enough foresight to be near a bed! I could put it on this very second if someone laid it in front of me. The long strap that criss-crossed my back, the plastic hook grabbing the plastic ring… repeating with the other strap crossing in the other direction. snap snap Each shoulder was gifted with thick padding, helping the wearer to not have cutting cloth leaving dents in his or her flesh. One more long, thinner, belt-like strap wrapped around the waist and also snapped into a ring, securing the carrier in yet another direction. Bolted down, the baby could now be dropped (so to speak) into her seat, a sling of yet more cloth (dang, this thing was heavy!), legs through the seat’s holes. It was important to hold the baby through the rest of the process lest she flip out of the contraption. With hand on the baby’s back, we’d tuck her feet into the outer sack before pulling the drawstring tight around her back. I suspect an earlier version had the baby’s face resting on the corduroy itself, but imprints of lines isn’t what a mom wants to see on her newborn’s face, so someone came up with the good idea of putting a “bib” of flannel wherever the baby’s face might touch; it was white (at least until it got barfed on). It was under the bib that the zippers hid. In order to allow the baby to nurse, the flannel bib had to be unsnapped and left dangling from the other snap. Even writing this, I’m exhausted thinking about all we did to carry a baby! 

As it is now, Mothering Magazine was our window into Natural World… natural birth, extended breastfeeding, not vaccinating, etc. I devoured the magazine, trying to incorporate the foreign ideas into my new life as a homebirthing and co-op working mama. It was there I learned about rebozos, the traditional baby carriers of Central and South American Indians. One rebozo in particular caught my eye. I saved for months to buy it and remember being so excited when it finally came in the mail, folded into a small puddle of cloth inside a golden envelope. I took it out, kept it near me for years, but I never learned how to use it. Occasionally, I’d ask someone to wrap Meggie in it, she on my chest, the cloth ‘round and ‘round my torso, but it seemed like a math problem to learn how to use it, so I found other uses for the rebozo. 

When a mama’s laboring for an extra long time, the suspicion of a malpresentation can set off a cascade of ideas to re-position the child inside mom’s uterus. Using a rebozo, we can sling the cloth under her belly, grasping the ends and lifting her belly (and, hence, the baby) up and out of the pelvis, then allowing the baby a do-over in getting himself/herself into the pelvis at a better angle. We do need to repeat this a few times, but this midwifery trick of old can save a woman from a cesarean for an acynclitic baby. 

I’ll admit, I even used the rebozo as a dining room table runner on occasion. 

After years of non-childwearing use, I finally lost the rebozo in a heap of bloody drapes and chux after wrapping it around the squat bar and having a mom pull on it as she pushed. When her baby was born, the nurse untied the rebozo, dragging it into the birth fluids being caught in the plastic “bowl” at the end of the bed. She looked at me and asked, “Want it?” And in an instant, I said good-bye to the lovely rainbow cloth that’d been in my birth bag for two decades. 

Over the years, I’ve seen rebozo-like wraps come into fashion with the crunchy crowd. Babywearing being an overt sign that a mama has natural ideas and her family choices are surely questioned by the mainstream. When I see a mama “sling her baby” (as I call it), I go out of my way to thank her for doing so. My kids, as they’ve grown up, chuckle when they see me approach an unsuspecting mama (and occasionally dad or grandparent), watching her expression go from concern to confusion to a smile of understanding. (I do the same with nursing-in-public mamas.) 

Not too long ago, I was in Costco and came across a mom and baby, both crying, as mom struggled with her wrap, holding the baby flat against her chest as she tried to adjust the cloth. The baby was very new and I could tell this might have been mom’s first outing after the birth. I smiled as I came up to her and asked her if I might help her with the wrap, that I was a midwife. Her face filled with gratitude and even more tears fell. She said she couldn’t understand the instructions very well and I let her know there were tutorials (of sorts) on YouTube and those would help a lot. I also let her know there are several Babywearing groups here in San Diego and she’d find many like-minded mamas to keep her company during these strange new days of motherhood.

After asking if I could touch her, I unwrapped the material from around her waist, then pulling the cloth that was around the baby tighter, helping the baby down some in the wrap as well. Already, the baby stopped hollering. Mom had also stopped crying. I explained about swaddling, making the wrap around the baby tight, that the baby would feel so secure and loved that way… and she’d have her hands back. (It defeats the purpose of the sling if you’re always holding the baby with your hands.) Once her baby was securely wound around, I showed her how to tie the ends so they were secure, but she could also undo it quickly if she needed to. I also showed her how she could nurse while wandering around the store, no one the wiser; she liked that info lots. I gave her my card and walked away smiling, seeing her a few minutes later down another aisle, leaning over to get something off the bottom shelf, hands-free and the sleeping baby ensconced in love and cloth. 

We all should be so lucky.

(Babywearing is a right our babies deserve! Make your voice heard by writing about your own experiences with Babywearing. Link back here to join those who are tired of being legislated down to the last hair on our babies' heads. We know what's right for our families! Get out of our slings so our babies can stay in them!)