attachment parenting

Something happened to me after watching The Business of Being Born. I should both credit and blame that movie for every parenting decision I’ve ever made. It convinced me to have a home birth, a wonderful experience that I don’t regret. But it also sent me down the path of reading books on “natural parenting,” which led me into the empire of Dr. Sears.

The attachment parenting promise is an enticing one. It encourages closeness through things like breastfeeding and bed-sharing, promotes the ideal of the perfect mother-child bond, and saves you hundreds of dollars you would’ve spent on plastic baby stuff.  It even claims your child will become a tantrum-free toddler, a kind kindergartener and generally the Mother Teresa of all children.

What hormonal pregnant woman wouldn’t buy into this philosophy?

When my daughter was a newborn, the attachment parenting system was nearly flawless (okay, I had to do Lamaze-esque panting every time my baby latched on because it hurt my nipples so bad, but aside from that everything was great). Co-sleeping was awkward at first but within days I was feeling more rested than I could’ve ever imagined. After figuring out how to work the carrier I’d sewn myself, I was toting baby around proudly. I posted proud pictures to Facebook of me giddily “wearing” my baby, this Madonna of modern motherhood.

I must admit I judged mothers out in public who stored their newborns in carseats and strollers. I just knew their children were doomed to be emotionally illiterate deviants. My baby, however, was going to end world hunger and war in the Middle East.

Within weeks baby had doubled her birth weight. She was in the 99th percentile for everything. I was proud that my boobs “worked,” but suddenly I had searing pains through my back, chest and arms from wearing her around. I felt like the hugest failure at home when I opted to lay her down in a bassinet instead of nestling her against my chest. I felt like the hugest of hugest failures when I first put her in the stroller in public. I wanted to wear a sign that said, “I swear I’m a good AP parent, she’s only in the stroller because I can’t physically carry her right now because she’s heavy for her age and my muscles haven’t had time to adjust and please don’t call CPS on me, I swear I’m a good mother.”

I realize now that other mothers probably didn’t give a shit about me.

But then there was co-sleeping. After the high of having a baby started wearing off, something else moved in on me and Shaun—the slow mood-altering effect of sleep deprivation. Yes, I could almost nurse baby effortlessly in the dark, but her cries still kept us from ever going into a very deep sleep. Shaun, that sweet man, proposed a new arrangement. He told me he would feed pumped breastmilk to baby so I could get some unbroken sleep. Being a restaurant manager, he was used to staying up late—so he stayed up until three or four in the morning with baby so I could rest.

The first night we did this, I woke up an hour later, frantic and delirious, scrambling around in the sheets trying to find baby. “Where is she?” I shouted to Shaun, sprawling out of bed and into the living room. He sat in the recliner, remote in hand and baby asleep on his chest, looking at me like I’d sprouted a third ear. I decided I’d rather have her next to me in bed than have another freak-out session.

How many variations of sleep did we try? Let’s see. We tried Shaun on an air mattress, me and baby in bed (air mattress hurt Shaun’s back). Shaun on the sofa, me and baby in bed (what we do frequently now). Adults in bed, baby between us in a “co-sleeper,” a device with rails (too crowded). Adults in bed, baby next to bed on a baby mattress (baby woke up too much). Adults in bed, baby next to bed in a crib (again, baby slept horribly). Shaun in bed, me and baby in a recliner (unsafe). Mom and baby sleep at night, Shaun sleeps during the day (vampirical). There are more, but listing these makes me want a nap.

Fast forward. Baby is nearly a year old. Our sleeping arrangement, frankly, sucks. Baby-wearing is laughable now that she’s crawling and cruising, not to mention our sweet pea weighs 23 pounds. The only aspect of AP I’m 100 percent happy about is breastfeeding. Not only do I weigh slightly less than I did pre-pregnancy due to the calorie-blasting effects of nursing, I also feel great knowing nursing is the one thing that will always calm baby down. She could be exhausted, gassy and having just fallen face-first on a tile floor. But put a boob in her face and she’s good to go.

Despite its trials, attachment parenting still makes a lot of sense to me. It’s not a fad, as some claim. Keeping baby nearby and breastfeeding on demand are age-old practices, behaviors our bodies were designed to do. I will still defend AP in any debate and I’m envious of women I see who seem to easily tote their tiny babies around in Moby Wraps and Baby Bjorns.

But I also want to communicate this message to pregnant women: Don’t commit to a parenting style before having your baby. You have no idea what kind of baby she will be, and ultimately your baby is what will dictate the choices you make. She may be a fidgety sleeper or a sound sleeper, a heavy baby or a light baby. You may be unable to breastfeed or have breast milk spouting from your chest like Niagara Falls. But if you subscribe to a parenting style and call it gospel, as I did, you’re only going to let yourself, and possibly your family, down.

(photo: Venus Angel/ Shutterstock)