By Eileen Joy, from Live With Purpose
So many AP things that I read start out by saying that they “knew” that they wouldn’t do things in a certain way, they knew that their baby would sleep with them, they knew they would breastfeed past the societal norm and they knew much much more about what they would do and what they couldn’t do. That’s one story.
Another story is that they had no idea about these things, yet when their baby was born they discovered an amazing bond with their baby, they looked deep into their babies eyes and saw the attachment parenting world writ large in that dewy look. In that moment they swiftly tossed the metaphorical (or in some cases literal, Gina Ford etc) rule book in the rubbish. These women, these parents were so overcome with the maternal bond, the love that washed over them in that instant, that AP just happened, even if they didn’t know what it was. Many write that it came naturally and it was only later, when coming upon the term AP by happenstance that they discovered that what they were doing was not only done by other parents that there is a whole movement out there and screeds of scientific literature backing up what they were doing instinctively.
Neither of those stories are mine. I have another story, and I am here today to tell you that the two first stories, whilst true for many parents are not true for all. In fact if we keep those stories as our “collective” attachment parenting truth then we risk alienating a lot of different people. A lot of people who need us, a lot of children who need us. By clinging to these stories of “instant bonds” and a maternal gut, we negate the very real experience of other parents, other women who could come to us via a very different path. We need to open the world of attachment parenting to all parents, and it is critically, vitally and I would say fundamentally important that we tell the other stories too. For it is only in telling those other stories that we start to dismantle the myth of the super woman, the super mother, that so derails some women.
So, here is my story, and this is where I will start.
I was a career woman, a fiercely proud and independent woman. One who told anyone who was prepared to listen that I would NEVER ever stay at home looking after children, that would bore me senseless and I would be climbing the walls in no time. I can still hear me saying this. I followed the love of my life to the UK and there we lived for three and a half years. I prostituted myself to a corporate retailer and just about broke my soul trying to be something and someone I was not. So, broken, and 4 and a half months pregnant, hubby and I returned home.
Home? To what? My friends were still in the UK, no-one would employ me at 4 and a half months pregnant, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I was returning to a culture that had always rejected me. You see “I don’t do sports”.
I spent the rest of my pregnancy making house, feeling terrifically lonely, and at one point cleaning the back door of our wee flat with bleach and a toothbrush. Yup, nesting hit me bad!! Dutifully I read up all the pregnancy books I could get my hands on, but nothing about parenting. I now know how common that is! Antenatal classes were great, my one night out in the week, and I could pretend I knew lots about pregnancy and childbirth because “I had read the books”. I can quite honestly say now that I knew *jack-all* then.
One could say I had a text book birth, however, my LMC GP was not there, she was ill, I was fast, I had the Obstetrician who was on at the time, who declared that all first timers should be quick like me (I felt like a slab of meat being appraised). I ignored my gut which had told me to have a home birth, instead I had a hospital birth, which whilst “normal” was not what I had deeply needed. Everyone else around me said I was nuts, so I ignored my instinct. That experience was one of the worst in my life.
Treated like meat, and so broken, and with a child, a baby for whom I did not feel a single thing.
You have no idea how hard it is for me to write that.
I spun out of control head first into postnatal depression.
My poor son, my poor husband who worked tirelessly around the clock to provide for his new son and his broken wife who had no idea where she had “gone”. I remember him being so determined that I should not take anti-depressants and then one day he just broke down and said that he just wanted me “back,” so it was to the drugs I journeyed.
My poor son. His first year is not something I am proud of. He was sent out of our bedroom as soon as he got home from hospital because I could not stand the noise. We were so naive that we set our alarm clock to remind us about him needing to be fed four hourly. We only did that the first night, because he was very good at telling us himself when he needed to be fed. However we had been TOLD when he should be fed, so we were baffled as to why he needed feeding at other times.
I was advised by my GP that I should discontinue breastfeeding because that would make my depression easier. Good grief, that woman needs a lesson on breastfeeding and postnatal depression. Fortunately for me and my son I ignored that advice.
And so this continued. I read book after book. Yes, I am familiar with Gina Ford. I am also familiar with Baby Whisperers. You see, I’ve tried them. I spent a ridiculous amount of money on one. My poor son had reflux, he couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep. So this led me to the most awful thing that I could ever have done. At 9 months I lay weeping on the floor, devoid of sleep, devoid of sense with my son screaming for me in the next room, not sleeping. I phoned Plunketline desperate for anything, weeping down the phone and the woman at the end of the phone told me to get ‘The Sleep Book’ and follow what was written in that book.
The next night he cried for TWO HOURS before he gave up. I forget the next few nights, but I know he screamed and railed against this treatment for hours, and then every night till he was about 18 months old he would cry himself to sleep every night. Sometimes it was five minutes and sometimes it was twenty. But it was always ALONE.
And no my maternal instinct did NOT kick in. Well, it did, but the BOOK told me that that was just silly, that it would be hard, but that I should wear earplugs and try to ignore him. So I listened to the book and use earplugs.
So how did I end up here?
How did I end up in the world of AP? It started gradually, with being pregnant with my daughter and knowing that I was absolutely NOT going to hospital unless she or I were in mortal danger. So, I had a home birth and it was from then on in that things got better. I made little choices, nothing happened over night. I started to let my two beautiful children teach me about what I should know.
I started to look at them instead of the books and I found out that they knew a lot more than the books did. They knew what was in my soul, and they filled me with a love I had never known. I started to dedicate my spare time to helping other parents and inevitably I fell into AP by a slow shift. One could say I was like a frog being cooked. If someone had tried to throw me in straight away then I would have jumped out screaming “I am not a HIPPY!” However, now I’ve been boiling happily for a while now and couldn’t care less about being labelled a hippy.
Now, 6 years later, I can say I am an AP parent, just not one that you tend to read about. I didn’t bed share, I don’t now (I wish I had). I did breastfeed, but I stopped with my son at 13 months and my daughter at 20 months. I didn’t baby wear, I didn’t even know what it was, and I didn’t use cloth nappies.
I am an AP Parent. And I got here by conscious choices, and now it defines my soul. I devote my studies to it, I teach it, I live it, I breathe it.
Tonight, I watched my husband lie next to my daughter and soother her from a tremendous upset by stroking her and singing softly to her. She was upset because we cannot give her a camera or a map of NZ of her own NOW. Instead of sending her away, instead of a time out, we listened and gave her the space to grieve for what she couldn’t have. She was respected, she was listened to, and she was loved. We could not give her what she wanted, nor should we every time she gets upset, but we could support her in her upset and give her what she truly needed, to be listened to.
This was hard to write, it’s a tough story, it’s not one I am proud of, but I refuse to feel guilty about it or hide it away like some dirty little secret. This was my journey to AP. What was yours? I’d love to hear it, no matter what it is.