I remember sitting in our local children’s centre for our antenatal classes back in February. We had been through the obligatory sessions of how your life would change, giving birth and how to care for a baby. The last session was given over to parenting, i.e. what happens when your bundle of joy stops sleeping 20 hours a day and you have to actually make some choices.
Dan and I had given little thought to this prior to this session. I guess we assumed when we married each other and decided to try for a baby that we would have similar opinions on how we would raise a child. It’s quite a difficult conversation to get started and it certainly didn’t come up during pregnancy when my main goal was to ensure that a (un)healthy supply of peanut butter on toast and orange juice were permanently nearby. Therefore when a short ‘Mr and Mrs’ style game came up regarding parenting choices, I suddenly became a bit nervous. (Who am I kidding? I was 8 months pregnant, so was sweating a lot and grumpy!)
In actuality, Dan and I answered all the questions near enough the same. Midwife: “How are you going to feed the baby?” Both: “Breastfeed.” Midwife: “Are you going to use dummies?” Both: “No!” Midwife: “How long after giving birth will you wait before you have sex?” Our answers may have been a little different here, but it was relieving to see, where it mattered, that my instincts about the man I had chosen to father my children held true. I left the antenatal class feeling pretty chuffed.
It turns out that parenting, even very early on, is an endless series of choices and decisions that you spend days/weeks/months/a lifetime(?) afterwards contemplating whether you did the right thing. I have already made decisions about Emily’s life that looking back on I wouldn’t have done the same way. Firstly I wouldn’t have had a membrane sweep, as I think this is what lead to Emily and I getting infections during labour and consequently having an emergency caesarean. I would have bought a different cot. Now I’d have bought a cosleeper so that Emily and I could snuggle up and breastfeeding would be easier. And there are many more, mostly minor things, that I’ve forgiven myself for or learnt to manage.
For each of these decisions I wish I’d have made differently, Dan and I have made hundreds more that I feel we have done right. For example, we use real nappies and cloth wipes, which means that we keep Emily away from chemicals and we’ve stood true to the answers we gave at the antenatal class and both breastfeed and don’t use dummies. I also feel that during labour we made the right calls, at the time, to keep Emily safe and I wouldn’t change that for a second.
The reason that I rattle on about making decisions is because I have found myself doing a lot of reading around attachment parenting. I first heard about it because basically we were doing it without realising. Despite a complicated birth, Emily came into the world to calm and relaxed parents and to a room that was filled with love. We had skin-to-skin contact quickly and breastfeeding happened with ease. We have continued to feed this way since, and, although it has not been without its ups and downs, we love it. In the first few days back home, I found that Emily wanted to be close to me all the time so we turned to baby wearing. She would sleep and I would tidy the kitchen. Perfect! Cosleeping (not bed sharing though) was already in action and working well. We were attachment parenting by accident!
Once I realised this style of parenting had a name I was curious to read more. And read I have. I have read books about attachment parenting in general and those about each component: breastfeeding, cosleeping etc. I have researched into gentle discipline and it sounds fantastic. I’ve learnt about other aspects linked to AP, such as elimination communication and general green living. I want to embrace it all and we are! Slowly!
It does seem that it is easy to sit and make this decision, as I sit on the sofa browsing through books on my Kindle. When I stop and think about the reality of living my life this way it is quite overwhelming. Without the label, I think, as it was when it started, that we would naturally have parented this way, but once it becomes a signposted path it seems much harder to follow. With guidelines in place, there are now things that we can do wrong, whereas before there were just lessons to learn.
Over time I think we will fall into our own rhythm with parenting and we will find the books we have read support and reinforce the decisions we make. What I will have to learn is to not dwell in the guilt of a retrospectively perceived poor choice. I know that we will always do our best, and as my mum always says “you can’t do any better than that!”