How’d the baby get into our bed? An accidental journey into Attachment Parenting

Not long after moving from America to England, I was talking with a mom from the local attachment parenting group. After learning a bit about my family, she made the following comment:

“I don’t know how you do it, so far from family. Choosing this lifestyle is so hard and it’s meant to be done with others helping – like grandmothers or aunts. Sort of like a whole village working together. But it’s…just you three. That’s just so…difficult.”

I didn’t quite know what to make of the comment right away. Sure, we’ve never lived near family and yes it’s hard at times, but mostly it’s just normal life for us. Lots of parents our age have asked us how we “make it on our own”, so it wasn’t this part of her comment that caught me off guard. It was the other part that stuck with me – describing my parenting or lifestyle as a choice. These words made me feel a little like an imposter because, to be honest, I didn’t plan on practicing attachment parenting.  It wasn’t something my family did or my friends did and aside from attending Bradley birthing classes (which focused on natural birth, not parenting), it wasn’t even on the radar. So, how did I end up here, mamas? How did I come to this way of mothering if not by choice?

{“Psst…I might have had something to do with it.“}

Four years ago, I was working as an Occupational Therapist at a busy and world renowned hospital. I was involved in department improvement projects, close to my work colleagues, invested in my patients and…pregnant with my first child. The thought of retiring had never even crossed my mind. I toyed with the idea of part-time work but my plan was to take the standard 3 month maternity leave, find a daycare for my child and return to work.  And why wouldn’t that be the plan? I had been in school for years training to become an OT and I loved my job. My husband, Jake, was in medical school and we needed my salary. And, going back to work is what every mama I knew had done or was in the process of doing. So, that was my plan. That was my choice for our future. But…that isn’t at all what happened.

In more of a wish come true than a rigid birth plan, my daughter was born without medication or procedures. I was proud that, after 13 hours of labor, my body was able to safely deliver our child and that my mind was clear when she was placed on my chest for the very first time. Before meeting our daughter, Maren, I was non-committal about nursing. I didn’t have any role models for breastfeeding as a kid, so bottle feeding honestly seemed more normal to me. But, all of that changed the moment I nursed my daughter for the first time. I knew in an instant – one visceral, instinctual moment – that the only thing I wanted to do was take care of her. To feed her, to comfort her, to love her and teach her. As I looked down at her, blown away by the miracle of her existence and my body’s ability to help her grow, I knew that my life and all my plans for it – including returning to work – had changed irrevocably. I knew right away that there was nowhere I’d rather be than with my child. And, when I told Jake this, he revealed that he had secretly been hoping I would say that.

{“I know this is all about Mothering but we should take a second to say: Daddy rocks!“}

After a peaceful first night on Earth, Maren woke up and began to cry. And she continued to cry a lot and sleep very little for months. When she was six months old, we confirmed that she had a dairy/soy intolerance and after radically changing my diet, her crying finally stopped – but the good sleeping I dreamed of wouldn’t happen until just after her 2nd birthday. The way I approached these two things – our dietary restrictions and her sleep patterns –  as well as how I responded to her deep need to constantly be held, quickly began to define my mothering style. When my baby didn’t sleep in her crib, I brought her into our bed. When my baby cried, I picked her up. When my baby didn’t like a stroller, I put her in a baby carrier. When my baby didn’t want to take a bottle of expressed breastmilk, I threw the bottles away. Over and over, I found that “the right thing to do” in my heart was foreign to me and took me completely (and happily) out of my comfort zone. I found myself cloth diapering (when I swore I wouldn’t), making baby purees (when previously I never cooked!) and breastfeeding until my daughter contentedly weaned at 32 months (when I had initially thought, “I’ll try nursing for 2 weeks”). I found myself throwing out my pre-conceived notions of how my child “should” be or what I “should” do and spent my time learning who my child was and letting her teach me how to mother her.

{“Mama you’ve got it all wrong. Watch how I nestle Lambie in the sling and then try it again…”}

Sometimes, early on in my mothering journey, I felt really lonely. Or I felt criticized by well-meaning family members or friends who wanted me to “just take a break” or were worried I was “spoiling” my child. I felt the need to explain to them that my mothering style wasn’t driven by martyrdom or a need to excessively coddle my child but rather a strong instinct to approach her with compassion – even in situations when it wasn’t mainstream or easy to do so. I felt the need to treat her with dignity, just as I would any vulnerable human being in my care. It felt right to parent this way, but in times of sleepless desperation, I wondered if we were the only family like this. Did everyone else’s kid sleep peacefully through the night in a crib at 12 weeks, happily ride for hours in a stroller and spontaneously wean at a year old? Was our child so different or were we, in fact, doing something terribly eccentric and wrong? During one of those moments, when Maren was about 8 months old, I was venting to a dear friend who had recently moved to Hawaii. She was joining various parenting groups in her new city to connect with other mamas and when I explained to her how different I felt, she said:

“Oh , you aren’t that different, girl. There are lots of moms out there doing that stuff. They call it attachment parenting. You should look it up.”

So I did. I found Dr. Sears’ books, devoured them and wished that he could be my kid’s doc. I found Elizabeth Pantley’s book and felt her words wrapping my sleepless and stressed mama heart in a much needed hug. I found Mothering magazine and was encouraged, moved and inspired by mamas out there living thoughtfully, loving fiercely and with families just like mine. And, I made a friend who was caring for her sleepless and “high needs” baby in just the same way I was. All of these things – and Jake’s complete support – gave me strength when I was weary, made me laugh and reassured me that the way we loved our daughter might just be okay after all.

{“Yea, I’d rather snuggle than stroll – can you blame me?”}

So, here we are, a little over 3 years into our accidental attachment parenting journey and nine months into our unplanned life overseas. Writing to you about that mama’s comment on my “lifestyle choice” made me realize that two of the most significant and rewarding experiences in my life didn’t actually feel like choices at all. They felt instinctual. Necessary. Right. And absolutely natural. I may not have consciously made the choice to practice attachment parenting the first time around, but I’d make it all over again in a heartbeat.

I’m so happy to be one of the new bloggers for Mothering and hope to give back some of the deep support that I have been given through this community. I will post here every Monday but in the meantime, feel free to stop by my blog, the salad days. You can read more about my thoughts on mothering in this post or read more about our family on this page or just take a look at what we are doing right now. And, for all you mama photographers, I run a weekly self portrait club to make sure that you are getting into the family photos from time to time!

So, tell me a little about you. Did you plan to practice attachment parenting or was it a happy accident like mine? Have you struggled with being “different” from other mamas or do you have a good support network? And…if you could live overseas, where would you go?

See you soon…

*Since this is a Mothering community, I’ve written “I” a lot when talking about parenting but, I don’t parent alone. I have the most amazing husband and Maren has the most dedicated Daddy around. He is our rock and our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We may disagree at times as parents, but we are a team in the best sense of the word. Nothing I do could be done without him. Nothing.

Sarah Scott

About Sarah Scott

Sarah Scott is a former Occupational Therapist turned stay at home mom, living in the English countryside for a year with her family. While she was pregnant, Sarah envisioned working part time. Of collecting her smiling child from it’s crib each morning after 8+ hours of sleep. Of watching her husband, Jake, jog off with their baby in the stroller so she could have some “me” time. But, baby Maren overheard that plan and decided she didn’t like it. Nope, not one bit. And so, with a potent combination of ear-splitting cries, breastfeeding hormones and the sweetest face this side of the Mississipi, she introduced her parents to attachment parenting in a way no book ever could – through pure gut instinct and trial by fire. Soon they were hooked – er, attached? – and dove head first into the world of co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, cloth diapering and more. These days, you can find Sarah chasing Maren around, taking photos, bantering with her hubby or writing her blog about the adventures of stay at home motherhood & her family’s experience as expats in England. Look for new posts here every Monday and go to http://scottgossip.blogspot.com for travel, photography and mommy posts Monday through Friday.