Lynsey wrote all about how babywearing features in her life for us to add here. What always amazes me about Lynsey is that she is enthusastic about pretty much anything sling or carrier that passes through her hands, so a high end hand woven wrap gets just as much respect from her as, well, I’ll let her tell you… – Rachael
A boring, brown sling. My babywearing story started in pregnancy, well, I suppose everyone does “wear” their baby during pregnancy, but more specifically my journey started with a sling given to me by my sister when I was six months pregnant. My niece is ten months older than my son, so we were lucky enough to have inherited lots of very useful things, but that very inauspicious looking, plain, brown, sturdy cotton sling may well be one of the most important things I have ever owned. My sis passed it to me with a comment that I was probably more of a babywearer than she was, introducing me to a word, and idea that was completely outside my experience.
Fast forward a few months, and my beautiful boy arrived on the tenth day of the eleventh month of the twelfth year of this millennia. It wasn’t the peaceful, serene homebirth we’d planned, but I have not one regret about it. As I lay with my perfect little man in the delivery suite, the midwife asked me a pretty big question. She casually wondered if I’d had the nuchal fold screen during pregnancy. In that moment my stomach fell through the floor, and my blood felt like it had turned to iced water. The following few days were terrifying, bewildering, desperate and awful. The week my precious first child was born was a special kind of hell, filled with doctors, hospitals, midwives, and nurses, and notably not an infant feeding specialist. Some were lovely. Many were less so.
On the fifth day after his birth we were summoned to the hospital by a phone call at home. I carried my new son in the plain, brown sling for the first time that day. He lay sleeping against my chest in that sling when the consultant told us that the blood tests had confirmed his initial inclination and that my perfect baby had three copies of the twenty first chromosome. My boy had Down Syndrome. He slept in that sling while the doctors tried to convince me that my sleepy, floppy boy probably wouldn’t be able to breastfeed, and we should probably supplement with formula. He looked up at me from the sling in the supermarket that we went to afterwards, to buy a breast pump, because by God, if we were supplementing, it would be my milk.
He stayed skin to skin, naked against my chest in that dowdy brown sling for as many minutes of the following weeks as we could manage. He cuddled close to me in that sling through all the poking, prodding, appointment and visits. And at Christmas, when he was six weeks old, he travelled from Warrington to London, on bus, train and tube to spend his first Christmas with our family at my sister’s home in Richmond. That Christmas day, in the local pub, that sling got its first wash and tumble dry when the landlord spilt a plate of turkey and trimmings on it! Thankfully my precious baby was in my arms being fed, and not in the sling at the time.
So the days turned into weeks, turned into months. I got curious. Bought a Mei Tai (which we still have and use often), some buckles (not for us, and given away to enable a friend very quickly), and our first wrap. With the wrap it was love! We had truly found our babywearing mojo. Through it all, as we experimented, tried different carries, some successful, some not, I fell more in love with babywearing. And more in love with my son. The two are, I believe, not unconnected.
So our story continues. We carry every day in our growing collection of slings, with out widening repetoire of carries. There are, however, some things I have learned along the way, that I hope might prove useful to someone starting out on a similar journey.
Most importantly, we are not alone. Babywearers have a special kind of a bond, and unspoken, kindred link. You know when you see a parent, grandparent or sibling carrying, whether in a ring sling, wrap or ssc, that there is common ground. You might half smile, or nod, even if you don’t have your baby with you, even if the baby you once carried is an adult. So too with Down Syndrome. We are family. We are part of the biggest, most amazing club we never knew we wanted to be part of. If you are facing a diagnosis be it antenatal, post natal, or months or years down the road (it happens!) come find us. We will hold your hand, be with you when you cry, and jump up and down screaming and cheering from the side lines with every little triumph. There will be so, so many of those everyday victories. Social media has meant that there is even a small, but thriving community of parents who wear children with Downs Syndrome and other developmental delays or disabilities. Like a crazy, wonderful, magical Venn diagram, our circles have overlapped, and we can come together online to chat about slings, children and life in general.
Now – the science bit. Our children may have some additional health issues that need to be considered. I am not aware of any that prevent baby wearing, but some may need some additional consideration. Often our babies and children can be hypotonic (that’s floppy to you and me), with hypermobile joints (bendy, if you will). Neither of these things should stop you wearing your baby, but it does mean it’s critical to make sure positioning is optimum, both to ensure little airways are nice and clear, and to ensure little hips aren’t over extended. Your local sling consultant will be able to advise you on getting the positioning right in whatever carrier you’re using, and its well worth a visit to a meet to have a chat about it.
My little boy, now 32 months, still has recurrent chest infections, nasal congestion, and has been diagnosed with glue ear. This combined with often severe reflux means he can struggle to sleep quite often. Without a sling I’m not sure any of us would have slept much over the past couple of years, but an upright position, with closeness to Mummy or Daddy has saved the day (and night) more often than I care to remember.
My son’s developmental delays mean that at over two and a half he is only now learning to stand, and walking may be some way off. Even when walking happens, the likelihood is his disability will mean he can tire very easily. Here slings yet again can provide support, quite literally, without the need for buggies.
Late last year my little man became a big brother, and we welcomed our little girl to the world. This time we had our serene, peaceful homebirth. Wearing my daughter has kept my hands free to continue to play with, cuddle and support my son when I need to, and has even meant a hoover gets pushed around once in a while. Tandem wearing both of my children has provided more challenge and fun to this now pretty experienced baby wearer, and added to my ever widening circle of online friends.
My journey to baby wearing, with that old brown sling, has been much like parenting a small person who comes rocking an extra chromosome. It’s been surprising, it’s a little outside the mainstream, perhaps, and sometimes it looks like it might be a bit trickier than I can manage, and I feel like I’ll never get it quite right. It might be hard work, there’s a little extra weight to shoulder. Other people are strolling around with designer buggies or strollers making it all look so effortless to get from A to B. That plain brown sling might not be flashy, might not be glamourous. It might not glide down the street in a flurry of trendy colour and pattern. But it has its own charms. It has held my babies tight to my chest on days when I thought I’d never stop crying, and its danced them around the kitchen until they and I may have burst from laughing. Its carried them safe on adventures across cities, on rambles up hills and through forests. It’s camped out, walked through galleries and museums, farmers markets and shopping malls, been on ferries, tubes, trains and buses, and in more motorway service stations than I care to recall.
Were it not for that first sling, I would never have realised the joy that indulging myself in the purchase of five meters of handwoven fabric, designed and created by a craftswoman across the continent, but made specifically to wrap my children next to my heart, can bring. Take that for flashy and glamourous, Bugaboo! I may never have met the group of parents who have become my tribe. The people, mostly, although not exclusively, women, who have variously nurtured, cajoled, supported and encouraged me to become the best person, and best Mum I can be. So dowdy, brown, dull, and tricky to get just right. It was all those things, but mostly, it was the thing that really helped me find the parent I was meant to be.