The birth did end up being a natural home-birth, but it was the farthest thing from gentle. I screamed and thrashed about like a dying animal. After over 24 hours of labor she was born healthy, but she was too tired to nurse. I did not know that was possible. Just as I had an ideal about labor, I also had an ideal about the moments after the birth. But I was literally in shock and was shaking too much and was too weak to even hold her by myself. I was astounded for months to come. I could not believe women all over the world gave birth in this way and went through the hell I felt like I had experienced. I felt like I had been tortured for at least six hours, if not twelve. I could not comprehend the tremendous suffering I had just endured. I did not know where to put it in my brain, how to process it, or how to accept it. I honestly could not fully heal from the shock until the birth of my second daughter, which was the most amazing experience of my life.
The thing that remained constant throughout the labor and the postpartum period of my first child’s birth was the confidence of the midwives in me. They were not worried in the least, or if they were they did not show it. They tucked us all into bed and assured me that I’d do fine with nursing her when she awoke in a few hours. I went to sleep less than confident. Three hours later, after we both got some hard-earned sleep, my baby girl made little sounds and looked around for her food. I sat myself up on a pillow, my strength had returned to me, and to my surprise and content, I nursed her back to sleep.
However, nursing was not all it was made out to be either. I’ll write about this in greater detail in another article, but for now I’ll say that my nipples were cracked and sore for about two weeks. I went through a few days of crying in pain every time I nursed. Once again I was shocked. Is this really what mothers all over the world are going through every day? But this too passed and I learned proper latching technique and overcame the pain. I eventually healed and experienced great pleasure while nursing.
Reality continued to hit me as I attempted to employ attachment-parenting methods. I loved baby wearing and I loved elimination communication (EC). Most of all I loved the closeness I shared with my daughter.
Despite loving all these things I was feeling increasingly exhausted and overwhelmed. My husband worked all day. And then since his back was sore, when he came home, he could only wear our daughter in the sling for short segments of time. But I was aiming to wear her all the time, or at least through all of her times awake, and many of her naps as well. The more my back hurt, the more I gently slipped her out of the sling once she fell asleep. I alternated three different slings to try to move the back pain around from one part to another, while relieving painful areas of the back periodically.
At night I kept being awake for 45 minutes at a time, because each time I nursed my daughter she would have a cycle of pooping and peeing several times before returning back to sleep. Since then I have learned that there are many ways to practice elimination communication, and I personally do not recommend the night time EC to other mothers. It works for some people, but it did not for me. At the time I thought that to truly practice elimination communication I had to take her over a potty every time she had to pee or poop. Taking her potty was literally my full time job, day and night. If you have never done this before, it would amaze you to realize how much of the time when a baby wiggles for a few minutes, or seems fussy for a few seconds, it is actually her way of expressing her elimination sensations. Don’t get me wrong, I did love EC and practiced it part-time with all of my children. It just took me some trial and error to find what was manageable for me.
As you can probably imagine, I began feeling a sense of dread as evening came nearer each day. I remember one evening we were having my sister-in-law and her fiancé (now her husband) over for a visit. They loved our daughter and we were all having a nice time hanging out together. As the sun began going down feelings of dread filled my body. The burning sensation in my back was amplified, and I broke down into tears. I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t be awake all night, in the dark, by myself with my baby, completely exhausted anymore. I couldn’t nurse her every hour and wear her all day anymore. I had to find a balance that worked for me. Sometimes when our minds are so stubborn, it’s our body that will knock some sense into us and force us to change our ways.
I adopted swaddling as an alternative to baby wearing. I often swaddled my daughter in a blanket and then put her into the wrap sling, rocked her to sleep, and easily slipped her out without her even noticing, because she was still snug inside her blanket. Then she would nap in her basinet while my body got a break.
I realized that all my ECing at night was confusing my baby and was preventing her from knowing the difference between night and day. Until this point I had never nursed her lying down in bed. I always sat up on pillows or moved to a couch or rocking chair to nurse. My midwife showed me how I could nurse while lying down on my side. This was a revelation for me. My daughter was able to stay practically asleep through her nighttime nursing. I gave her as little attention as possible at night, nursing her to sleep and leaving her alone, while allowing her to pee in her diaper. She even stopped pooping at night. During the day I continued to practice EC and I also used cloth diapers.
Stories from other cultures, or even our own, in which families wear their babies all day, and respond to their every need easily by nursing while the baby is in a sling, or easily putting the baby over the potty, intrigue me. I still love the idea of it all, but I also know it does not work for our family. I cannot do all those things on my own. If I lived in a community in which cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and my husband, could all take turns carrying my baby and taking her potty, as well as sharing all the household tasks, then it would be a different story. But I was the only one doing these things. My husband was open and supportive to a certain degree, but even though he is a therapist and teaches of the importance of attachment parenting, he does not feel that these are the only ways to be attached and attuned to your children.
I’m glad that I learned about attachment parenting practices, and I’m also very appreciative that I found a balance that works for my family and for my body. I learned which practices resonated for my husband and for myself, and which ones we wanted to alter or change. For example, all of my babies slept in bed with me, but my husband was never comfortable having them close to him while he slept, in case he hurt them in his sleep. So all our babies slept on my side, but we did not have a family bed for too long. Depending on the child, so far they have each transitioned into their own cribs sometime in their first year of life.
Putting the details aside, it is important for you to figure out what your family’s priorities are. Ask yourself, what can your family realistically support emotionally and practically? Let go of ideals and external pressures and face reality with your family’s situation as well as your internal and external resources. It took me a while to learn that parenting in a certain style or philosophy does not have to mean all or nothing. Most of life is not really that clear cut. We each must learn what works for us, and what helps us be the best parents we can be. Some families love having a family bed, but cannot stand using cloth diapers. Some mothers breast-feed and some use formula. Some families eat organic and some families eat a Paleo diet, while other families are vegetarian. We must not forget the importance of being realistic not just about our personal preferences, but also about compromising and finding a common ground with our partners. So take a good look at your life and have some heart-to-heart talks with your partner and make some choices about your top priorities as well as what you truly feel capable of doing. Remember to have this conversation again whenever it comes up, because life will change and your needs and desires will evolve and you may choose to make adjustments.