Sunday, October 18, 2015

My Two Cents: Babywearing

Almost thirteen years ago, I was walking in the small Spanish town we lived in with newborn Skyler in a sling-style infant carrier that I'd bought when I had Jayna.  Two elderly women approached me suspiciously, muttering to each other.  One of them finally worked up the courage to come close enough to see for sure, and I proudly smiled as I showed her my little baby girl. The woman's jaw dropped, and I was afraid that her eyes would pop out of her head.  I heard her exclaim, "She's carrying a baby!  In her purse!"

Once again, I was the crazy American.  At that time, almost no one I saw in Spain "wore" their babies.  The baby was always riding around in a giant, very plush stroller.  But by the time I left, ten years ago, that was changing.  I even saw Spanish fathers wearing their babies when I was out.  

I think it's becoming so popular because babywearing has so many benefits.  It helps with colic and calms cranky little ones and increases attachment and bonding.  It gives your tired arms a break, even when your baby refuses to be put down.  Most of all, though, it gives moms and dads free hands, which becomes increasingly important the more kids you have.  

I've been wearing my babies since Jayna was born sixteen years ago,

when my aunt passed down some baby carriers.  I think I've tried just about every kind there is.  Some are fantastic... Others less so.  As I sat down to write this post, I realized Annalee, now over four months old, has yet to ride in a stroller.  It's not that I have anything against strollers -- in fact, I have two -- it's just that babywearing works great for me, especially while she is so young.

I didn't know before, but apparently last week was International Baby wearing Week.  It's one of those things I somehow didn't know was a thing... But hey, if I can in any promote babywearing, I will.  It's something so valuable to me.  And since I'm always wearing my babies, so many people -- friends and random strangers -- ask about what I use and how I feel about it, so I thought I would put it all in one post, for your reference.

There are slings, ring slings, wraps, and soft-structure carriers.  (I'm not going to get into baby backpacks because I have much less experience there, and so far it hasn't been great.  Sorry.)

-- Slings are just that -- fabric stitched up to wear close against the body, like a pocket.

 The ones I have were purchased after Lilly's birth and are a fixed size based on, if I remember correctly, bust and waist measurements.  Lilly rode around in one for much of her first year.  She loved it.  She was healthy and average size.  But when I had ginormous Wyatt, who has always been at the upper end of the growth curve, they got far less use.    

What I love about these slings is that if you get the right size, they are super easy to use.  You fold them in half lengthwise, put one side over your shoulder with the seam at your belly button, and pop the baby in like you're putting him/ her into a pocket.  Couldn't be easier!  They are great for when you're shopping at more than one place but don't want to hassle with anything.  

However, the fixed size means that only you can wear it.  Okay, if you're close in size to your spouse or someone else who might wear your baby, but it's not (usually) (definitely not in my case) like Mommy and Daddy can both carry Baby around.  Also, the bigger baby, the less comfortable you will be, and also, the less safe it feels to carry the baby this way.  And I'd forgotten this until I started writing, but the fabric didn't stay on my shoulder as well when it was winter in Washington.  It kept sliding down my shoulder when I tried it over a jacket and altered the fit and comfort (probably another reason I didn't use it long with Wyatt).  I still use them occasionally with Annalee.  I keep one in my car for emergencies, and I have another made of stretchy, mesh-like material with a built-in SPF 50 that I've used at the beach

or when I know I will be in the sun because it breathes and protects her skin from the sun.  It also dries very quickly.  But now I have the Sakura Bloom.

-- The Sakura Bloom is a ring sling. (see rings below)

 It is not the only kind of ring sling out there, but I love it and hands down recommend it to everyone.  I had another ring sling with Jayna and Skyler, (picture at top of post) but I didn't like it nearly as much.  It had a padded shoulder and just felt very bulky.  The Sakura Bloom feels natural, and there are so many beautiful fabrics and colors, I wish I could buy more.    It is one of the very few items I've bought brand new since I had Annalee.  Mine is linen in Maple, in case you are wondering.  I wasn't going to buy it, even though I wanted it very much, but Matt said he wanted to carry her in a sling, too.  I couldn't share my other slings with him, so this seemed like a good idea, and I'm SO glad I bought it.  Annalee definitely prefers facing out kangaroo-style, but she's learning to enjoy facing in.  I like that I can nurse her in it, and the "tail" provides extra coverage.

-- Then there are the wrap carriers.  Two popular brands are the Moby and Solly Baby.

 I'd never had one before Annalee, but I really wanted to try it, and I was trying to decide if buying one new for a fifth baby was a good idea since she might well be the only one of mine that uses it.  Lucky for me, before I purchased one, I got a text from a friend on the island saying, "Hey, I have a Moby I'm not using. Do you want it?" Uh, yeah! 

When she was a "tiny" newborn, I loved this for Annalee.  There is a definite learning curve, and I think I did it wrong a few times.  It's also not the fastest to put on.  But I loved feeling like she was so snug and secure against me.  It places the baby's head right above the heart, too, which just feels good and so precious.

The cons to a wrap are the afore-mentioned complicated process, and also, the Moby in particular is pretty thick/ warm, which is not the most fun when it's melt-your-face-off hot -- like when we went to see the Solar Impulse 2.

 I'm not sure this is true for all brands, though.  And in some climates, the Moby's weight would feel just right.  I don't love putting it on in parking lots because the fabric inevitably drops on the ground.  Usually if I'm wearing it outside our home or neighborhood, I do the wrapping before I leave the house.  I think my biggest complaint about it, though, is that I haven't figured out nursing with it.  I have seen a couple tutorials, but it is definitely simpler with other baby carriers.

But if you love wearing your baby, this is a good one to have because you can use it for several months, not just for newborns.  They can be used by both moms and dads, even if there's a big size difference, and they're very good for distributing the baby's weight comfortably while keeping the little one snug against your chest.  

-- Between this and the one I will discuss last is the mei tai carrier, such as the Babyhawk.  It's sort of a cross between a wrap and a soft-structure carrier, meaning that you tie it on, but it has a definite carrying part to it -- it isn't just one long fabric a with a wrap.  This is the only kind of carrier that I have purchased and returned.  I just didn't love it for myself, and I guess you could say it's because it's sort of a hybrid.  The straps felt too thick to tie comfortably, and they didn't lie as well as with a wrap.  But I do think there are some really beautiful ones, and maybe if I tried one now (the one I bought was for Lilly) I would feel different.

-- For now, though, my favorite type of baby carrier is the soft structure carrier.  There are straps that buckle and snaps, etc. -- no tying involved!  Two popular brands are the Ergo and the Beco (I have both), though there are others.  The Beco is my personal favorite

because the Ergo I own requires a special insert for newborns that never felt particularly secure to me, plus I'm afraid it would just about roast a baby in a warm climate like here.  The Beco can be used for newborns just as it is from the get-go.  It is also adjustable at the legs to have the baby facing out front (although I just noticed when I was putting in the links that the newest Ergos do too).  Both of them offer adequate coverage for nursing and can be worn on the front or back,
and I think the side, but that never appealed to me.  I remember thinking they felt bulky at first, but I've gotten over that.  The Baby Bjorn and similar that I had after Jayna and Skyler's births killed my back because they didn't distribute the weight evenly.  But these brands I mention here, and any with a waist belt, are so comfortable because they distribute baby's weight evenly and onto your hips, so that you can wear baby for literally hours (trust me: been there, done that!) without feeling pain.  Win, win, win!

So there you have  it, my two cents' worth on babywearing  recommendations.  I'm not sure there is exactly a be all and end all carrier, because each one has unique advantages and those advantages change as the baby grows.  And what works for one person, might not work as well for another.  My favorites are the Sakura Bloom, and the Beco and Ergo.  If you can, try different carriers before purchasing and see how you feel about them.

But whatever you choose, I can almost guarantee you'll be glad you wore your baby!

{If you're a parent or caregiver with experience in this, what would you add?  If you're expecting a little one, did I leave anything out that you want to know?   I'd love to hear in the comments section below!}

Friday, October 9, 2015

My Memo, Manifesto, Mission Statement

Draw a crazy picture
Write a nutty poem, 
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
'Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain't been there before.
-- Shel Silverstein

"Frankly," a close friend told me the other day, "I think blogging is for self-centered and prideful people.  I don't see a point to it."

I sat listening and -- well, not to be melodramatic, but -- I was thunderstruck.  To be fair, we had been talking about writing and blogging, and in all honesty, I'd been whining a little.  I think if I gave you the full context of the conversation, we could all agree that protection and my well-being was the intent.  

I wish I were a bigger, stronger person who could, as the song says, "shake it off."  But this isn't just anyone -- it's someone who means enough to me that an opinion isn't just an opinion, especially when it's about something like writing, an activity that means so much to me.  I felt stung, and also a little paralyzed.  Also, this isn't the first time I've heard this kind of sentiment; another person said something similar last summer. George Orwell even said, "All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery." If this is what people are actually thinking, I wondered, why am I doing it?  More importantly, should I stop?

Well, obviously, I'm still writing and blogging.  At least one more time!  And though I don't think this person or the other critics I've heard are going to read this, I thought I'd write what I've been thinking, maybe for no one other than myself.  Call it a memo, manifesto, or mission statement -- here it is.

I've always loved writing, ever since I could do it.  I wrote plays performed mostly by Mom and my sister for my dad.  I wrote bad poetry.  I wrote sappy love stories and unmysterious mysteries.  I just wrote and wrote.

And, I've always really loved stories.  My favorite memories are sitting around dinner tables all over the world, listening to tales from people who had traveled more than me, who had been through wars and the Depression.  I've always loved asking people how they met their true loves, or about times they struggled with adversity. 

Stories are everything, whether written or told.

Before Facebook and Twitter existed, before I had even heard the "blog" (because I'm not the most hip and happening person, I will be the first to admit that), I lived in Spain.  I was part of a large club for spouses associated with my husband's work, and after my first year, I ended up as the newsletter writer.  I was going to do it with someone else, but then she quickly backed out.  So I had two young daughters, a husband who was often gone doing stressful work, family far away, figuring out life in a foreign country.  I was stressed about getting this newsletter printed every month until one day, I had a lightbulb moment: why not make it fun?  

So I started to write a column -- sometimes silly anecdotes about being a stranger in a strange country, other times hopefully inspirational words because all of us were kind of in the same boat.  It terrified me, but it also just felt good and so right.  Undoubtedly, there were people tossed the whole thing in the garbage, but several others came up to me, saying things like, "I laughed so hard!  I've just gone through that!" or "That thing you wrote last month?  It was just what I needed.  Thanks."  These were the words that kept me going on hard days.  In the tough times, I could step back from the situation and look at it through a different lens by writing about it.  Funny experiences seemed even more hilarious when I thought about how I would write them.  

Is that selfish?  

On the one hand, I get it.  I understand why writing and blogging seems like a self-centered pursuit.  Why would anyone care a whit what I'm thinking or what I've been doing lately?  Why should they?  I'm afraid I can't give you a good reason.  I'm a fantastically ordinary person.  

But on the other hand... If someone enjoys making jewelry or sewing clothes, would it be selfish for her to wear her creations?  Is that vain and conceited?  Or if someone likes to sing, should he only sing into a pillow lest someone hear his "pridefulness"?  

What I mean is, it's easy to pick on writers/ bloggers for being selfish in thinking anyone would want to read their thoughts or observations.  I just don't think it's fair.  

Maybe, as ordinary as I am, I can offer something lots of people can relate to.  Maybe I can make a few people feel less alone.  Maybe if I accomplish anything, I can give someone else the courage to try because if I did it, trust me, anyone can!  Maybe I can just make you laugh at something foolish I did, and that will be the bright spot in your day.  Yes, even that would make me happy.

This friend, as I've said, really was concerned about my protection, and I know and appreciate that.  The Internet is a dark and terrible place in so many ways.  Joy Cho of the extremely popular blog Oh Joy! wrote in her book Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and Community compares the blogosphere to the Wild West.  I can't lie, it scares me to put anything on the Internet, and I do question all the time how much I should say about myself or my family.

But... The "real" world is pretty scary, too.  And yet, I don't keep us locked up in the house all the time.  In fact, I try to smile and say "hi" to people, to be friendly.  Sometimes I even start random conversations with people.  Is it for selfish reasons?  I mean, I like having friends, I gain good things from relationships, so that could be argued.  Do some people wish I would go away and leave them alone?  Without a doubt!  But I'm not going to stop being me.  

Now that several weeks have passed for me to think about it, I'm very grateful for my friend's words now because they've made me hone in on just what I want to do with this blog -- or, if I stop blogging, with my life.  I've thought harder about how much the words I say to others around me matter and last, and I need to be darn careful with them.

Before I close, let me tell you this story about Facebook.  I like Facebook -- for the most part. I can be in touch with friends in Australia that I haven't seen in over a twenty years.  I can keep up with my fourth grade teacher and my favorite French professor from college who is a truly lovely person.  I know the names of the babies my friends are having on the opposite side of the country -- or even the world.  

Facebook turns into something ugly, though, when I use it to play the comparison game.  I've fallen into that trap way too easily, far too many times.  We're also very familiar with those political rants that are just exhausting and get us nowhere, and rumors that adults should really know better than to spread.

But then... there's my piano teacher (who, coincidentally, is also named Joy).  She is one of those truly beautiful people, amazingly talented at both piano and organ.  She gardens and cooks delicious meals.  Most of all, she is genuinely nice.  So it's no surprise that the space she takes up on Facebook is full of the best things.  Almost every day, she posts pictures of her garden, or her grandkids, or a sunset from the night before, and accompanies it with a verse or lines from a hymn or poem.  On your birthday, she writes words that water the dried-up places in your soul.  If you post a picture or say anything, she builds you with her kindness till you feel like the most special person in the world.  

Basically, I want to be just like her.  

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  Whether or not I keep blogging or writing (because honestly, having five kids keeps me plenty busy with little time to write as much as I'd like), I think my mission in life is the same: to be real and authentic and relatable, to be kind, to build others up and encourage.  If I can make someone laugh or smile, even better.  

The Shel Silverstein poem at the beginning of this post is one of my favorites that I've loved for years.  "Put something silly in the world that ain't been there before."  Yes please!  Put something silly in!  Put something good in!  Put something beautiful in!  Smile and be relatable!  Yes, the world is a dark and ugly place.  So let's start shining some light!