I originally wrote this for “The Compleat Mother” but realize that it’d be nice to have it on my own weblog too. Enjoy, and please feel free to add your responses, reactions or comments at the end. Thanks.
Journeys start with a single step. Sometimes that step is easy and other times its more akin to standing in front of a very long staircase going up. I can still remember my first step to attachment parenting, home birth, and the entire non-mainstream approach to parenting and at the time it was definitely a Mayan Temple ascent sort of experience.
Eight years ago my wife Linda and I were living in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley. We were interested in holistic medicine and healing paths, but nonetheless were fairly in the mainstream in our diet and lifestyle. Linda was pregnant and we were working with Dr. Don Creevy, an excellent local OB who had the reputation of being very supportive of un-medicated birth. We had already explored our hospital choices for the impending birth. Fortunately, a good hospital was just a few minutes from our house, so everything seemed pretty optimal as far as I was concerned.
I accompanied Linda on all her visits to Dr. Creevy’s office, and in one now-infamous early visit I was asked if I wanted to see my wife’s cervix during the pelvic examination. I figured “what the heck”, leaned over to get a look, and promptly fainted! No harm done, but I dont think I was prepared to see into my wifes body in quite that fashion!
(amusingly, about a year ago I met a woman who had Dr. Creevy as her OB and she related a story told in his office about “the husband who fainted” as a caution to other fathers-to-be about getting too involved with examinations)
About six months into the pregnancy, Linda came to me and said, “I’m thinking about having a home birth. What do you think?” My reaction was, to say the least, panic and fear. I have confidence in women being able to give birth successfully and safely, but the “what if’s” all piled into my brain with a vengeance. Indeed, once I started thinking about our societys approach to birth, I realized that its all framed as something very bad just waiting to happen, so its no surprise at all that I reacted as I did. After all, when was the last time you saw a peaceful homebirth on TV or in a movie?
Fortunately, Linda is patient. She gathered several good books related to home birth (one given to her by Dr. Creevy himself! How cool is that?), and made an appointment for us both to talk with Dr. Creevy about our options. At the time, we didnt realize how fortunate we were that he was so supportive of home birth. He told us we were excellent candidates for a home birth, and he was only disappointed that he seemed to lose many of his favorite clients to home birth midwives. With the help of the books and discussions with both Dr. Creevy and our new home birth midwife, I started to see how we are so conditioned by Western medicine and our culture at large to view birth as a disaster waiting to happen. I began to realize that rather than something scary and out of control, birth is a beautiful, natural process that works right far more often than anything bad happens (ironically, especially when birthing at home!).
Further, my education continued with a realization that there’s a quite clear domino effect with medically assisted births. If youre not induced to begin with, or pushed to schedule a cesarean, lack of progress with dilation due to a woman not meeting a statistical norm progress timetable often leads to pitocin, which requires an IV and electronic fetal monitor, which renders the women unable to move around, which too often leads to an epidural and, well, that sounds a lot more like preparation for open heart surgery than the beginnings of an absolute miracle of birth.
And so we had our baby at home, and it was about, um, 95% awesome, 5% scary. Helping to minimize the scary part we had a great support team and theres certainly no question in my mind after three homebirths that my wife is much tougher and more able to withstand pain than I am. The birth went swimmingly and our new daughter was an angel sent down from heaven. And darn cute too.
GOING FROM HOME BIRTH TO ATTACHMENT PARENTING
Birth was an epiphanous experience for me, and being a father has been the best role of my life. I’ve been waiting years to have kids and had to settle with teaching the children of my friends tricks and jokes until my own came along. Of course, teaching your own kids jokes means that you have to hear them upwards of a thousand times so there are some of what we AP types call natural consequences, but its still worth it.
Parenting isnt easy, though, and we started out by assuming that we were basically clueless and that we needed Expert Input, so we read Ferber, Brazelton, and various other pointy-head geeks who have statistics and science, but not much heart. None of them felt right and frankly the Ferber method of progressive desensitization for teaching babies adult sleep cycle compatibility are downright disturbing so we kept exploring as we rather naturally fell into the rhythms and cycles of the baby, including sleeping with her and sharing the job of toting her around in a sling. Nonetheless, we felt like we stayed fairly mainstream with strollers, a crib in a room wed set up as a nursery along with a little changing table and similar accoutrements.
I grew up in a household that was a combination of strict and detached, where my parents unquestionably loved me, but in a distant and pretty much uninvolved way. As a consequence, while I have always been determined to not be this way with my kids, it’s tough because there’s a sort of behavioral destiny in this vein that I’ve had to fight on and off for years. I think we all have to be very conscious parents if we dont want to just fall blindly into the patterns our parents used in rearing us, actually, and thats not very easy to do, particularly in stressful situations.
Worse, as a computer professional, I also spent much of my time with a very negative, very cynical and jaded group of men with whom everything sucked, everyone was stupid, and nothing was worth a damn. If you imagine someone for whom sarcasm was the first response to situations, you’d be pretty close to imagining who I was when our baby was first growing up.
Being that person grew more and more intolerable for me so as part of my quest to become the best Dad I could be, I made a pact with myself that I would move beyond the sarcasm, the thoughtless prejudice and throwaway belittling comments and come into a place more of love and support, accepting weaknesses and foibles, and seeing life as a group project rather than a one-upmanship challenge.
This transition was helped by learning about the concepts that make up the foundation of attachment parenting too, because while mainstream parenting is focused on criticism, measurement, quantification and a hyper-zeal for promoting independence, attachment parenting is much more – in my eyes, at least – about nurturing and accepting where your children are without stressing about whether they’re “on the chart” or doing what they should be at any given moment in their journey through childhood.
Much of what people call attachment parenting were things we just did naturally, instinctively, like carrying and holding our baby: she was a complete joy, so why wouldnt we want to carry her every moment of the day? Similarly, it was so much easier and more comfortable to make space for her little self in our bed than to push her away that cosleeping became second nature before I even knew there was a word for it.
In fact, we knew we were definitely attachment parents when we realized that while we’d purchased a beautiful crib before the birth, our baby hadnt spent more than about ten minutes in the crib, total. (That’s a business I wouldn’t recommend pursuing: attachment parenting cribs!)
PUSHING KIDS AWAY, OR EMBRACING THEM?
I like to think of attachment parenting as the intuitive way to parent from both your heart and your head, particularly in terms of sleeping arrangements. I mean, really, does anyone reading this prefer sleeping alone when the alternative is having someone to cuddle up with, a peaceful and beautiful face to see on the other pillow when you wake up? So why on Earth do so many parents and so-called experts think that the best thing you can do to help your children is to push them away and teach them independence when they cant even sit up without assistance?
Years ago, in Silicon Valley, a friend of mine won a trip for two to France. He and his wife were gone for two weeks and when they returned he boasted to me that his kids didn’t even miss him, they were doing so great. But, I responded, they’re 8 and 5. Dont you think that they *should* be missing you just a little bit? He sat quietly for a few minutes and sighed. A few months later he quit his full-time job and reorganized his life to be more involved with his children.
This entire philosophy of independence starting on the very first day is something that baffles me, to be quite honest, and it’s an idea that’s at the core of what’s attractive about attachment parenting and what’s so upsetting about mainstream parenting: why are we all trying to push each other away so quickly?
Think about it: we have a society that obscenely accelerates the process of maturity, Ferber teaching parents to progressively desensitize their babies, general social morality decaying year by year, more and more high-tech strollers and cribs, the never-ending drumbeat of c-sections and how convenient they are, and in the midst of all this are tiny babies and little kids who just want to be held, loved and appreciated. My kids need independence and freedom to explore and spread their proverbial wings, but they also need cuddles and reassurance when things dont work out just as theyd hoped or they trip and fall, or some other kid is mean to them. Isnt that the job of parenting in the first place?
And so, my journey to becoming an attachment parenting dad has been somewhat circuitous, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I am delighted to be helping to grow a household and family that is based on love and respect. I know that it’s not always easy – and we have our non-AP moments too when we yell at our kids or my wife and I clash – but I’m completely confident that the best possible environment for my children to grow up and become fully engaged, competent and happy adults is just what we’re giving to them. And thats all about the two secret ingredients that really make attachment parenting work: love and fun.