When I was pregnant for the second time, I thought I knew what lay ahead. I had done it all before just three years previously: labour, the fourth trimester, living on barely four hours sleep a night - how different would having two children really be? I thought I was prepared, my first labour was long but intervention free, I had managed to successfully breastfeed, and I was convinced everything would go as smoothly when my second child arrived.
I was wrong.
I made practical arrangements as we waited to become a four. I sat crossed legged on the floor in the spare bedroom, my expanding belly hanging low between them as I swished a paintbrush along the skirting boards: baby blue for my second baby boy. Soon a cot arrived and shelves were hammered into the freshly painted walls, adorned with delicate picture frames waiting for photographs of his newborn face to fill them.
For logistical reasons, I bought a sling. I was investing in something that allowed me to have both my hands free to still play with my toddler, to stack wooden building bricks with him, to easily butter his toast and have two arms there to cuddle him; I didn’t want things between us to change. I never envisioned that babywearing would save me much more than just time and ease with daily tasks. I never expected a sling could sooth my mental pain on the darkest of days.
My second son arrived early on a Friday morning in October. I only experienced three hours of contractions, breathing through each surge with my eyes closed and my mind focussed on my breath. The birthing pool was filled, the lights were dimmed and after fifteen minutes of pushing and gripping my husband’s supportive hand, my baby entered the world. I fell in love instantly.
The first few days and weeks at home are hard to remember now, the memories are hazy. Looking back on those days with a newborn is like looking through a glass shower door when the heat of the water has been set to high, there’s a fog there that stops me from seeing the memories clearly.
It was harder than I could ever have imagined, having two children was more than twice as difficult as having one. The workload didn’t double, somehow it expanded beyond any fathomable measure. I didn’t have the mental strength to cope with them both, my confidence and my mental wellbeing began to crumble.
There were too many plates spinning. Round and round they twirled, faster and faster, each one precariously wobbling, it was only a matter of time before one fell and smashed. The metaphorical crockery that slipped and shattered was my mental health. I couldn’t look after myself and everyone else. I didn’t know how to spread myself between all the people that needed me and the only way to make sure everyone else was looked after was to sacrifice looking after myself.
I didn’t rest enough, I never gave myself a break, an exhausted mind can too easily be broken and that’s what happened to me – I was too tired to fight. I let self-doubt and guilt fester in my brain like a piece of rotten fruit in the sun, every day I felt like the world’s worst parent and that my boys deserved someone so much better than me. My thoughts were dark, I was always afraid, anxiety sent my heart racing full speed into palpitations and I became very very sad; crying became just another part of daily life.
Days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months and I battled through post natal depression using anything and anyone I could to pull me through. I tried yoga, healthy eating, going for long walks in the woods and listening to waves crash in and out on trips to the coast. I was determined to let Mother Nature work her healing magic, and for a long time she was enough. Fresh air and nature were enough to drag my thoughts to a happier place, even if just for a while.
Slowly, I started to notice perhaps it wasn’t just getting outside that was helping me, a correlation between babywearing and my mood started to become apparent. I realised that when he was close to me, his rosy cheek resting on my pale chest, when I could feel the rise and fall of his body against my heart, I didn’t feel so afraid. When my baby was in the sling, when he was wrapped against me and I could feel his soft and steady breath on my skin, I no longer felt anxiety washing through me like a torrential downpour in a thunder storm.
As time went on, I reached for the sling more often. What was once only considered another item to make life with a baby easier, now became my lifeline. Babywearing may not have been the cure to my post natal depression and anxiety, but it was undeniably an extremely effective pain relief. I let him nap in the sling when we were at home, I reached for that piece of stretchy fabric more than I ever did for his pram because when he was right next to me, I was able to stay calm.
Breastfeeding worked a similar kind of magic on me. I could be having an awful mental health day, I could have been experiencing the most terrifying intrusive thoughts and have found myself struggling for breath as my anxiety beat me down into a state of panic, but breastfeeding was able to make the negativity vanish. As soon as his face was pressed against me, his eyes looking up into mine as he fed with a look of pure bliss emanating from his crystal blues, I immediately felt better. Whenever I breastfed my baby boy, I felt like I was maybe not such an awful mum after all. When he happily fed from me, I realised I was enough, no one else in the world could give him what I was giving him. No other person on the planet could make him feel as content as he was when he was cuddled into my chest.
I breastfed him until he was fifteen months old, I was reluctant to let go of this act between us that was able to sooth my mind and keep the darkness at bay. Sometimes we would co-sleep, for all the same reasons as we loved babywearing and breastfeeding. I thought having him in my bed would terrify me more but having him next to me, just as nature intended, helped me to stay away from the horrifying ‘what if’ thoughts, the ones that all too often popped into my mind and could easily ruin my chances of a good night’s sleep.
The dark days came and went and came back again; they were unpredictable and always unwelcome but being close to my baby helped me through the most difficult of times. For as long as I could feel his breath, touch his warm skin and breathe in the scent of him, I knew he was OK, and if I he was ok, I was able to stop myself from spiralling into a black abyss of terror.
For some mothers, attachment parenting is a choice they make when they are pregnant, for others it is something they just fall into without giving it too much thought. For me, attachment parenting was a crucial part of my recovery. Keeping baby close kept me calm. The fabric of my wrap not only helped with the practicalities of life with a newborn and a toddler, the stretchy material was able to firmly hold my sanity in place too, the soft fibres managed to keep me together. When my baby was in the sling, I was not able to fall apart. When my baby boy was close to me, when he could hear my heartbeat and I could hear and feel his breathing, suddenly, I found myself out of the darkness again and basking in the serene and calming beauty of the light. Attachment parenting saved me and I will forever be grateful to the stretchy wrap that helped me through the most difficult days of my life.