After four kids, ten moves and nearly two decades, we are still blissfully in love (most of the time) and I found myself back in the state I was born and raised in. It has definitely been a journey. In fact, on our 18th anniversary we pulled the last of our stuff up over the pass and into Montana, leaving our surprise love, Idaho, behind. But Montana is a great place. The last best place according to some. And we fully intend to explore as much of it as we can! Join us on our continued adventure through life, love and other stuff that comes with it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts on a conference. A babywearing conference

Over the last year I've literally stopped in my tracks more than a dozen times and wondered how on earth I got to be on the planning committee for an International conference. And the answer is basically that I moved to Idaho. And even that sounds completely ridiculous. But it's the truth. I guess when one hooks up with Kimber, it all just slides to the weird and unbelievable side of things. But, oh what a ride! I'd totally do it all over again.

My mother is a saint. She really is. The week before the conference I was on the phone with her and she said, "Do I just need to take those kids for the whole week?" And in that statement, I kind of think she single-handedly saved the conference. Really. I spent that week doing everything I'd been trying to get done in the last month. And it took me nearly 1/100th of the time because I didn't have to stop every five minutes or less to be a mom for 20 minutes. I just hunkered down and got it done. And when she arrived with my three beautiful offspring in tow, the house was even clean and the laundry was even done. That was definitely a first--at least since I had kids.

One of the main items on my list was the museum display. I had this crazy idea that the conference should have a display of vintage, traditional and modern carriers for people to come look at and such. We were having a traditional babywearing class and the lady who taught it has an AMAZING collection of traditional carriers from around the world. I also had contacted another lady from Canada who is known for her collection of vintage carriers and such from North America. And a collector in California who has over 5,000 traditional Chinese carriers. Between those three and about a half dozen other submissions, the display came together so well.

I obviously didn't know much about all the carriers, so I asked each person to write a brief something about each carrier. Didn't need to be long, but it should contain some interesting or important information. All this I compiled into one document and ended up with over 40 pages of information, the vast majority of them with pictures of the carrier in use. And one thing that struck me was how universal the need to carry babies is.

Some of the carriers are things we as Americans would probably be horrified to use. For example, a cradle board or a bilum bag. The bilum bag is hanging on the wall.

From Papa New Guinea, the Bilum is tied and hung from ones head. The baby is placed in the bag. Jen Wadleigh, who taught the traditional babywearing class, said that in traditional cultures, babies are many times carried in much the same way that culture carries everything else. The Bilum is a perfect example of this. And, it also made me wonder if that's why our culture leans towards the now-recalled bag slings that resemble duffle bags.

On the Idaho Babywearers blog I wrote:

After her (Keynote speaker Kelley Mason from Kozy Carrier) story of getting firewood from the wood pile to the house to keep the house warm while her baby sat screaming in the carseat on the porch and how she knew there had to be a better way, she said something about how discovering babywearing suddenly enabled her to meet her needs and the needs of her children. That is such a universal statement.

I've been putting together the museum display and have been struck at how even though every culture does it somewhat differently, all parents universally need to meet the needs of their babies while still meeting their own needs as well as the needs of their families. Native Americans used cradle boards and propped their children up against trees, or even hung them from trees to keep them safe and happy. The traditional Chinese culture coaches young girls into motherhood through the process of making baby carriers even before they are married. These young girls even raise their own silk worms and spin their own silk to do the embroidery on the carriers that they eventually wore to market to attract potential suiters. Sadly, many of these traditions are being lost.

Our western culture seems to have lost most if not all ties to the traditional ways of doing things. But then people like Kelley find that they have a need and they need to meet the needs of others and they can't do it with the tools they have. So they go out and create a tool. And then others who have the same need look at that tool and see it for what it is and want it. And a business is born. It happened to Kelley when she created the Kozy mei tai. It happened to Erika Hoffman, a mother of twins and the founder of Didymos, after she decided out of desperation to try the South American carrying cloth she had in her drawer. It happened to textile engineer Guenter Schwartzer, founder of Storchenwiege, after his search for a solution to help his daughter who was a new mom. It happened to Robyn of Babyhawk after she made a carrier that met her need for function as well as her need for style.

The host of the 2012 conference also blogged the museum display and the traditional babywearing class.

Kelly also talked about instinct. For a long time now I've suspected that instinct is something that is undervalued in this culture, even to the point that it is seen as just something that crazy moms claim to have. But, the farther I get into this mom thing and the more other moms I talk to, the more I believe that instinct is not something to brush off. I have seen enough moms and dads put their baby in a carrier for the first time and get that look. It's not something that one can describe, but one mom I remember took a deep breath and exclaimed, “This is the feeling I’ve been waiting for for 2 1/2 weeks! You just want them here close to you.” It was like her instinct just turned on at that moment. I’ve seen that so many times, most recently this dad.

He and his wife came to the conference every day. And they walked away with something invaluable--a happier baby and a daddy who suddenly felt like he could be a daddy after nearly 4 months of feeling like a failure.

This mom came every day, too. And she walked away with a new-found confidence and I could see the joy in her face. This was her first back carry.

The next day I saw her again and this time she had her baby wrapped on her back in a beautiful back carry. I actually went up and asked her if that was in fact her first back carry the day before. She said it was. She had driven all the way from Canada to come and learn. And she walked out of there with more information than I think she even thought she could hold. She was nearly in tears when she left because the ladies from ERGObaby loved her so much they felt she needed an Ergo and gifted her one. I may have been nearly as overwhelmed as she was.

The second day I sat in on the medical panel. And I was struck by several things. First, the correlation between not babywearing and post-partum depression. Babywearing gives moms the power to continue with their lives, meeting the needs of those around them as well as their own needs without a baby crying the whole time. Lindsay from Babes' in Arms blogged something interesting she learned in one of her sessions.

"Arie informed us that because of the skin-to-skin contact and the pheromone and hormone exchange involved, Kangaroo Care often corrects even complicated breastfeeding issues. She also discussed postpartum depression and its causes – poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of support and a feeling of not having control over one’s life – and outlined how babywearing helps with all these causes, thereby reducing or preventing postpartum depression. When a mom wears her baby she is more able to get out and find support, her hands are free to grab a decent meal, and she can be active, get outside and maybe even have a shower! All of these factors help with the depression."

The second thing I was struck by was the answer to the question about brain development and babywearing. Babywearing allows for normal potential for brain development to be reached. This point was underscored by M’Liss Stelzer the next day at the last all-conference session. M’Liss has done quite a bit of research into babywearing safety and oxygenation levels of babies in slings. Her presentation was incredible and underscored the importance of good positioning in not only baby carriers, but also in car seats, bouncers, swings and other baby devices. Basically, a baby’s airway is tiny and when they get all slouched over, the airway can be blocked in as many as three different places. Normal oxygenation levels in a baby’s blood stream are between 97-99%. According to oxygenation studies of babies in car seats, oxygenation levels can get as low as 83.7%. Any level below 90% is considered dangerous. It’s called hypoxia and can cause many problems, including brain damage, ADHD symptoms and delayed motor development amount other things. A great summary of the presentation and links to the studies can be found here. All this information she presented in defense of babywearing. Yes, carseats are important. But the longer a baby stays in a device like that, the lower their oxygenation levels will sink.

Another point M'Liss made was that a baby in a carrier should be in the same position as a baby would be in arms. So if your baby is in a carrier, a simple test is to take the baby in your arms and if there is a change in position, you need to adjust your carrier. That made it all simple for me.

All this I got out of one class and the three all-conference sessions. I felt like even with those four experiences, I was able to connect quite a few dots that I knew connected, but didn't know how. I knew babies were born to be nurtured. I've seen that look on the faces of mommies just discovering babywearing. I've seen the difference babywearing makes to families, both parents and children. And yes, it is something that I will be passing on to my children.

Huge thank you to everyone who made it happen, including my mother. For me, it was an experience of a lifetime that changed the way I think about things. And it solidified many of the things I already do and know. Yes, I shall continue to follow my instincts as much as I can.

Happy babywearing everyone! (And just so you know, this post could be at least 3 times as long. But I'll spare you today.)

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