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.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

International Babywearing Conference, 2012--Awesome

This post originally published on the Babywearing International Blog.  And since I was the one who wrote it, I thought I'd put it here, too.  Hoping to get my other fun stuff up here soon, too!

Sometimes in life there are moments that should simply not be missed. Things that can never be repeated. I have several of those experience in my life, including when my babies were fresh, still wet, snuggled in on my heart cavity. It's those feelings you need to soak in and burn into your emotional memory so you can call them up later and revel in it all over again.

The Capitol! I was lucky enough to get one of the *special* tours thanks to a friend who has a connection through a Senator.
This last week at the International Babywearing Conference was one of those weeks. For two years, since I had helped plan the previous babywearing conference in Rigby, Idaho only to pretty much miss the entire thing, I have told my husband on a regular basis that I wanted to go to Washington D.C. to the next conference.

My husband loves me and he spearheaded the effort to make it happen. We got my tickets and he took a week off work to take care of the kids while I flew across the country to soak in the babywearing wisdom and the sights of our Capitol.

It was a week of wondering how it could possibly get any more amazing only to turn around and find that it just did. Much of what I learned and soaked in merely reinforced from a different angle what I have come to know and believe in regards to babywearing. But I also found some new, fresh and exciting perspectives that got me excited all over again.

First, babywearing is essential to new mothers who are learning to be mothers. With babywearing, new mothers are able to exercise (walk), take care of their new baby, take care of themselves, and take care of those around them. Exercise has been proven over and over again to be as effective at fighting depression as medication. Being successful at this new role while at the same time being able to take care of what they were taking care of before the baby was born makes the new mom feel like she can handle this new role. These feelings of success build a strong foundation that can keep her from slipping into a postpartum depression that she can't dig herself out of.

I learned that not only does the baby need the mother's body (as its natural environment), but the mother's body needs the baby just as much. If the baby is not with the mother, the mother's body actually believes the baby is dead and reacts accordingly. This disrupts the intended sequence of events and can cause issues with bonding and nursing and lead to a whole host of problems.

To go with that, I learned that there are three kinds of mammals. There are 'nest dwelling' mammals, like cats, that give birth to babies that have their eyes closed and can't move around much. Kittens are also quiet when left alone and are not feeding.

The second type is 'parent followers' like horses. These babies are fully developed, walk shortly after birth and if they are separated, both the baby and the mother seek to be reunited.

Humans were originally plunked into the nesting category. But then a third category was added: Carried young. In this category babies cannot follow the parents, their eyes are open and they are able to cling. Other members of this category are primates and marsupials. The mother and baby are made in a way that facilitates carrying.

The importance of touch and movement to these carried young was reinforced by the 1970s era documentary Rock-a-Bye Baby by Time Life films. Basically, removing even one of these elements made monkeys separated from their mothers at birth fearful, anxious and even aggressive. But even monkeys without mothers that were given the options of touch AND movement were much more normally developed than those that were not. Removing both elements resulted in monkeys that displayed symptoms of severe neglect, including rocking incessantly and aggression towards themselves.

In one class, it was stressed that it is not the carrier that makes the difference. It's the carrying. In-arms carrying will have the same results as the fanciest carrier (used correctly) will have.

One point that the film made was that we do not know how important a single element is until it is removed. This was an interesting angle on another thought I had--what we will NOT regret. By this I mean that I will NOT regret NOT giving into pressure to wean before I think it's time. I will regret giving up because I can't get that back. I will NOT regret investing in 1-2 comfortable, quality carriers and learning to use them to keep my babies close. I will regret letting that feeling that maybe I'll look weird govern my choice to ignore my curiosity.

Then I met Masayo Sonoda from Japan. She is in Japan trying to change the parenting culture. After the devastating tsunami she realized that in the next four years Japan will be experiencing MANY earthquakes. It is her goal to bring babywearing back to the mainstream so that WHEN (not if) those earthquakes strike, people have the skills to, without thinking, tie their children on themselves with whatever is handy and escape quickly and safely. If these parents are not proficient in using carriers in their daily lives, they will not be able to do that. Her goal is to make it happen.

This is me with Masayo Sonoda. Somehow her use of the fabric square is much neater than my effort to contain my Amauti. It was my second exposure to Furoshiki, a Japanese method of tying, at the conference. I *may* have suggested it as a class for the next conference.

Traditionally, the Japanese culture used gorgeous carriers to carry their babies. But as the country modernized, this skill was lost. The Japanese story is one that is common all over the world. But what we have learned is that even though the culture changes, the needs of babies do not change. Babies still need to be carried.

To advocate the practice of babywearing, we are changing the culture. Even if we are changing culture one family and one baby at a time, we are still changing culture. I met one mom a the conference who told me her heart wrenching story of how she sunk into and made it out of postpartum depression that was so severe she was hospitalized four times in a psychiatric unit. She was a brand new mom in a new community and had no real connections and her family was 1500 miles away. We will never know what could have prevented her experience, but it simply reinforces my goal to create a warm, welcoming, helpful environment at my monthly meetings. Expecting and new parents are there looking for tools to make their journey what they want it to be. It's my job to help them. It goes back to what we will NOT regret. We will NEVER regret helping a new parent discover the joy of carrying their baby. We will NEVER regret giving a new parent the tools they need to be functional again. We will NEVER regret seeing that look a new parent gets when it all clicks and their world opens back up to them again. We will NEVER regret giving them "permission" to go with their instincts. Even if it doesn't seem to help at the time, it is our job to share with them what we have worked so hard to learn for ourselves even if it doesn't seem to help during that moment.

This story ends well. We sat in a restaurant in Washington D.C. and listened to her story while she sat eating ice cream with a sleeping baby on her back. She also stressed that she was there, having taken the Metro several stops from where she parked her car, without a diaper bag! And she was okay with that! She was showing the world who was boss once again. Needless to say, I bought her that bowl of ice cream. It was the least I could do.

As I flew out of Washington D.C., I was thinking that really this trip could not have gone any better. It was phenomenally full of incredible people and incredible experiences I will never forget. I am on fire again. And honestly, I feel that by going and having the grand experience I did, I was able to honor all the people who went out of their way to make it happen for me. This includes my husband and his family, my children, my amazing friends and family both at the conference and at home, and in Oregon and Washington. It includes all the people involved in planning the conference and their support systems, the instructors and the people who showed up to share the journey. I am utterly overwhelmed by my experience and will do my best to pass the gift of babywearing someone gave me nearly nine years ago onto others. This I will NEVER regret.

Me and one of my sweet babywearing friends I got to hug a bunch at the conference. My life has been enriched on so many different levels thanks to babywearing!

--Heidi Donnelly
BWI Board of Directors

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