When I found out I was pregnant with Finn, six years ago, I went into full prepare mode. I like to call my personality OCD-lite, it’s there, but I’m not washing my hands thirty times a day. It tends to come out in times when I have to get ready for something, a trip, a new job, having a child. So I bought all the books, googled pretty much everything that popped into my head, asked my OBGYN about a thousand questions and basically set out a full attack mode for HOW TO PARENT.
And, for Finn, it worked. I got him on a schedule at two weeks old. Yes I did. I was one of those parents. I breastfed him, but I had an actual printed out schedule, when to feed, when to put him down, when to give him a bath. It was on my refrigerator, I kid you not. And when it came time to have him sleep through the night, I let him cry it out. The Baby Book: How to Enjoy Year One by Rachel Waddilove was my baby bible and I followed it to a tee. It gave me a sense of control, that I needed, when I felt like I was exploring a whole new world. I was overjoyed at becoming a mom, but I was also scared out of my mind. Was he too hot? Did I swaddle him too tight? Is he going to get a flat spot on the back of his head? Are the bathroom cleaners going to create fumes that will go upstairs to the nursery and will he inhale them and somehow be damaged from them? At night my mind would whirr out of control with anxieties, and this book, this rigid schedule, kept me sane. As long as I could follow this little routine I could keep this huge sea of scary worries at bay. And it was just us, there weren’t any other babies that needed my attention so I could really focus it all on Finn. I agonized over what diapers, what baby food, what onesies and blankets and lotions and shampoos to use. I was the first one of my friends to have a baby, I didn’t know any other moms, and my own mom lived four hours away. I felt adrift in this new wilderness but the baby book lit my way along the path. And, like I said, it worked for Finn. But it wasn’t easy for everyone else. When we went out for my brother’s wedding in San Diego I refused to let him go off schedule, even by half an hour. Whatever we were doing had to be around Finn’s schedule, his nap, eat and sleep schedule determined where we would be during the day. My family was kind about it, but I know that it put a damper on us all being together, something that happens only about once a year if we are lucky. But bending the rules on his schedule even a little gave me so much anxiety it wasn’t worth it. I worried that if he went to sleep at 8 one night instead of 7 that it would start a chain reaction that would throw the whole system out of whack and I didn’t know how or if I could get it back in line again. This tenuous grasp I had on the control was about to change though when Leven arrived.
As I have written about before, things didn’t go as smoothly with Lev. I became very sick, and my recovery time was a lot longer. Breastfeeding did not work for us, and I agonized over the decision to switch to formula. The guilt I felt about it was profound, and coupled with my rough recovery I struggled with postpartum depression. I tried doing the same schedule again in an attempt to get a grip, but it was pretty much a joke to try to be that rigid now with an extremely active toddler demanding his own share of attention and the schedule went out the window. Now I felt completely adrift but I didn’t have a life raft to cling to. I felt like I was failing right out of the starting gate the second time around, but there wasn’t any time to mope about it, I just had to keep going. The thing was, I couldn’t. Just getting out of bed every day seemed almost impossible. I tried calling the doctor five times before I could do it without crying to the receptionist. They suggested anti-depressants, but this knee-jerk reaction from them just didn’t fit, and the talk about “weaning off” them scared me. I googled side affects and that scared me even more. I worried about it, which made things worse, but in the end I decided to see if I would come out of it once my hormones smoothed out. And I did. I don’t want to make light of it, because of just how dark it was, but the fact is I did feel better. One day it was just that much easier, one day I got that much more done, one day things felt just that much less hopeless and I grabbed onto that feeling for dear life and held on until I found my feet again. I pushed against the tide that would still come in for me every day until I could walk back up the shore and had the strength to look back at it, knowing it wasn’t going to swallow me up, for now.
So the whole schedule thing didn’t work out, like I said. And it seemed like by the time I got my head back together and above water Levy had worked out her own schedule, and we settled into a nice routine of naps and meals and bed times and taking care of two wasn’t so scary anymore. Finn never wavered from his own established routine, and he slept through the night like a champion. Levy was a little more fitful at night, and still is, but she got on board with bed time and wake time at least for the most part. I still have the guilt leftover from struggling with Levy. I probably always will regret not trying harder to make breastfeeding work, but I kept moving forward.
Then came Baby Jack. I lucked out with his mellowness, he is through and through one mellow little dude, and he just fit into place in our family like an adorable fat legged puzzle piece. Unlike when I had Finn, I had to hit the ground running after Jack arrived. We had places to be and things to do and I only had two hands to hold while crossing the street so he got put into the sling. I had bought slings before with Finn and Levy and never used them, they were stroller babies all the way, but now I found myself forgoing the stroller for the sling and I stash it in my bag for every outing. So there he was, my first sling baby. Then I realized that I was actually getting the hang of the breastfeeding thing again. Under cover of my sling I could nurse him on the go while doing pretty much anything, cheering Finn on at t-ball, having dinner at Hattie’s, shopping downtown, anywhere. Jack became completely mobile, whereas with Finn I had to have the baby bag, the stroller, and a bottle of pumped milk before we could venture out. The other change with Jack is the sometimes co-sleeping. It is just so much easier to bring him into bed for that middle of the night feeding now, and he just snuggles in and snoozes once he’s done, so why put him back in the bassinet? I don’t want him to wake Finn and Lev so I just cuddle up with him and we sleep together, something I had never done before. I realized, before I even really acknowledged it, that I had become a somewhat attachment parent without even intending to.
I sort of love this evolution of mine, I feel like I’ve experienced all these different tries at parenting and have been through a few different minefields. It has widened my scope of understanding of the ins and outs of different “methods” of parenting and has given me a respect for everyone’s choices because they are choices that I have made myself. I wouldn’t identify myself with one “style” versus another, because each child, each time, has been different. Each experience has been so different. And I don’t think we need to label someone as an “attachment” parent, or “helicopter” parent. How about just “parent”? We are all trying to do it the way that feels comfortable to us, that works with our family. It’s not a competition, but we all seem to want to make it out to be one. My way is better than yours. You’re doing it wrong. Putting each other into these little parenting style boxes only further separates us from enjoying this parenting experience together as a collective community. And why can’t one style blend with another? Do you have to categorize someone as an attachment parent because they baby wear? What if they baby wear but don’t co-sleep? Is there a category for that? Can’t baby wearers and non baby wearers get along? And what if someone wants to breastfeed but can’t? Are they not allowed in your attachment parenting playgroup? I guess what I’m trying to say is let’s stop labeling, and do what feels right, for us. And let’s start minding our own business about where we all fall on the spectrum of parenting, because we are all just doing what feels right, for our own families. What works for you might not work for me, and that’s okay.