I remember the first week home with my son, looking down at him in my arms and wondering, “who are you?”. I’m sure most new mums do the same thing; imagining a child’s favourite colour, the sound of his laugh, whether he’ll like his toast cut into triangles or soldiers. At the very least it’s a wonderful way to pass those marathon early nursing sessions.
But for me there was no romance behind the question, no hope or aspiration. I asked my newborn baby who he was as though he was an intrusive stranger forcing me to acknowledge him when all I wanted to do was curl up and cry. Post-natal depression did that to me. It put up walls between us. I carried my boy for almost ten months, was closer to him than I’d been to anyone in my life, and almost overnight he became an alien, an alien who made me feel guilty and frightened and wouldn’t let me sleep.
I’ve said before how PND isn’t an absence of love, that it’s more like too much love to bear mixed in a frantic hormone and low self-esteem soup, so it’d be wrong for me to say that I wasn’t bonded to Little T. It’s truer to say that I felt separated from him. We needed to be closer, warmer and calmer together – like we were when I carried him inside me for all that time.
I bought our first sling when I was pregnant, a teal Moby Wrap that Big T tried out on a teddy bear while I giggled and took photos. My reasons for wanting to carry my baby didn’t extend far beyond the practicality of being able to get around more easily; I don’t drive, and our huge pushchair (a full-blown babytank) isn’t very bus friendly. I elected to stay away from the narrow based high street carriers because those I knew who’d used them hadn’t found them comfortable, and so I stumbled upon the term ‘stretchy’ on a babywearing forum and my journey with slings began.
I first used the Moby the day Big T went back to work. I’d spent the morning crying, clock-watching, and hyperventilating at any sign Little T was hungry or needed a change. It wasn’t as though he was difficult to take care of (he’s never been a big crier), but I was scared of him, and scared of myself. I was scared of everything. A morning of anxiety and fear was already too much. I decided to use the sling in the hope that it would help me reclaim part of my old life, even for half an hour, so I could feel grounded and safe.
He settled to sleep immediately. It was a sloppy wrap job, but the chaos in my head quietened slightly. Little T was safe and snug, and for the first time since his birth I felt in control and capable. I cried then, from the same fear, but also from relief. I felt as though my heart could breathe.
I used the Moby most days from then on, though truthfully I knew it wasn’t the sling for us. I’m prone to overheating, as is Little T, and I found it quite thick and fabric-heavy, and if he was fussing or I was upset it was a hassle to adjust it properly without losing my patience. But that soft and cuddly wrap gave me my first life-saving moments of calm with my boy and opened the door to a crucial part of my healing. (It now lives with The Carrying Works to be hired by mums to try with their squishes – our little Moby is a true enabler!)
As I mentioned in a previous post, I stopped breastfeeding Little T when he was four weeks old, and as luck would have it, my second sling arrived a few days earlier – a Starry Night Raven wrap conversion Connecta, chosen because my pet name for Little T when I was pregnant was Stardrop. I didn’t try it out before buying (despite recommendations that I should) because my post-natal depression made leaving the house difficult at best and impossible at worst. I honestly didn’t know whether a Connecta would be a good fit for me but my experience with the Moby told me that a sling would help no matter what, and at that point I had nothing to lose. The PND was approaching crisis point, with Big T missing work to support me and the separation I felt between me and my son growing by the day.
I carried my baby boy in our new sling everywhere, and my life changed. It was easy to put on and comfortable for us both. It helped him sleep and gave me moments of reflection and release. My confidence tentatively grew. The loss of our breastfeeding relationship hurt less and less as I found that closeness elsewhere. With him curled up contentedly against my chest I felt able as a mother and started to believe I could cope if I went out and faced the world, and so I did, my Stardrop and me, safe in our starry sky.
I soon realised that carrying Little T gave me the closeness I so deeply missed about being pregnant, the seamless sense of togetherness. Even the physicality of a ‘baby bump’ was comforting, and I’d rest my hand gently on his back when I walked, protectively, tenderly, the same way I did on my growing belly. Our sling was a bubble filled with all the softness, gentleness, smells and whispers of a mother’s bond with her child. I never felt confused or worthless with him so close to me, able to feel his every breath, his every movement, and I never felt more like a natural mother than when he’d start to stir and a kiss atop his head and a quiet, “it’s okay sweetheart,” would settle him again. On days when I’d carry Little T a lot, I’d feel invincible. Big T would comment happily on how close we seemed, how connected and in tune with one another we were, and I’d smile at him, all playfulness and openness and sparkle. All me.
Babies want to be held and parents want to hold. My PND tried to coax me further and further away from my child but there was enough fight left in me to ignore it, to do the exact opposite and go back to basics, back to when Little T and I been completely inseparable, completely together. We needed to spend our fourth trimester as much a part of one another as possible, for both our sakes. And we did.
Now I carry my son in woven wraps, in ring slings and of course our legacy Connecta, and usually I do it for convenience. He’s awake more often now and curious about the world so we talk, and we dance, and we squeal at passers by, and it’s a wonderful evolution of our early slinging days. I’m starting to back carry (but not rushing as I’ll miss the kisses!), and yes, there are days when I know he doesn’t want to be carried and he happily plays with toys in his pushchair, grinning up at me occasionally, and that’s okay. Carrying isn’t about keeping children babies forever. For me it’s about responding to a basic human need, for parent and infant, to nurture and to be nurtured. When Little T wants something he makes his own way, confidently and securely, and so just as he sometimes wants to be independent in his pushchair, I’ll always be there with a wrap on hand in case he needs the warmth and familiarity of his mama, and that will be true when he’s walking too, for as long as he wants or needs.
Carrying Little T has been no small part of my recovery from PND. I’m still recovering now, and still learning – still stumbling sometimes too – but there is never a time when wrapping my son in one of our slings and all its memories hasn’t helped lift my mood and bring us back to those early moments of calm, our fourth trimester – my renewed and treasured ‘baby bump’.