Read Bella’s experience of carrying her first-born child in a woven wrap from newborn during the covid-19 pandemic.
Baby securely wrapped? Check. Apron? Check. Second waterproof apron? Also check. Rubber gloves? Check. Good. Right. Everything is ready, apart from me.
Today, I am attempting to clean the house with my miniature team mate aboard.
Baby-wearing featured heavily in our visions of newborn life, both as a practical essential and for me, a romantic ideal. He would be carried on tour with us from the start as the third member of our street theatre company, joining in wherever we went and being part of everything we do.
This travelling was quashed by a certain global pandemic, but still, with living in a tiny cottage down a bumpy mud track a mile out of town, I didn’t hold out much hope for using a pram. The first few months of little’s life happened to be deep winter, not to mention that all the best walks begin with a stile – a design fault in even the sturdiest of wheels.
There’s no accounting for the personal preferences of an embryonic stranger and I had very real fears that we would bear one of the few babies that didn’t love being carried, then we really would be up the creek… Luckily, these doubts were quickly assuaged once i met our boy. The term ‘velcro baby’ fits him well. In this situation, a wrap is a blessing, though I couldn’t help wondering if I may have encouraged it.
(Dr Rosie Knowles has an excellent article on why carrying babies doesn’t create ‘clingy’ children. )
Robin’s feeding trouble caused me great anxiety. I’ve attempted to become a nut, soy, gluten and coconut avoiding vegan to soothe his sensitive tummy; a feat which will most likely end with me just being a nut – but anything is better than witnessing your little one in pain. Every day that he gets less tender I feel relieved, but also intensely sad knowing one day soon i will lose my sticky limpet.
(There are lots of good resources out there for support with breastfeeding fussy or ‘colicky’ babies. It is a very common issue that can be caused by lots of different things, and the fussiness will often naturally resolve itself as your baby gets a little bigger. We remember that ‘it will get better in a few weeks’ is cold comfort when you’re in the midst of things though! Looking at the basics of positioning and attachment when latching on can often make a huge difference in reducing fussiness before you start adapting your diet etc.)
My baby insists upon sleeping nestled safely (sweatily) under my arm rather than in the oh-so-far-away bedside crib we’d lovingly prepared and though it leaves me cricked and squashed against the aforementioned apparatus – now a glorified shelf of baby things – I have no intention of putting him back there anytime soon, nor the downstairs cot at 6 months. This I never expected and I’ve not yet figured out how to square it with my long suffering partner.
(Planned bed sharing and co-sleeping, (where there are no contra-indications) is a safe practice that can support breastfeeding.)
Something else I didn’t foresee was the 2 week oxytocin high i experienced after birth, during which i barely felt the need to sleep or eat. This was just as well as Robin was slow to learn to breastfeed and with pumping all hours, i didn’t actually get much chance to do either. In those early days i would cry because I wasn’t in the same room as my baby and only conceded to unwrapping and taking him off my person when i nearly spilled hot spaghetti on his head. I went from desperately trying to get him to latch to discovering the phenomenon of cluster feeding where he fed for hours on end, natures way to increase my milk supply, and desperately trying to get him to stop. With a frustrated baby and enough reflux to get through all our clothes, wrapping skin to skin was the only way I could manage to ease the endless feeding. I smiled at the long stripy socks we used to keep his exposed calves warm. This wrapping trick also sends oxytocin levels wild, another signal to produce more milk, so it is definitely a winner! In our first days of wrapping, the oxytocin release it generated would literally cause my womb to contract back, somewhat uncomfortably, as I carried him. The ‘love hormone’ that facilitates birth is so very powerful that the whole process has left me with a new respect for women, and for nature. Human babies have the high glucose milk and regular feeding pattern of precocial mammals, whose young cling to their mothers or follow them around. However, our young are born helpless, unable to cling or walk, so we often leave them in makeshift nests as is the way of altricial mammals. So from a natural perspective, it makes sense to wear them in a sling during the fourth trimester. And that’s exactly how it feels. Natural. Like breastfeeding, it has become a key tool in my mama kit! In fact, the idea of feeding in the sling was an important factor when choosing what type of carrier we wanted, but we’re yet to have any success in that area. We’re working on it!
(Feeding in a sling is a bit of an art form, and it helps if you are confident with both feeding and babywearing first! It will never be 100% hands free, but you’ll be able to breastfeed on the go which is really helpful if you have older children to chase round after!)
One of the first twists in our baby journey was developing a back problem in pregnancy and losing my ability to walk, use my arms or sit on a chair without pain. This gave me 3 months during which I had serious concerns about how I was going to hold my baby when he finally arrived. As summer wore on I became frustrated, missing the day-trips with my partner, preparing for where we’d take our boy. I ended up spending hours on internet parenting groups reading anecdotes about potty training, discussing the sleep patterns of strange babies and the wash routines of their barely coping mothers, getting an idea of the trials to come. Here is where I first came across Baby Wearing. The information and support available through these networks has become a staple for me. According to attachment theory, thinking generally accepted amongst midwives and health visitors today, baby wearing is one of the better things we can do for our children by enabling physical proximity.
The world of carriers, like that of cloth nappies, is truly a minefield with a language entirely of its own. There are framed carriers. There are Mei Dais, Buckles, Half Buckles and Onbuhimos (all of which are SSCs – soft structured carriers). There are Stretchy Wraps, Ring Slings and Wovens. There are blends of cotton, wool, silk, linen, viscose, hemp, tencel and seaweed all in different sizes with different WQs (wrapping qualities). They are plain, patterned and even book themed. There are squishes, unicorns, ISOs, FTOs and probably UFOs… you get my drift. With libraries and communities, it’s like Disneyland for the aspiring sensible mum with hippy-ish tendencies, hiding a capitalist upbringing, a penchant for beauty and a tendency to manifest rather more hopes than is wise in a functional object with a story (like me). In the end I chose a preloved buckled carrier for my partner because I thought it was the simplest solution for a man who gets tangled in his own dungarees. I wanted a woven wrap for myself because of its unique ability to distribute the weight over the chest – rather than just the shoulders – in different ways depending on how you choose to tie it. This, I thought, was the greatest chance I’d have to be able to carry if my back continued to play up. I felt confident both items would have a good re-sell value if they didn’t work out, or could simply be traded for something different.
If the sling libraries had been open physically, rather than as virtual hubs, my local one would definitely have been my first port of call for selecting a wrap and learning how to use it. They are still running and do need support but as I had already done copious research, I chose to buy something special to keep from newborn moments onwards, knowing I could hire at a later date if we got curious about other carriers or sizes and fabric blends.
The right woven wrap will be an absolute joy to use, versatile, and last from birth to toddlerhood if you take the time to learn the different carries you can do. I’m finding great satisfaction in developing my proficiency at these skills and wrapping every friend or family member within reach to show them the brilliance of being strapped to a tiny baby. They all seem obsessed by whether he is still breathing, as if I haven’t already given consideration to the safety instructions! If you don’t have the time to learn lots of different carries but want to wrap, having a forgiving weave and blend goes a long way towards creating a quick comfortable cuddle. The more enjoyable it is, the more situations you will discover you can use it in.
Eager to try it out when it arrived, I made quite a successful shopping pouch from my wrap. Though I did get some funny looks, it allowed me to forgo taking a rucksack to the market as my back was still a bit dodgy. I couldn’t help but yearn for the moments when the real magic was to come. 2 weeks before my due date, i thought it might be helpful to ‘wrap my bump’ to ease the pressure. As i tightened the knot, my waters broke and Robin was born later that day. I wore him out of the hospital.
I had practiced tying basic Front Wrap Cross Carry (FWCC) and FRTS with a with a rice bag filled puppet well in advance and I’m very glad I did. I think this is necessary as there’s so much other new stuff to take on when your ‘squish’ arrives that it makes wrapping from the start possible. I don’t know when i would have found time to learn otherwise. Having said that, both the nurse and the midwife who organised my ‘release’ from hospital wrapped their babies. My nurse was delighted to help me tie Robin in for the first time. She told me she’d keep her woven wrap forever, such was the fondness of her memories. I asked her to spot me incase I dropped him and i actually needed very little help- it was so easy that i was delighted. I felt relieved that he was finally coming home and once we arrived, our entire home seemed to make more sense. We had, after all, chosen it with family in mind.
As I rested in his first week, Robin was worn up on the moors for walks with his Dad, visiting monuments where revolutions were started and even Britain’s highest ‘beach’. Dad, however, found the sling tricky as he couldn’t re-tie it if he needed to take it off and came to much prefer the carrier.
I love the wrap. Wrapping has become the sugar that coats the pill of having to do anything that’s not lavishing my little human with love. I’d heard speak of the magic ‘sleepydust’ wraps are said to contain. When I put my baby in the sling, he will occasionally faff, but almost immediately he succumbs and falls deeply asleep. Sometimes I feel as though I am turning him off. This happens in the carrier too, but not when my partner carries him (I envy the babbly companionship he sometimes gets). The intensely soporific quality does come in handy when he is uncomfortable and grizzly, but when he is alert and communicative he likes to kick his legs and arms around and i find myself reluctant to pass up that learning time by closing him down. Before Christmas we went to the market with Robin under my poncho (1 month old) and I completely forgot he was there. On more than one instance, I have been surprised when people have asked ‘is that a tiny baby you’ve got hidden’, having momentarily forgotten that small part of my life… thankfully it’s not possible to leave him behind.
Wearing a baby in a sling elicits such beaming smiles that I walk down the canal path perpetually and expectantly grinning, a very proud mama, most incensed if the recipient strangers don’t swoon back. It even makes me feel stylish, despite muddy legs and never having washed my hair.
Every time we went out it seemed I’d meet someone who’d reminisce about how they had once enjoyed wrapping their awkwardly smiling preteen. ‘Twelve miles at six weeks old… Really…? Oh, regularly?!’ I can barely manage two! Since the miracle of childbirth, my hips aren’t what they used to be…
I do enjoy these chats.
I had worried it would be a faff tying the wrap, but soon found I could niftily tie and untie him to be examined at the doctors or feed discreetly on the bus (at least until the nipple cups went rolling down the aisle). So slick was i that people were surprised i was a first time mum! Getting the tails muddy tying outside felt like a rite of passage, just part of being a mum.
Rewind two months, back to before our baby was due, I was agonising over the mountain of stuff laid out on the bed, filling every corner of the house, trying to work out what to keep and what to pass forward. It felt impossible. I had no idea what a ‘scratch mitt’ was or how many we would require – surely not all of them.
Somehow, we’d been given everything our bub was going to need in abundance. Not being close to anyone with a small baby didn’t seem to stop the tide of beautiful things that made their way to us around the time of Robin’s birth. All passed on with great joy at being able to help. I was, and still am, stunned. We had decided that we wanted wherever possible to buy preloved, or support local small businesses to avoid exposing him to the excessive materialism of our society. Robin unwittingly became baby number 3 in a chain of babies through which things are passed and I have a few friends to whom i can forward stuff on. Initially this was perfect… until the baby grow count reached its hundreds, the blankets hit two dozen and we had just shy of 30 hats.
Little babies don’t need much, I’d thought. Just love. Ours was going play with sticks outside needing only his imagination. Having so much ‘stuff’ didn’t feature in our plan.
The few items I did choose for Robin were a way to express and manifest my hopes for our future, and took on extra significance. There’s something incredibly romantic about the piece of cloth that connects you to your special unborn person. A wrap is an object designed to create memories and closeness, sparking the imagination and helping bring those visions into being, the seat from which you show your child the world. It’s also a physical experience, a community and a learning curve.
For such an important job, Firespiral leapt out as the obvious choice.
They have a great half price incentive for first time wrappers (available by having a consultation with a sling library). I enjoy their practice of using the extra thread from large manufacturing runs to make their designs. (Turns out this how to make the softest goods around!) They also have a thriving second-hand marketplace of worn-in slings that have travelled the whole world over hugging babies.
Any self respecting Yorkshireman will grimace at the mention of Lancashire and tell you the less said about that dark place the better. Yet many of Firespiral’s designs echo so perfectly the [Yorkshire] landscape in which I live, it’s hard to believe they are made and inspired over the border. The recent red seafoam release could easily be volcanic lava in Hawaii, so open are they to interpretation. There’s something very satisfying about the idea of walking through a gnarly snowy oak wood with your baby embraced in white twisted oak branches; throwing pebbles in the babbling brook and watching the resulting splash, as echoed on your wrap, gazing at the stars together, their map charted around your shoulders.
The pattern I chose was a ‘gossamer’ design. It reminded me of the sun shining through morning cobwebs on the hazy dawn walks I could no longer do, and to appreciate the little wonders in life. It was a neutral colour that went with all of my clothes and every time we use it i feel happy I chose well. I can’t think of a situation it wouldn’t suit. You can feel the passion and personal experience the Firespiral creators have and I love how their company continues their local tradition of weaving. Jen’s family goes back as far as they can trace working in the cotton industry. We ourselves live in a weaver’s cottage in an area of weaving heritage so I hope in the future to be able to use our wrap teach about the mills and the looms, the warp and the weft and the purpose of the mullioned windows in our house.
Wearing Robin has allowed me to escape being trapped under a clingy newborn baby and given us freedom to involve him in our pre-baby pursuits. I’m excited about how this bonding time is going to evolve as he becomes more communicative and curious about his surroundings and I get more bold, especially when lockdown eases. I long to dance together at a gig not just in the living room! A small initial effort to learn the basics of wrapping has become an incredibly rewarding skill. My experience with Firespiral has added to this so much and I think the strength of their exceptional fan base and community is a testimony to their dedication and inner beauty.
On a final note, my reluctance to do the housework with Robin abreast was more than just a good excuse to avoid chores. I don’t trust myself bending down whilst his head is still so wobbly. After braving slippy stairs and splashy taps i concluded that i’m just too clumsy and my house is too messy. At 11 weeks, we tried a back rucksack carry and it’s been a game changer! Unlike with a carrier, wrap back carries in can be done carefully from birth though it’s not recommended unless you are a confident wrapper. My first attempt took 20 minutes to get right during which Robin was awake but didn’t complain. That week we packed up and moved studio together, became a tidying tornado and found time to experiment with some fancy finishes!