Photograph: A. Hirani
Before parenthood, my husband and I assumed that we'd need to spend money on a pram. Wrong. We assumed that our baby would happily fall asleep in a pram. Wrong. We assumed that we could buy one of those cute baby carriers from a baby shop and all should be well. Wrong.
My other half purchased the best-reviewed carrier online and we (rather uncomfortably) carried our eldest as much as we could, especially for walks, short naps and trips on the tube. We liked the versatility and the cuddles. Our baby liked the comfort and the warmth. We also thought it was some unwritten law to train your baby to sleep in a pram and many unhappy hours were spent jiggling the buggy, or once finally asleep, avoiding potholes, sirens and dog-walkers with their barking packs - we'd avoid certain shops with harsh lighting, or smooth floors, or those with steps and heavy doors. Whatever the ambience though, he always contentedly nodded off in the carrier. I tried to carry him as much as I could, but the straps dug into my often-engorged breasts and my back moaned and shoulders groaned.
I'd heard of stretchy wraps and bought the cheapest I could find online. My husband was the first to successfully tie it, using YouTube as his Guru. Little one looked so snug and seemed even happier that once my third bout of mastitis had cleared up, I was excited to try it, too. I had one outing and looking back at the photo, I now wince at the result: saggy, baggy and certainly not close enough to kiss. I tried a few more times with the wrap, but I quickly got baffled and lost in yards of fabric; my baby grew tired and frustrated, so I soon gave up and banished it from sight.
Until our second baby was born. By this time, I'd heard of Sling Libraries and realised that there were real life people- actual flesh and blood- who could tangibly help me with what I now know as 'Babywearing'. While he was still little, I organised a family day out- a forty minute drive to our nearest Sling Meet and was soon discussing buckles, wraps, and carriers. These wonderful volunteers work with their children in tow, advising, modelling, teaching and lending. One babywearing consultant told me all the pros and cons of the options while wrapping her baby to her chest and simultaneously entertaining her toddler. We hired a really lovely ergonomic carrier and were shown how to wrap the little one- so much tighter than I'd dare try before- and so comfortable for us both.
Back home, I still feared the wrap, in favour of my hired buckle carrier, which was quicker, easier and comfortable. It took an unassuming Sunday pub lunch to finally inspire me to persevere with wrapping. My dear sister-in-law, who'd been studying YouTube wrapping tutorials on repeat, had nailed it and my little niece looked so comfortable and snug. Inspired, I was ready to give it another go. And another... until we were soon wrapping with speed and confidence. It's the best thing I've done: a well tied wrap is the most comfortable way to carry your baby, achieving a perfect fit for any size.
Ten months later and I've fallen down the rabbit hole into babywearing mania. After a 'Babywearing Consultation', I can now wrap little one to my back and have hired an amazing 'toddler carrier'. I've joined too many babywearing groups on social media and waste too much time ogling woven fabrics and colours, daydreaming about wild silk and cashmere. I've also developed a bizarre fascination with online tutorials on different wraps and rucks. I watch agog as mothers from all over the world toss their babes onto their backs and calmly explain each step into the camera whilst playing with their littlest one and holding on-going conversations with older children off camera. It makes the BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly look like a lot of fuss about nothing. There are babywearing conventions and gatherings, meetings and qualifications. The first ever European babywearing week has just passed, with the slogan, "I carry you always". "Always" seems extreme, but I like the sentiment.
I've only just scratched the surface. I'm learning fast, but I still have no idea what all the jargon and acronyms mean. I only use two methods of wrapping: front wrap cross carry (FWCC) and a basic ruck for my back. I'm not entirely sure if I get D onto my back by using Santa's toss or Superman. I've found myself totally lost and overwhelmed by the new lexicon of babywearing, enchanted by the exotic Double Rebozo, or pastoral Shepherd's Carry, or the kitsch Candy cane chest belt.* But, as long as he's safe and we're comfortable, we're going to continue down the rabbit hole. My neighbours predicted I'd stop carrying him months ago and passers-by assume we can't afford a pram. Some older folk have even said that "there was nothing like that in my day", which is confusing as carrying your baby in fabric far preceded the perambulator.
Of course, it's not all roses and sunshine. It took my body (any body) a good couple months to heal postpartum and to regulate for breastfeeding: babywearing + engorgement (+hot weather) didn't work for me. Patience, while my husband carried our boys on long trips, was our solution. Now, the main issue is carrying shopping and I do miss using the buggy for unlimited groceries hooked to the handles, but a big online supermarket shop solves that. Babies can have really long naps while carried, which is great, but can make hot drinks and crumbly cake a bit difficult, but a napkin or daily bath solves that. Getting the clothing right takes practice as you can't change you or your baby's layers once he's fast asleep on you, but you simply limit the layers between you and cover you both up with an oversized cardigan to solve that.
Why do it? It's just so lovely for us all. There's no better feeling than having a long cuddle with your child while hill walking, or putting out the washing, mowing the lawn, or browsing the shops. I can attend to my eldest's needs while comforting my youngest. We can hop on buses and trains, explore deep into the woods and access shops with stairs. I can even breastfeed hands-free while pushing my eldest in the swing. The bigger he grows, the stronger I get. I even carry my 2.5 year old when he's feeling low, or overwhelmed by the world. It can ward off a meltdown or cheer him up. While teething, or ill, I can ensure that our baby's snuggled all day long, drifting in and out of dreamy naps. I can share the world with him, or simply kiss his head while we walk.
For anybody who's curious about carrying their baby, please persevere and seek help from real life people, rather than shop catalogues or online reviews. Seek out local Sling Meets and find Babywearing Consultants to find your perfect match. Ignore all the negative crap you'll get for any parenting choice you make that isn't the norm. Trust in your instincts to calm and cuddle your tiny explorers, hungry to experience the world from the security of your familiar warmth, scent and heartbeat. After all, it's how most of the rest of the world carry their young.
To read more from Rebecca's blog, try The Night Feed.