I had been an anthropology major at university and had a very romantic view of child-rearing practices from a cross-cultural perspective. I was adamant that when I was a mother, I would do everything as ‘naturally’ as possible, demand feed my baby and provide him with a rich learning environment. We would be totally in sync with each other, as I believed that ‘attachment parenting’ was the best way to care for an infant.
Attachment theory was devised by a psychologist, Dr John Bowlby in the 1950s when it was discovered that chimpanzee babies did not thrive without constant physical touch and reassurance. This style of parenting fit with my own understanding of how children in non-western societies were raised – always attached to their mother or other (usually) female relative.
Not long after my graduation I had my first baby boy. I was in my early 20s and was voraciously reading all I could about ‘natural parenting’ and I planned a home-birth and peaceful delivery. Of course I would breastfeed until the child weaned himself and he would sleep in our family bed.
I loved being able to sleep with my son in my arms and if he needed to feed during the night he could just snuggle in. He was thriving and I was adjusting to new motherhood. The day came when the local infant welfare nurse in the district paid me a visit and asked if she could see the baby’s cot as she wanted to make sure it was safe. I advised her that we had a family bed she was very judgemental.
My stance on this matter has not changed. In western societies, we are having epidemic proportions of mental health problems including depression, eating disorders, anxiety, similar to the symptoms that were suffered by the monkeys in Bowlby’s experiments. People in countries that still emphasise the importance of hands-on mothering, f may have issues of material deprivation, but they do not have the epidemic proportions of mental illness and drug abuse that we do.
Touch and closeness to the mother is a vital component of a deep bond. My judgemental nurse was sent on her way as I knew that for me to feel calm and adequate as a mother I had to trust my instincts. It just felt more normal to keep my son close so that I could meet his needs as soon as they arose. He was settled and I wasn’t worried about him as he was always with me.
Regarding intimacy, well, the husband and I would simply find a place to have some alone time when we knew he was asleep. It must have been enough as it wasn’t long before my son’s brother was born. After some years, they migrated into their own double bed. They rarely fought with each other, and are very caring people. I like to think it was because they were treated kindly and their needs met.
So I say to all young mothers. Whatever works for you as a family unit does not have to pass some stranger’s tick of approval. Be confident and let your parenting be guided by your child’s cues. We all need love and support and touch.. Your baby especially is no different.