The Politics of Attachment Parenting
It started in the hospital, really.
I was confused. The nurse had wrapped up my baby and placed in in a clear acrylic bin on wheels of some sort. He was across the room.
“Why…why is he over there?” I asked in my post anaesthesia haze.
“Oh! Silly me.” She quickly crossed the room and wheeled his plastic container over next to my bedside. I mean, I could now at least see and hear him better. But that wasn’t what I was after.
‘No, I mean…” I reached in and picked him up, snuggled him in my arms and smiled.
“You are pretty tired, mom.” The nurse pressed. “Maybe you should get some rest. We can take over.”
I was befuddled. I was annoyed. I didn’t need a team of nurses to take care of my baby. I needed them to get the hell out of the way so I could handle it myself. “I can handle it.” I murmured, “Thank you for everything”. She took the hint. Hours later, I felt her try to pick him up out of my arms as I was dozing. I snapped awake. “What do you think you are doing?” I whispered sharply.
“You can’t sleep with a baby in your arms, it isn’t safe!” she informed me.
“Oh no? Watch me.” She sent in my OB.
Nearly a year before, I had insisted on meeting every possible OB who could be called in for my baby’s birth. There were only four OBs at my practice and each one was more wonderful than the last. All women in their 30s and 40s. All smart, all excellent listeners, all deeply interested in holistic research and integrative medicine. I loved them all. So, when my OB came in the room and understood the issue, she went to bat for me. Nurses often think they know best. Especially a certain sect of Boomer nurses, who I found seemed to have an agenda against the bonding tricks I had researched as an aspiring attachment parent.
When this first baby came into the world I vowed to give the old college try to baby wearing, breast-feeding, co-sleeping and telling people off who “knew better”. And when these particular Boomer nurses came on the scene, their first actions were to give me permission not to bond with my baby in these more primal ways. I did not understand. It was irksome at best and enraging at worst.
Over time, when I looked more closely, I learned the stories of many of these women. The expectations of being breadwinners as well as parents didn’t afford them the tremendous luxury of this type of bonding. Rather than save me from the heartbreak of a similar experience, these nurses sought to lessen the pain they envisioned for me, by telling me in the first few days how I should give up on breastfeeding, and how I should not pick the baby up too much because it might spoil them. This was not about me. This was about trying to spare me their own painful histories as new moms.
As a Millennial, none of this made much sense. But then I recalled a conversation from my college days, and it opened my awareness significantly.
In my junior year, I interviewed New York Times Best Selling author, Ayelet Waldman for my school newspaper on her then-new novel, a controversial piece of writing highlighting the ambivalence of child-rearing. As we chatted over the phone, my questions became increasingly complex.
In one carefully penned question, I asked her “What was the biggest lie your mother ever told you about being a woman?” I could hear her sigh on the line, even 3,000 miles away on the West Coast as I scribbled in a Composition book with my feet propped on the steering wheel in the college library parking lot. “She told me I could have it all. I could have this amazing career and be an attentive, present mother.” She paused. I waited. “…and?” I pressed. “And I can’t. You can’t. We can’t do it all. At least not all at once.” None of this made sense to me at the time. I was 19, for Pete’s sake.
But 6 years later, in the maternity ward, things started to take shape. I realized the struggles I would face staying home would be fundamentally different than the ones my working peers would bear. They needed permission to let go of things at home so they could be great at work. For me, this constant “reassurance” felt like a test of my resolve to raise my kids in what I felt was a more intuitive, nurturing and enjoyable way to parent—Attachment Parenting.
Even now, as they enter the 2nd and 1st grade, I notice ways in which mother’s of a certain generation or mindset seek to demonstrate (with great pride!) how they aren’t “those moms” who “care too much”. As if parenting is something we do casually, like replace a toothbrush or select new sneakers. This “I don’t care” mindset is supposed to show a kind of evolved persona, someone who is above it all. And granted, there needs to be balance. I see the YouTube videos of that one mom laboring over her children’s lunch boxes to make it exceptionally more fun than most of us will ever make a sandwich and grapes, and I cringe. I also then wonder why it must matter to her so much and I remind myself she probably has her reasons and to try not to take it personally.
She is just trying to love her kids in her own way. As we all are.
-Written by Leah Charpentier
Leah Charpentier is a mom of two boys in Rhode Island. She should never dye her hair blonde again, nor should she operate a car after taking DayQuil. She is the author of “The Zero Fucks Given Mama” (available on amazon) and has a background in education and children’s mental health. She has never been arrested.