Attachment Grandma - A Word to the Wise
In 1983 I hadn’t made any plans to be an attachment parent and whilst I was pregnant I hadn’t even given any thought as to how I was going to feed my new baby...breast or bottle didn’t come into my head at all. I loved being pregnant and when my son was born on the 20th May 1983 it just seemed the right thing to put him to my breast. We spent ages straight after delivery staring into each other’s eyes and it was the most remarkable day of my life.
I remember being told to offer water in between feeds...I did try to follow ‘orders’ but only a couple of times...it felt wrong. I did try and put my baby in a separate room, in his cot.....it felt wrong! I couldn’t sleep without him and the next night he was in bed beside me (for a few years).
For a while my nipples became terribly sore, cracked and bleeding, obviously due to shallow latch or tongue tie and although in agony, again, I didn’t give a second thought to not breast feed. New borns weren’t checked back then. The midwife ‘showed’ me how to hold my nipple and shove it in his mouth...no wonder I suffered sore nipples.
For the first 3 months of his life I agonised over my ‘attachment’ parenting. We didn’t have a name for it then. I was advised by midwives to feed, what they termed as, on demand, every 2 hours, 20 mins per side, it didn’t feel right and I certainly wasn’t doing as ordered. I let him feed whenever he wanted for as long he wanted, usually one breast at a time and because he was beside me all night, sometimes fed all night. I baby carried him all the time and I cannot begin to explain how wretched I felt, as everything I was reading and everything I was advised by the medical profession, even using words like follow your ‘instinct’ was the opposite to what MY instinct was shouting at me to do. I was made to feel useless and told I was making a rod for my back etc.....then, I came across a book, by chance, by Penny Stanway and I felt a rock fall away from my shoulders! In her book I read that it’s ok to have your baby in bed, it’s ok to follow your instinct by feeding when ever etc..not every 2 hours. It was a revelation and as I lay in bed with my son feeding and reading all this, I just cried with utter relief. I was doing ok!
From her book I found out about the La Leche League and went to my first meeting when my son was 3 months old. We lived near Reading and the leader of the Reading group was an American lady who was just wonderful. It was a large, thriving group of a huge assortment of babies, toddlers and caring women and I didn’t look back after that meeting. I became a member and devoured the books from the La Leche library. I went to the yearly conferences and soaked up the whole atmosphere of attachment parenting, gathering information that would give me confidence to carry on as I was. I also became a leader and ran a well attended, lively, local group in Gloucestershire.
I especially needed the confidence when my breastfeeding baby evolved into a breastfeeding toddler and I was again being questioned, judged, criticised and hearing very misinformed advice by the medical professionals and peer group. I refused to be a closet toddler feeder! I was told by my GP that if I didn’t stop feeding he would carry on till he left home at around 18...Good grief! I ask you! A health visitor even threatened to contact Social Services as she considered it to be child abuse! That scared me as I was so worried that she would turn up with a team to take him away from me. Thank goodness I had made sure I was informed and well read on research and just knowing the biology of lactation helped me to sound confident to those ill informed professionals, which at times was not easy, especially when feeling vulnerable. I became, almost militant in the face of misinformation!
My son, self weaned at about 3.5 years old and my daughter, Katie was born in 1987...making a 4.5 age gap. I was lucky as I sailed through both my pregnancies and births with relative ease....I also loved being pregnant with her and immediately fell in love with her straight after birth. By then I was full of confidence and breastfeeding was a piece of cake.....attachment parenting was what I did naturally, without needing to question anything.....ha! sort of...being a mum seems to be a guilt trip a lot of the time. She also self weaned at about 3.5. I could write loads more about my attachment journey but I reckon that’s a book!
35 years later what do I see, think or know now?
I know I don’t regret one, single, moment of mine and my children’s attachment journey. I look back with such love and fondness of that special time. I’m not saying that it made me a perfect mother as I made many mistakes along the way and made wrong life choices which I regret terribly. However I was always steadfast with my attachment values and I believe it has made the relationship between my 2 children and between each other a very solid and loving, caring one. I’m so lucky to have them. I’ve learnt so much from them and I owe them so much.
Of course my son and daughter are grown up now, they are well rounded, confident young people with wonderful partners that make them happy and children of their own that I love dearly and I am so blessed to be part of their journey....
What I see now through them is what a difference the internet plays in the information available that should help to make informed choices in child rearing, feeding etc. However it seems to me that possibly there’s too much information, in the sense it can seem a minefield of conflicting advice to some to allow an informed choice. Am I right?
Katie lives very close to me and I see her and her family every day. I have gone full circle and I am now an attachment grandparent because of her own attachment parenting values. It is very precious time for me. My 3 year old grandson regularly wants to stay over with me and I love cuddling up with him at night. I do it without question as It seems so normal and natural. I have been along to our local La Leche group with Katie, which I love being part of. I never thought, for one moment, all those years ago, going to groups with her as a baby and then toddler, that I would be going along as a grandparent....However, it makes me very sad to see how under-supported the group is. The leader is an incredibly informed, clever women and many could benefit from going to the meetings and I can’t help thinking, why is it unsupported? Maybe it’s geography and there are larger well attended groups elsewhere. I have also gained much from the meetings and it’s evident that research and information has also evolved for the better. Do mothers feel they get enough support from social media instead? I only had books and the support of my local La Leche group and La Leche friends and I felt blessed to have that support.
Despite all this information readily available online I believe that perhaps there is still the same old stigma, (especially from my generation?) of attachment parenting making a rod etc. I wonder how many of you that follow the attachment parenting style are ‘in the closet’ with it as you can’t bear to be made to feel an inadequate parent....still now? I wonder how many parents chose a ‘norm’ parenting path because to go against the norm caused too much angst or intimidation from others....partner, family, medical profession and peer group.
For me, the choices I made evolved naturally and I certainly know that my life was easier for it. No crying babies and toddlers (most of the time) I had mostly restful nights as I didn’t have to get up, baby just latched on, or cuddled up and I barely noticed it. When they were ill they got comfort, (and of course antibodies) from suckling and I didn’t worry too much that they would become dehydrated. Getting about and long distance travel without the paraphernalia of bottles, formula, prams and travel cots etc was so easy. I didn’t have to do all that mashing up of food to start them on solids...when they were ready they would just picked up few bits with their fingers....often from my plate. I never worried that they weren’t eating proper meals as I knew they were getting all the nourishment they needed from my milk.
However, do you know what I’ve come to believe after all these years...all you can do is be a good enough parent (Bruno Bettelheim).....I’ve witnessed the children of friends and peer group grow up to be decent, well rounded adults, whether breastfed with an attachment upbringing or formula and routine based upbringing. Some have have veered off in a more negative lifestyle, whether they had an attachment style or routine based upbringing....life can throw a few curve balls along the way!
This does not alter the fact that we, as parents, fill ourselves with guilt for decisions made or not made and the effect of those choices. Some choices are easier than others due to our circumstances and some choices are impossible to achieve, no matter how much we want them.....the main thing is, children just need to feel safe and loved. Respect parenting styles of others that may not be the same as your values....it makes me mad and if I’m truthful, upset, that I, even now, sometimes feel I have to try and justify my parenting preference when in the company of others who chose the ‘norm’....the amount of times I’ve been asked if I was a ‘hippy’ because of my parenting choices, putting me in that box, feeling judged negatively as I was ‘different’. Even using the word ‘hippy’ is ill informed! I have never had a ‘hippy’ lifestyle, the total opposite in fact. Many times I just stay quiet about it so as not to cause aggravation... but feel mad at myself inside! Let’s face it, we are all mostly pretty opinionated on the subject