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Attachment theory and attachment parenting are not the same thing.

I have received many comments as a new parent, so sometimes it is useful to separate the wheat from the chaff.

When I was in the midst of sleep regression, Soren had stopped sleeping through the day. I felt like a failure as a parent because the only way I could get him to sleep was by feeding him on the breast. When I’d gently place him in his cot, he would scream. Pat-shush didn’t work, we weren’t interested in co-sleeping, and lullabies were not helping us.

A few people blamed breastfeeding – apparently, he was using me as a dummy. The child health nurse suggested that ‘if feed to sleep works, keep going with it.’ So I would feed him to sleep, then be planted on the couch or the floor for an hour.

Another person suggested that I had cuddled my child too much and too often, causing him to lose his daytime sleep independence.

“That’s all that modern attachment parenting.” 

Except – it wasn’t.

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At the time, I was knee-deep in a subject of my masters degree that focussed on attachment theory in the context of healthy relationships, child abuse and neglect, and protective education.

Attachment parenting and attachment theory are two different things.

In attachment parenting, you are encouraged to co-sleep, do skin-on-skin, breastfeed for an extended time, and wear your baby.

I was never an attachment parent.

With that being said, I pat him to comfort him, I did 9 months of breastfeeding (until my hair fell out), and I cuddle him within his comfort levels. When he cries during play time, I pick him up – when he wriggles, I put him down.

These are natural behaviours. Soothing a child’s heightened emotional state and sharing in their happy state helps them to feel loved, safe, and secure. This is supported by attachment theory, long-term studies, and natural science.

It does not make a child ‘clingy.’

In fact, being securely attached to a parent is one of the most protective factors a child can have in developing resilience, independence, and positive long-term outcomes.

However, like anything, there are lots of ways you can achieve a secure attachment, and it doesn’t need to involve attachment parenting.

9 months on, I still respond to my baby’s cues and comfort levels in a way that makes him feel safe and he reacts positively to new situations, people, and settings, which suggests that he is securely attached. He has a safe base that he can return to in the face of threat or discomfort.

While some people may label this as ‘modern’ parenting, it is highly supported by science. Read more here

Interestingly, a securely attached infant is less likely to experience avoidant, insecure, anxious, or ambivalent behaviours when separated from their caregivers, which flies in the face of the assumption that responding to an infant’s natural needs will make them clingy.

The flip side, of course, is that I want my child to have power over who touches his body. At 9 months, it is just a matter of me reading his cues and body language, but in the future, I intend to teach him about consent – another way he can feel safe and secure.

Protective education (making a child the boss of their body) is the first way you can make your child a hard target for predators who are looking for easy targets who won’t tell on them.

It’s all a balance with the same end goal – making your child feel safe.

So what’s the difference?

Attachment parenting is a style of parenting that encourages maximum contact, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby wearing in the hopes of nurturing the parent-child relationship.

Attachment theory is the scientifically supported study of early relationships between children and their primary caregivers that focuses on a child’s innate need to have emotional states soothed, to be close to their caregiver, and to feel secure. It supports two-way interactions, appropriate responses, and the dynamics of early relationships that lead to a child feeling secure. Avoiding a child’s early attachment needs by ignoring them or only responding sometimes can cause a child to feel anxious upon separation, clingy, ambivalent towards their caregiver, and in the long term, poor at interpersonal relationships.

 

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That’s now how it was supposed to be – my experience of birth trauma

Before my birthing experience, my midwives asked me to draft a ‘birth plan.’ I thought the idea of planning something so unpredictable was completely absurd, so my plan was to take nothing off the table. In my head, I secretly wanted to give birth in a warm bath with nothing but a bra on, but this wasn’t to be.

On the twelfth day of December 2018, I decided I had been pregnant long enough. I was four days past my due date and becoming increasingly anxious about what was to come. The very next day, I went to the hospital. They felt my belly and told me the baby’s head was in an odd position, so an induction would be required straight away.

I hadn’t even brought my hospital bag.

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Nevertheless, they took us upstairs to the ward and inserted a balloon catheter, while I waited for labour to start. Many hours later, it had not commenced. My waters were broken under laughing gas – which was definitely the high point of my birthing experience. After, a hormone drip was injected and my contractions started.

I laboured peacefully for a few hours and dilated on schedule. After awhile, I requested an epidural to numb the intense contractions brought on by the artificial hormones. I drifted in and out of sleep for the next couple of hours, until the epidural wore off. That was when things started to get tricky.

The nurse observed that my dilation had regressed from 8cm to 7cm, his head was still displaced, and I was running a fever of 40 degrees. It turns out I had an infection.

At this point, the doctors called time on my “natural” birth and I hastily signed the consent forms for a c-section. The hormone drip was then removed. As they wheeled me to theatre, I screamed as I experienced a half hour contraction.

When I was on the surgical table, the spinal block would not go in. They explained the need for a general anaesthetic and before they injected the cannula, I yelled, ‘Don’t let my wife find out the sex of the baby until I’m awake!’ Then, it was lights out.

During the surgery, I lost 2.5 litres of blood and needed to be stabilised with tubes down my throat. Fortunately, he was completely fine throughout.

I woke some hours later, with a baby on my chest.

‘He’s perfect!’ I remember saying, as I blacked out again.

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When I woke the next time, his nappy was being pulled down in my face – the closest I came to the ‘it’s a boy’ moment.

In the days following the birth, I couldn’t get out of bed nor care for my baby as I would have liked. I needed a lot of assistance from nurses as I was on an anti-biotic drip and couldn’t get out of bed unassisted. It was awful to feel so helpless.

Being trapped in the house for six weeks also made my life difficult. In the early days, I caught a bus to rhyme time but felt so overwhelmed by the amount of people in the library that I sat outside in the park and sobbed.

Over time, I experienced quite a lot of distress over how it all went down. At first, I felt like less of a woman because people would say to me, ‘Well, I knew someone who laboured for 36 hours with their first baby.’ Or they would talk about how few interventions they’d had with their own births, like all of this is the high watermark of womanhood.

I grieved everything I missed; the ‘it’s a boy’ moment, the cord being cut, seeing the placenta, hearing him cry, and experiencing the first breastfeed. Any time I hear about someone else’s “natural” birth, I get triggered, knowing I will never experience this for myself.

I struggled through the first few weeks of breastfeeding, desperate to hold onto the last lingering shred of connection I had to a natural birth of my son.

It sucked. Knowing I would never give birth again also didn’t help.

But in the months following, I have reflected, contemplated, and grown through all of this. I realise that births happen in many different ways and what was completely unorthodox was still beautiful, in that it brought life into this world.

I am no less a woman because I was induced, used an epidural, or because I had an unconscious c-section birth. Although I am grateful, my birthing experience was devastating, scarring, and isolating. Being able to make sense of it takes away some of its darkness.

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Not everyone you meet is a narcissist.

Whenever there is a mental health awareness initiative, it is all about informing people that many people have struggles with depression and anxiety.

This awareness is a good thing. It is working to end the stigma around mental illness.

However, this should extend to helping people become more educated on the workings of the mind. Too many people are quick to self-diagnose, or suggest diagnoses to others.

Similarly, the way people use diagnosable conditions as adjectives doesn’t help.

Think….. ‘That’s so OCD/ASD/you’re narcissistic/you’re delusional/you’re so bipolar!’

At times, I’ve been guilty of it. I’ve thrown the word ‘sociopath’ around a few times, but now that I know better, I can do better.

The truth is, we can all be self-centred. Many people like their living space to be ordered. We all have social struggles. These traits can exist in healthy individuals as quirks, or they can exist in a collection with other traits that form a diagnosis.

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However, these traits in isolation do not make a mental health condition.

Narcissism in particular is one that gets thrown around an awful lot. I’ve noticed it on Pinterest and in a number of Facebook communities, where people describe their ex, their mother, their siblings, their dog, as a narcissist. There is coaching on how to deal with such people.

All without any formal diagnosis, mind you.

Narcissistic personality disorder affects only a very, very small sample of the population. It is very resistant to treatment and can be devastating for the person who has the disorder.

Throwing the term around to describe every person who has taken a selfie, behaved selfishly, or been unfaithful in a relationship does not help the people who struggle with a very real, very misunderstood mental condition.

From what I understand, the diagnostic criteria is actually quite stringent, as such that your average self-interested type generally falls short.

We are talking about less than 5% of the general population.

Conversely, certain traits are common across disorders. So, just because someone has cognitive empathy, lacks affective empathy, and falls somewhere on the Autism spectrum, does not mean they are also a psychopath and a narcissist.

I guess it’s all about understanding nuance, which humans struggle with.

You can be socially awkward, but not ASD. You can be detached and limited to cognitive empathy, but not have a personality disorder. You can be nervous, without having clinical anxiety.

That is not to minimise people’s experiences, but not everything needs to be pathologised. Self-diagnosing and the diagnosing of others using speculation and Doctor Google only begets fear, ignorance, and the prevention of recovery.

The person you are struggling to deal with (including yourself), probably isn’t as disordered as you think they are – and if they are, it’s best to get some formal clarity from a psychiatrist or someone equipped to make a judgment.    

That is the only way to work towards a better understanding.

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Can’t see the fun for the dysfunction

I really enjoy baby activities.

We love rhyme-time, home sensory activities, and playgroup.

By far, though, my favourite is baby music class, which we do every Thursday at Hush Little Baby. Sometimes, people ask me if I’m trying to get him into music so he can become a musician. Like… in a band. Never mind that he’s not toilet trained.

While it’s a lovely thought, I think we spend too much time desiring lucrative ‘returns’ on what should just be pleasurable investments.

I take him to music class because it gets us out of the house – a dual benefit for our mental health. I take him because his eyes light up when we sing, I get to learn all the songs, and all of this focussed, attached time is good for our bond.

It is also known that music aids in the development of speech, language, and positive mental wellbeing.

Music makes children smart – but that should come second to the fact that it’s just a lot of fun. You don’t need to be a prodigy to enjoy any of it, either.

I think this may be some of the reason why some people resist exercising so much. Because society has always placed a value on exercise for weight loss, people are not taking it up for the enjoyment, thus, they do not stick with it…. which is counter-intuitive.

What this signals to me is a broader attitudinal problem where some of us can’t seem to separate activities from outcomes. Although I run purely for enjoyment, I have been guilty of this outcomes-based thinking in many other areas of my life – particularly study and work-related tasks.

This is why, at nearly 30, I still get hung up over paragraph indentation before I can even start the damn essay.

That’s a problem.

I don’t have any real solution, except that I’m going to start painting and journalling and cooking more because these are things I can do just for the sake of it.

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Namaste.