Our thanks to Ellie Thouret of the Cheshire Parenting Collective for this piece on babywearing and perinatal mental health. We didn’t get a chance to share this post during our month of focusing on PNMH in April, but felt it was an important perspective so are delighted to include it now.
When my eldest son was born almost six years ago, I suddenly realised that I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. I had a traumatic birth experience and struggled with breastfeeding, and quite frankly I wanted to curl up and sleep for a week. It took a long time to ask for help and receive a diagnosis of postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but looking back it’s clear that the signs were there very early on.
Our tiny baby wanted us to hold him all of the time. He was what some people call a ‘Velcro baby’ but in my experience it is just normal newborn behaviour. I didn’t bond with him for quite a long time, and that made me feel even less competent. Every time I looked at him, I felt a crushing pressure that seemed more and more difficult to live up to.
When my husband went back to work two weeks after our son was born, I felt like the walls were closing in. I knew I needed to get out and find some support, but my son seemed to really hate the pram and car seat. I couldn’t even brush my teeth without him screaming to be picked up. I felt like I was losing myself and my sanity along with it. I didn’t really want to be holding my baby all the time, as it just reminded me how incompetent I felt.
I can pinpoint the exact moment that things started to change: my husband’s cousin asked me if I had thought about using a sling, and offered to lend me her stretchy wrap. Watching my sister-in-law demonstrate how to tie it, I was very sceptical and didn’t think I’d be able to do it, or enjoy holding my son so close. I was desperate, though, and after watching a few instructional videos I gave it a try. He calmed down immediately and snuggled into my chest. It was the first moment I felt like I might be able to mother him after all.
Carrying my son with me in a sling helped him to settle down, which in turn increased my confidence in my ability to meet his needs. I also started to bond with him, and as I looked down at his sleeping face I finally felt the rush of love I’d been waiting for.
Soon, I even ventured outside with the stretchy wrap and being able to walk to the local breastfeeding groups or just wander around helped me to feel better. I moved on from the stretchy to a gauze wrap, which was great in warm weather; then a buckled carrier; and more wraps. I also met other people who were interested in using slings and carriers, and some of us formed a group which eventually became a sling meet and lending library – my stepping stones on the way to setting up Cheshire Parenting Collective.
My recovery from postnatal depression was a long journey, and our rocky start has stayed with me as my son grows up. I still feel a lot of guilt about how I was during his early months, but I also know that even when I didn’t feel a connection with him, I made sure his needs were met.
Carrying him in a sling allowed me to fulfil his need for closeness, while doing things for myself – luxuries like going to the loo, or making a cup of tea! Carrying meant that he thrived while I recovered, and this had such a strong effect on me that I trained to help other parents and carers to safely use slings and carriers. I believe that I deserved a better postnatal experience and that eventually led me to set up Cheshire Parenting Collective – now we work to improve other parents’ experiences and make sure they are supported in their children’s early days, and beyond!