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Following your heart

Updated on October 6, 2012
Here she is just before graduation
Here she is just before graduation

- - The joys of attachment parenting

My first child came along shortly before I turned 29 years old.

Now, please understand: I was the baby of my family, and aside from some day-long babysitting stints as a teen, I literally had no clue what I was in for. I did know that I wanted to breastfeed my baby ... and I did know that I had all the equipment and supplies I needed. I thought I was prepared.

HA.

First, she was a section baby due to a breech presentation. Well then. Not only was I learning to nurse, I was also dealing with post-surgical gas pain, and feeling like my stomach was going to fall out. By day six, though, I was ready to go home. Except that I was sore ... somewhere else. And the nursing staff was no help. (Sigh.)

Finally, my husband could take it no longer. "They gave us a 'Baby Help' book at the classes, didn't they? Well that Leaky Club or something was in there, right? The one with the help on how to nurse the baby? Call them. PLEASE."

I called. The woman at the other end listened and at the first word out of her mouth - "OUCH!" - I knew that I would be looking into this support group. Even more so when within three days, the pain was gone. Completely.

At this group, run entirely by mothers for mothers, I learned a whole different mothering philosophy than the one by which I was raised. "Loving guidance" they called it. If they only knew where I have come from, I thought. I watched these women parent their children without hitting them. I was amazed: their kids were so well-behaved and - what was the word - happy! I started paying attention.

"League" (La Leche League, that is) opened up a whole different philosophy for me - that of attachment parenting. Baby-led mothering. Or, as I came to call it, following your heart.

This often flew in the face of conventional wisdom. Let me illustrate. When my daughter was two years old, she was old enough to go to children's church. The mothers all went through the same ordeal: leave their kid there, the child screamed, and the mother walked away feeling guilty and ashamed. The child would invariably continue to scream; after all, there were grown-ups in the room that could go get the mother. Everyone was miserable, including (and especially) the two people who were supposed to be enjoying the experience: the mother - upstairs in church feeling horrible - and the child: downstairs feeling abandoned. I saw this the first time I took my girl down there. And I made a split-second decision based on two years of watching these mothers at my support group parent their children so differently.

I stayed.

My little girl saw me settle down on the sofa, and she realized I wasn't leaving. Soon, she was over at the toy box, playing quietly with another little girl her age, perfectly happy. She came over a couple of times to make sure I wasn't going anywhere, or to share something with me that she had found. We both enjoyed the experience. I was able to see the curriculum she was being taught, and I enjoyed the lesson.

After a few weeks of this, the teacher took me aside. "Judy, don't you think it's better if you just go back upstairs to the service?"

"If I leave her, she'll cry and it will just be harder on everyone," I tried to explain.

"Oh, they all do that at first. Just go, she'll be fine."

Having had a couple of bad experiences prior to this when we left and she WASN'T fine AT ALL, I smiled politely and said, "No-o, I think I'll stay. I like to know she's happy and not being any trouble." I shot the lady a gentle, long-suffering look that said, My mind is made up; you may as well not argue.

She shrugged and walked away. I was just plain weird, clearly.

I did this for several months, and my daughter was content to learn her lessons and play quietly, color, share her discoveries with me. And something happened that didn't happen with the other moms. We bonded.

Fast forward two years. We were at the YMCA at a play school, and she was four. By then, her little sister was on my hip, and I had joined the ranks of the crowd-control moms - the ones with two kids in tow and only that many arms. I'd looked for a parking spot out front and had only found a no-parking zone. I had parked there. We had climbed the stairs to the play school, and I squatted down on the floor beside her. "I have to go, honey. The car is in a no-parking spot, and I don't want to get a ticket."

"Do your real-ly have to go?" she whined.

"Yes honey, I really do."

"Okay, Mom." She turned away from me and then turned to wave. "Bye!"

And that was it. She had separated at her own time and in her own way, because she felt confident. It wasn't a big deal for her.

Am I glad? Oh yes. A million times, yes! That pattern of natural confidence-building would set the tone for all of her amazing accomplishments, right up to the most recent one: winning an award in her college graduating class for the highest marks in her stream - to the thunderous applause of the 900 people gathered in that auditorium.

And nobody clapped any more loudly than her mother.

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