babywearing

An Enchant(ress)ing Visitor

A couple of months ago, my favourite wrap company, Firespiral, announced that they were looking for new testers – basically, people who would ‘host’ a wrap from among their new releases and share photos and thoughts about it with other wrappers. I promptly sent a very gushing email volunteering myself for this onerous (!) task. Shortly after Christmas, I received a message asking whether I would host Enchantress Mercury Gossamer for a week. The catch – I was going to be abroad for two weeks, visiting the Little Weaver’s grandparents and great-grandma in the States. The tour co-ordinator kindly agreed to let me have the wrap for a bit longer than usual, so off it went with us across the Atlantic.

Enchantress Mercury Gossamer (bottom) with Kokiri Mercury Birch Trees, woven on the same weft.

Enchantress is woven on the difficult-to-define olive/gray Mercury weft, the same as Kokiri Mercury Birch Trees, which I own and talked about in a previous post. But where Kokiri is a heavyweight, 325gsm 30% linen blend, Enchantress is a much lighter 270gsm, and an intriguing blend of 74% cotton, 18% linen, and 8% merino wool. I found this a fascinating proposition: for me, linen is a smooth, somewhat ‘hard’ fibre (it’s often a fibre that wrappers report their shoulders taking a dislike to), whilst wool is fluffy and soft. I wondered what this sweet-and-savoury combination, at least in wrapping terms, would feel like.

First, however, a word on looks. Enchantress is neither the pattern nor the colour that I would choose for myself: I’m not a big fan of muted pink or red shades, and the Firespiral designs that I really love are those which have some sort of variation across the height of the pattern (the Winter Hill design is a great example of this, with the different layers of the underground, with the sky above, helping to differentiate the strands as you wrap). That said, Gossamer is a wonderfully organic, subtle example of a smaller-scale, repeating pattern, and the alternating weft threads makes for a wonderful richness of colour which changes depending upon the light, sometimes seeming a more muted, dusky pink, and sometimes almost coppery.

For me, Enchantress felt very solid, and rewarding of careful strand-by-strand tightening. In terms of wrapping qualities I feel that it was the linen content that really had the greatest impact on the wrap’s overall character: it reminded me a lot of wrapping with my Zora Twilight Tourbillon, which is 25% linen, and no wool. Once you got baby where you wanted them to be, they were not going anywhere! However, I was struck that in terms of the haptic experience of the wrap – basically, what it felt like to run my hands over my baby’s bottom in a front wrap cross carry! – it was the small percentage of wool that really ‘spoke’. Enchantress has a delightful, gentle fuzziness (but not prickle) to it which made it a pleasure to handle. It’s also the first wrap I’ve tried which I noticed having a distinctive sound. Perhaps due to the weft fibres, or the pattern, or a combination of both, passes seemed to let out a tschh, sort of like the sound of dragging your feet through dried leaves.

Whilst hosting Enchantress, I tried a whole variety of carries – kangaroo, front wrap cross carry with spread passes, semi pocket wrap cross carry, a simple ruck, Autumn’s ruck – and found it equally supportive in all, even the single-layer carries. I also had the trying experience, halfway across the world from home, of my baby coming down with flu and giving it to the entire household (talk about an extended family bonding experience). Throughout, I was reminded yet again of how valuable wrapping is to me as a parenting tool: it helped me rock my baby when I felt too tired and ill to hold her in arms, it helped her nap in a strange new place, and it brought us both comfort. Enchantress, with its solidity and fuzziness, was a wonderful wrap to have supporting us, and I’m very grateful to Firespiral for the opportunity to try it!

babywearing

Wrapping (Mentally) Well

I am wearing my baby as I write this, sitting on a bench looking out over the sea in the gorgeous place I am lucky enough to call my home. Being Scotland in October, it’s breezy and a bit chilly, but we’re both wrapped inside my jacket, she is asleep, and so am soaking up the autumn sun and enjoying some much-needed fresh air. It is International Babywearing Week*, and (so long as the Little Weaver stays asleep) I want to write about how wrapping my baby has, for me, been an enormous positive factor in my mental health postpartum.

I’ve lived with depression for many years, and I was very afraid of this evolving into postnatal depression after the arrival of my daughter. So far (I’d touch wood, were the bench beneath me not made of plastic) I’ve actually felt pretty good since giving birth. Indeed, at times I have felt the happiest and most mentally stable that I have in years. Babywearing isn’t the only thing to credit with this, of course – thanks to some incredible support I had a very empowering experience of labour, and, let’s be honest, the daily dose of anti-depressants certainly helps.

But wrapping has helped, far beyond enabling the simple and lovely act of sitting in the sun and wind with my sleeping daughter snugged to my chest. Here are a few of them.

It has made me feel capable

There have certainly been times during pregnancy and after when I haven’t felt very much like a strong, independent woman (for example, when trying to fit a carseat at 36 week pregnant left me a hormonal, sobbing mess, or when an infected perineum had me struggling to walk to the end of the street). Wearing the Little Weaver – who, as a friend accurately put it, was never that little – has certainly rebuilt my muscles. As for independence, I enjoyed a somewhat aching relish in travelling down south by train with my daughter strapped to my chest, changing rucksack on my back, and rolling suitcase laden with five day worth of baby gumph to hand. Although people offered much-apprciated help most times I got on and off a train, I didn’t need it, and that mattered to me. I felt, oddly, quite as I did aged 17, travelling across China with an 80l rucksack on my back. That my boots were made for walking.

Wrapping has also made me feel more capable as a mother. When nothing else works, the wrap will. When she sees me pick up a wrap, the Little Weaver actually grins. And if it takes a while for the wrap to work its soothing magic? I just keep walking and singing, knowing that my overtired girl could not be any closer. It’s a tool I trust, and whatever form that tool takes (walking in the pram, being in the car, a favourite toy or piece of music) I think every parent needs one like that. And when your brain frequently tries to tell you that you’re doing everything wrong, it’s even more important to know there is at least one thing you can do that is right.

The wrap maketh the woman

I am very happy to admit that vanity plays a part in my love for woven wrap as a form of babywearing in particular. I told a friend years ago that you could tell I was particularly depressed if you saw me in dull, casual clothes. I don’t wear makeup and rarely blow-dry my hair, but bright colours and nice fabrics make me happy. To deny myself these is the sign not only of a day in which I don’t feel happy, but of a day in which I don’t feel I deserve to be happy.

These days, I spend most of my time in clothes which will inevitably be vomited on at some point, and which first and foremost have to meet the criteria of offering fairly easy access to my boobs. But no matter what I’m wearing underneath, the wrap on top (which, to be fair, will also end up with various bodily fluids on it) offers a funny sort of self-care in the form of colourful, tactile fabric.

Two of my self-decorating wraps; Firespiral Kingfisher Charters Moss and Firespiral Zora Tourbillon.

There’s some good crack

I’m lucky enough to live in a small village, and so reap the benefits of having a small baby in the midst of a community of friends and neighbours who look out for us both. But being a parent in the twenty-first century also inevitably means finding the ‘village’ in which you raise your children online. Of all the Facebook groups I have joined since becoming a mother, it is on those relating to wrapping that I have felt most at home. My favourite group is the ‘Geeky Wrappers‘ group, where people keen to learn new ‘carries’ (ways of tying a woven wrap) and improve their technique gather to get advice and share stories of wrapping and parenting. The only way I can put it is that the people in this and other wrapping groups feel like my people, and their kindness, humour, and positivity helps me retain my own sense of humour and positivity even when the going gets tough.

The (hasty) bottom line

This blog post has been written over the course of quite a few days, and my wee girl is wriggling after a long feed, so I’m going to wrap up (hahaha) there. All I can say is that wrapping hasn’t just helped me care for my daughter over the first four months of her life: it has helped care for me in my first four months as a mother, too.


* Or it was when I started writing this post…

babywearing

Falling deeper down the well

The second stage of my descent (or ascent?) into willow-weaving was marked by the purchase of our first woven baby wrap. What’s a baby wrap? Well, it’s a long piece of woven fabric, which you can arrange around yourself and your baby to securely ‘wrap’ them to you in an endless variety of different ways. Just like cloth nappies, babywearing – especially with woven wraps – brings with it geekery, beauty, and community.

I distinguish above between babywearing in general and woven wrapping in particular. Babywearing encompasses all ways of securing your baby to your body. The most familiar in the UK these days are probably structured buckle carriers, like the Ergobaby or the Baby Bjรถrn. Stretchy wraps are also becoming increasingly popular for wearing newborns, and you can even get t-shirts specially designed for you to pop your baby in for skin-to-skin. (I considered the latter during my pregnancy as they looked sweet. However I am glad I didn’t spend any money on them as I suspect the Little Weaver would have soon stretched the carrying capacity of t-shirt fabric!)

When I first thought of babywearing, it was these sorts of carriers I had in mind. Rather than doing solo research, though, as I did with the cloth nappies, I decided to seek out an expert for some hands-on guidance. The Scottish Historian and I ended up attending a pre-baby consultation with Emma Gilmour, who runs the Fife sling library. She talked us through the ‘TICKS’ guidelines for safe babywearing – and let us try out different ways of carrying babies (or, in the setting of the consultation, realistically-weighted dolls). We tried out stretchy wraps, such as the one included in the Scottish Baby Box… and then Emma got out her woven wraps.

I’ll start with the beauty aspect of wraps, because it was the aesthetics – both visual and haptic – of these woven lengths of fabric that first struck me: the colours, the textures. Woven wraps come in an unimaginable variety. Some people make their own from affordable fabrics (and dye their own – I have visions of my cats running around suddenly pink if I tried this at home). Individuals, companies, and co-operatives around the world offer a variety of handwoven and machinewoven made-for-purpose wraps, with patterns to suit more or less every preference; Oscha, a Scottish wrap producer, offer a range of ‘Middle Earth’ wraps for the Tolkien-lovers among the babywearing community.

And of *course* I got a Middle Earth wrap. This is Misty Mountains Rauros (outside of maternity leave I’m a historian of mountains).

And there’s that word again – community. Just as with cloth nappy users, when it comes to babywearing birds of a feather certainly flock together. ‘Fan’ pages for different wrap brands and types tend to also serve as hubs for buying, selling, trading (and even ‘holidaying’, where you send your wrap to be used by other people) activity. One of my favourite online wrapping communities, however, is the ‘Geeky Wrappers’ Facebook group, dedicated not so much to drooling over gorgeous textiles (although this also occurs!) as to offering advice and troubleshooting on wrapping technique. And here, of course, we see the pseudonymous geekery which I so enjoy indulging. I’m going to write about this more at a later point, but wrapping is most definitely a skill, and one that requires work (and one at which I am most certainly still an apprentice!). There’s a real satisfaction, in the midst of the repetition and hard work that is early parenting, to feel that one is building a skill and learning something new every day.

There are about a million other advantages to babywearing – for example it’s a wrap that has allowed me to finish writing this post with a fast asleep bairn snuggled to my chest – but I’ll leave it there for now.