Sunday, February 26, 2012

Life Coping Devices

Welcome to the "I'm a Natural Parent - BUT..." Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the carnival hosted by The Artful Mama and Natural Parents Network. During this carnival our participants have focused on the many different forms and shapes Natural Parenting can take in our community.

To me, the essence of natural parenting is trusting and following my instincts, being mindful of biological norms, and making intentional, informed decisions about the way I choose to parent. 

I'm a natural parent, and my 20-month-old son has been using a pacifier since he was exactly two weeks old.

Sometimes one just isn't enough!
I'm a breastfeeding advocate who practiced child-led weaning. I believe strongly in normalizing breastfeeding, and particularly nursing in public. I continue to be surprised (and appalled) as I notice the widespread effects that our bottle-feeding culture has had on breastfeeding—even on things as basic as the language we use to refer to comfort suckling.

Before Daniel was born, I knew about the importance of solidly establishing breastfeeding (especially milk supply and proper latch) before introducing artificial nipples. I talked with my midwife about when we could introduce a pacifier, and she recommended no earlier than two weeks old. On the day Daniel turned two weeks old, I was feeling confident about our breastfeeding relationship (with respect to latch and also my abundant milk supply), and I was feeling very touched-out, so I sent Jaymz to the store for a pacifier. Daniel has been happily using one ever since. It was a particularly useful tool while riding in the car during those early months, when the only other options would have been to not travel by car, to pull over quite frequently, or for me to nurse him (unrestrained) in the back seat the whole time.

I didn't use the pacifier as a substitute for comfort nursing. Daniel rarely nursed to sleep, but when he wanted to (even in the last few months of nursing him), that's what we did. Daniel was usually quite down-to-business when it came to nursing; he didn't prefer to linger at the breast after finishing his meal. Was this because of our introducing the pacifier at two weeks? Perhaps it was, and I'm alright with that.

I sometimes find myself feeling embarrassed that Daniel uses a pacifier, especially as he gets older. In those moments I remind myself that we made a conscious decision to use this tool to help Daniel soothe himself.

I also have to remind myself that we are dealing with some special circumstances with respect to Daniel. Because of Daniel's sensory processing difficulties, sucking and chewing are very important (heavy work) activities which help provide him with calming proprioceptive input from his mouth and jaw. Having access to a pacifier at all times (as well as crunchy foods and rubbery things to chew on) allows him to have more control over his soothing and emotional regulation, which is something he has a lot of difficulty with. Using a pacifier helps him get through difficult situations while I support him in coping with those situations in other ways.

Several months ago, Jaymz and I started (jokingly) calling the pacifier Daniel's "life coping device," since sometimes it was the only thing that could help him through stressful situations. It really is quite an accurate description, though: if Daniel has his pacifier available, there's already a baseline level of comfort and self-soothing, and Jaymz and I are able to build on that with our other calming and regulating strategies.

I'm a natural parent, and I own and use a fancy stroller.

Out for a walk on a hard day.
In the Fall after Daniel was born, our family was going through some really rough times. Daniel had been crying a lot to say the least: upwards of five to seven hours per day (not including night time). Jaymz and I didn't know what to do to remedy the situation, and we felt fairly helpless. In early December, we took him to see an OT who helped us understand that Daniel's crying was due to sensory processing difficulties, and there was hope for helping him to feel better. While Daniel should have been (by that point, at seven months old) able to do more of the self-regulatory processes himself, he had not acquired those abilities like typically developing babies. He was stuck in the early infancy period of development in some ways, needing constant help from a caregiver (in the form of rocking, bouncing, swaddling, sucking, etc.) to stay calm and regulated.

As we continued to take Daniel to OT, I became more aware of the role that Jaymz and I played in soothing Daniel's nervous system: we were his primary regulators. If Jaymz and I weren't able to stay calm and feel regulated ourselves, we wouldn't be able to help prevent Daniel from becoming dysregulated. I realized how important it was for me to be able to recognize and remedy the early signs of fatigue in myself so that I would be able to continue to help Daniel.

One of the things I noticed during that time was how much Daniel's crying was affecting me, both emotionally and physically. I was wearing him almost all day every day, and having the constant loud sound of his screaming so close to my face (and up against my body) was really taking it's toll on me. I loved babywearing, but there were times when (for my own emotional regulation) I needed to be able to put Daniel down, to not have him always be on my body.

I reached out to some family members who graciously offered to help us buy a stroller. While we had hoped to get a more budget-friendly one, we had two specific requirements if we were going to add this tool to our parenting toolbox:
  1. The stroller needed to be ergonomically comfortable for both Jaymz (at 6'5") and me (at 5'5") to use—not an easy thing to accommodate!
  2. I wanted it to have a toward-facing seat (a seat which faces the caregiver) unlike most strollers on the market.
    After much searching, we found the perfect stroller, and it was such an incredible gift that our family gave to us! I took Daniel out for walks in the stroller (being outdoors usually helps him to feel calmer) while giving my body and nervous system a rest from wearing him while he cried. Taking those walks with Daniel in the stroller really helped me get through some of the hardest of those early screaming times. It helped me to be able to take care of my own nervous system and regulatory needs, so that I could help Daniel regulate himself. The stroller was one of my life coping devices during those roughest months, and I'm extremely grateful that I had it to use.

    I believe that having the toward-facing seat was extremely important for him to continue to feel safe and secure while riding in the stroller. I've read many articles (after buying our stroller) about how outward-facing strollers aren't ideal for babies' language development or stress levels. Wanting to maintain eye contact with Daniel (while I talked to him) on our walks was of utmost importance to me. I knew that for my kid, the studies would hold true: if Daniel couldn't see me, he would feel lost and scared, and the walks wouldn't be nearly as helpful for either of us.

    I wanted to make sure that he knew he was safe even when he wasn't snuggled up close to my (or Jaymz's) body, so we kept the stroller inward facing for a long time, until we knew he had solidly established object permanence, and he'd had other fun (outward-facing) riding experiences, like on my bike.

    • • •

    I consider myself an attachment parent (and a natural parent), and I don't believe that you have to follow a certain set of rules or make all the same decisions as other similarly-minded parents in order to "qualify" for those titles. For instance, parents who choose not to breastfeed can still make that decision consciously and with intention. I believe there are ways to bottle feed which more closely align with biological norms, provide bonding and attachment, and allow the child to have control over their intake.

    I think that's really the key: when choosing to use outside tools (bottles, strollers, pacifiers, etc.), to make the intentional decision to use them as additions tonot as substitutions for—attachment-focused parenting practices. 

    I'm a Natural Parent — But … Blog CarnivalThis carnival was created by The Artful Mama and Natural Parents Network. We recognize that "natural parenting" means different things to different families, and we are dedicated to providing a safe place for all families, regardless of where they are in their parenting journeys.

    Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
    (This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 26 with all the carnival links.)


    1. Hugs to you, Mama. Though I do not know you, I quickly pictured you standing at the sink, or in front of the computer with a baby on your chest. Screaming. For the seventh hour. After the seventeenth day.

      Clearly, you have carefully and lovingly made choices in the best interest of your child. It seems to me that thoughtful choices are the most important ones.

      It is also clear that you are taking amazing care of your little kiddo, and he is blessed to have you and Jaymz as parents.

    2. You know, I bet that Kieran would have done better with a pacifier, but I was also so scared of how I'd be perceived as an NP parent using a paci - isn't that awful?! I hate that we have to weigh decisions based on how people will judge us :( Good for you for recognizing what Daniel needed!!

    3. I decided to use a pacifier (my finger because we didn't own one yet) one of those early nights with Little Man as well. My mom commented about it but then afterwards she kept trying to pop it in his mouth too. The photo in your post cracks me up because I feel like sometimes one isn't enough for me either. We have more then one stroller as well because we just needed it at times and I think that there are ways to use these tools that support natural parenting even though at first it may look like they go against everything we "believe". Thank you for sharing your story about your amazing little boy and how you have supported his needs.

    4. I appreciate your choices, intentions, and closing remarks about using things that may not seem "natural". It really is about doing what works for *you* and yours, not adhering to some standard that ends up with everyone feeling miserable. Much love to you and your family.

    5. You give perfect examples of the difference between a tool and a crutch. Your son is surely benefitting from your flexibility and clarity of thought around these two tools. I tried a pacifier around the same time for my first, but she didn't take it. I also admit to using the car to put her down for naps once in a while when she was younger because nothing else seemed to work. If you had to deal with hours and hours of screaming and you got a stroller to help with that most folks would say you are a genius.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and perspective.

    6. "I think that's really the key: when choosing to use outside tools (bottles, strollers, pacifiers, etc.), to make the intentional decision to use them as additions to—not as substitutions for—attachment-focused parenting practices"

      Amen, sister.

      Beautiful post! I'm particularly glad your family generously supported you with that stroller. It is so true that self care enables us to care for others on such a deeper level, and for so much longer! This post is incredibly important. Thank you for writing it. =)

      (my babies had pacis too! they're not evil, lol!)

    7. I completely agree with you! Being a natural parent is all about following your instincts, and you clearly know what is best for your little guy. We would be awful parents if we withheld things from our family that make their lives better just to fit in with an esoteric definition. Daniel is lucky to have such a wonderful mama who knows how to follow her instincts!

    8. I actually kinda wish my son would take a pacifier. I feel like if he did then he wouldnt use ME constantly like a paci!!!!! Ive totally tried to reintroduce it to him (at 14 months)

    9. My son sounds a lot like yours. I really wish we had introduced the pacifier early on because it may have been helpful. I'm with you, we have to listen to them and use whatever tools we can ;)

    10. Late to commenting, but this is so clearly and insightfully written. I used to be terrified of pacifiers (I wouldn't let Mikko have one, despite outside pressure and constant comfort nursing), but when Alrik was screaming in the car and would.not.stop and I had to get places regardless as a mama to two, as you know I asked you and some others for some recommendations, and off I went to the pacifier store. It's come in handy for other things since then, too, and I don't regret it. And yet I sometimes whip it out when we're going to take a picture or meet crunchy friends, lol. Oh, well.

      We broke down and found a fancier stroller when Mikko was showing no signs of wanting to stroll on his own two feet (when was this? when he was 2? 3?) and we were tired of pushing his extreme heaviness around in a crappy umbrella stroller that we had to bend down to push. (I love that you & Jaymz are a foot apart, by the way. Priceless.) I don't regret that, either. And he's finally graduated out of it, by the way, at 4. Ha ha. All in good time, right? Some people did look askance at us wheeling around our older(-looking) kid, but that's kind of along the same lines. If it's not harming anybody, you do what works for you and your kids, according to what you both need at the time.

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