Giving Up Attachment Parenting Made Me a Better Mom

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Before I had children, I thought I wanted to be an attachment parenting kind of mom. Boy, was I wrong.

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I loved the idea of attachment parenting. I planned for a natural, med-free childbirth and envisioned peaceful days with me in flowing dresses, dancing around the kitchen singing to the little waif nestled at my breast in a handmade sling, his fists curled in my hair. What a lovely fantasy!

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Reality looked decidedly different from my idyllic pre-motherhood daydreams. Some of it was by choice and some of it is just how things worked out. In some cases, I realized I had totally ignored my own nature and bought into the fantasies presented in all of the parenting magazines that found their way to my mailbox. There is nothing at all wrong with any of the time-honored choices that make up attachment parenting, but for one reason or another, I quickly found each one wasn't the right choice for me.

Natural Childbirth

I was so intent on having a natural, pain med–free birth that I didn't even attend the class where they talked about cesarean sections and showed a video. I was sure I wouldn't be one of the "C-section statistics" and I definitely didn't want my vision of the perfect birth marred by an icky discussion of surgery. I was an idiot.

When my health became compromised and my obstetrician insisted on scheduling an induction, I mourned the loss of the "natural" birth I wanted. Still trying to control the experience, I refused pain medication and suffered through Pitocin hell, only to be told 12 hours later that I was one centimeter dilated and my blood pressure was dangerously high. When a C-section became inevitable, I was exhausted, shell-shocked, and heartbroken. It took a long time to reconcile the birth experience I wanted with the birth experience I got.

When it came time to schedule a cesarean with my second baby, I had to make peace with the idea that how he got here didn't matter, as long as he got here safe and healthy.

Breastfeeding

I absolutely knew I'd breastfeed for a year. Maybe longer. But whether it was the traumatic birth experience or my own lack of education, I simply couldn't produce enough milk for my baby. (Here is where every successful lactating mom tells me what I did wrong. Trust me, I have heard it all and it doesn't help after the fact.)

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During my three days in the hospital, two different lactation nurses attempted to assist me with varying degrees of success. One was absolutely lovely and I kept apologizing to her for not getting it right. The other one seemed intent on twisting my breasts into pretzels. I went home with a hospital-grade breast pump and grim determination that this, at least, would work out for me. Again, I was wrong. I was supplementing with formula within the week and gave up on breastfeeding when even the professional breast pump couldn't help me produce more than an ounce.

Homemade Baby Food

While it's not exactly a requirement of attachment parenting, making food for my baby -- whether it came from my body or from my food processor -- just felt like something I should do. I read up on baby food recipes, pinned all sorts of ... well, if not yummy-looking, at least healthy-sounding, homemade baby foods. But by the time my baby was ready for solids, the effort involved in creating those baby foods seemed to be more work than it was worth. After a few half-hearted attempts at homemade applesauce and sweet potato oatmeal, I discovered my baby was okay with baby food from jars or even my own home-cooked grownup dinner, mushed up for his gummy little mouth. And the time I saved on not making some bento-box quality baby meal was better spent on other things -- like showering.

Baby-Wearing

Much like breastfeeding, this one seemed like a no-brainer. I thought it would be easy to go about my life with a baby strapped to my chest. Oh, how wrong I was! Let's start with the fact that I didn't have small babies. My first was nearly nine pounds; the second was one ounce shy of 11 pounds. Eleven pounds! These were not small, waif-like babies. These were big, chunky babies. Babies who squirmed and wriggled and made me sweat. On top of that, wearing a baby while you're recovering from abdominal surgery is no picnic.

But I tried with my first son, oh how I tried! In the end, I felt like I was still pregnant and just carrying the weight outside my body. Plus, he would fall asleep while I was wearing him, and I was afraid he would refuse to nap or sleep unless he was swaddled against me. And yes, I realize this is fine for some moms, but the few hours the baby napped were the hours I could do housework or actually take a nap myself.

Co-Sleeping

Co-sleeping seemed like a practical choice, with my husband deployed and me the sole getter-upper-in-the-middle-of-the-night for over five months. Despite being a light sleeper with lifelong insomnia, I daydreamed about co-sleeping with my little one curled against me, but I knew I'd never be able to sleep with him in the same bed. The few times I attempted it, I couldn't relax enough to go to sleep and ended up putting the baby in his crib. I couldn't even use the baby monitor because every time he rolled over it was so loud through the speaker that I would wake up in a panic.

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And though I knew it ran contrary to the idea of attachment parenting, I was intent on helping my babies sleep well on their own. I wouldn't call it "sleep training" so much as "sleep encouraging." I wasn't (and still am not) a proponent of the cry-it-out method and never let either of my babies cry for more than 10–15 minutes (and usually more like five) before cuddling them. But -- and it's a big but -- I didn't cave in my resolve and kept them in their own cribs even if it meant I had to get up six or eight times every night.

The result was that they were both sleeping through the night before they were 3 months old and were able to self-soothe back to sleep (no crying!) if they woke up. Sometimes I felt guilty leaving my poor little babies in another room, but it worked for us as a family and we all sleep well in our own beds.

I don't know what in the world made me think I'd be good at attachment parenting, I really don't. I still like the idea, but I also like the idea of being graceful in stiletto heels and enjoying kale salad. I've come to the realization that motherhood is different for everyone and there is no one "right" way to birth, feed, nurture, bond with, or raise our children. It's about finding the joy in the experience, however you define it.

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