Monday, July 1, 2013

Back to Baby-wearing

Sunday afternoon and I find myself, once again, with my granddaughter asleep against my chest while her mum enjoys some time-out with her brother, sister and father.

1987: Kaitlyn's first Christmas
I have to admit, Charlie is a wonderful excuse to indulge my love of baby-wearing! It feels just so right to have that close warmth and the sound of her sleeping breath close by and to be able to touch or kiss her head. I wore all of my babies and have followed the growth of baby slings and carriers over the past thirty years with interest.

The choices were few back in the mid 80s when Melissa was born and before I knew better, I purchased a carrier that would now be classed as a "crotch dangler"! Later, I bought my first NMAA Meh Tai and the rest is history! I still have that navy Meh Tai and have popped Charlie into it a couple of times when needed and it is still going strong! Despite the strong presence of the fashionable Snuggli in the parenting magazines, I stuck with what worked!

Baby-wearing was our life-saver when Kieran came along in 1991- the Meh Tai was one of the few ways I could get him to sleep and have my arms free! As I qualified as a Breastfeeding Counsellor when he was 1yo, my Meh Tai became a teaching aid and came along to group meetings, antenatal classes and the weekly postnatal visits I did at the local hospital - it is probably one of the most-seen Meh Tais since Mary Paton's! (More on that later)

In 1995, I returned to work and got paid to talk about Meh Tais and demonstrate them! My job in the Melbourne store of Merrily Merrily (now Mother's Direct), the retail division of NMAA (now ABA!) was a wonderful chance to spread the word and I got so much practice demonstrating them, I had to make sure I did so slow enough for customers to follow!

Part of my role over the next five years was to organise photo shoots for various catalogues and publications and that usually involved getting various friends to model different products - including the Meh Tai and also the new NMAA Simplicity Sling - a variation of the Meh Tai that utilised clips in place of the traditional knots. At that time, mid to late 1990s, most slings on the market had these kinds of fastenings and feedback was that parents preferred these to the traditional Meh Tai.

I once had the pleasure of two Chinese midwives, visiting NMAA Head Quarters in Nunawading, exclaiming in delight when they saw a poster in the shop for the Meh Tai - they told me that this was very familiar to them and that it translated as Meh (tying on the back) Tai (with a belt). The traditional Asian baby carrier was this design and the story of how it appeared as legendary in an Australian breastfeeding support organisation never tires for re-telling:

In 1966, NMAA Founder Mary Paton and her family were featured in a Herald newspaper series about Melbourne families. This busy mum literally flew home from another engagement to meet with the reporter and photographer at her home. Whether by good luck or intention, Mary had her youngest child on her back in a Meh Tai and the photographer  suggested she "do something" he could photograph her doing in this strange thing. Mary grabbed the vacuum cleaner and was thus captured for eternity cleaning the house wearing a smart dress and high heels - donned for her earlier engagement! The response from readers was amazing, contacting the newspaper asking where they could buy such a thing - and Mary quickly announced that NMAA made and sold them. And so the seeds for Merrily Merrily/Mothers Direct were sewn! Literally sewn, in fact - around kitchen tables in sewing bees for many years until eventually outsourced to Melbourne manufacturers Dawsons, who were still supplying them 30 years later when I was selling the products!

At the 2007 Hot Milk conference, I was invited by Mary herself up to her hotel room, where she handed into my personal care her very own copy of that newspaper article. I got this professionally framed and had in hanging by my desk at the Breastfeeding Centre until I left recently  - it now hangs in my lounge room as a reminder of the volunteers that have been the core of the organisation since February 1964.

Fashions came and went over the years and so did the colours and designs of the Meh Tai fabric - and what was on-trend one year would turn up a few years later in the bargain bin! This was how I came by two red Meh Tais, reduced to clear, which I gave to my baby-sitting daughters.  Kaitlyn is now proudly using hers as part of her baby-wearing wardrobe for Charlie.

The gorgeous red Meh Tai
And so I come to the modern chapter of my baby-wearing story: in recent years, with the aid of online shopping and forums such as Facebook, baby slings and carriers have hit a new popularity. There are now whole businesses dedicated to the sale and promotion of baby-wearing options. Some are wonderful - and some are pretty awful. Thankfully, the majority are beautiful and a new breed of baby-wearer has appeared: She who cannot stop at one! Different styles for different stages, circumstances and whimsy sit happily in the baby-wearer's wardrobe. Groups meet to share techniques and admire the beauty of different fabrics. Other groups allow sales of pre-loved carriers while others exist to promote safe baby-wearing and dissuade the use of poorly designed and/or made products.

I had promised my daughters that i would buy a family "library" of slings and carriers that they could all use with their babies as they came along and Kaitlyn is making the most from that promise!

So far, the library also includes:

  • Ergo, plus infant insert
  • Hug-a-bub
  • Girasol woven wrap (waiting for delivery!)
  • Wrapsody Bali Stretch wrap (also in the post!!)
We have also tried out a borrowed a couple of ring slings and plan to buy some rings to use with a woven wrap.

Baby-wearing is a guaranteed way to get 11 week old Charlie to sleep, almost within moments, and is how she has her longer daytime naps. It is as natural to pop her in a sling when she shows signs of tiredness as it is to put her to the breast when she is hungry and usually works just as quickly. She is 100% portable as she not only always has her food wherever she is but also her sleep space! In her first three months of life, she has been out and about without a care in the world :)

So, finally - here are my baby-wearing links to share:

These are just ones I have had personal contact with, either as a customer, member etc. 

If you are new to baby-wearing, I hope you find something useful here. It all takes a bit of practice and maybe trial and error as you find the right option for you, but once you do, it is one of the most enjoyable ways I know to keep your baby close and still be free to do everything else!

No comments: