Our child's medical condition led us to unexpectedly become Attachment Parents

February 21 | Guest post by Heather
By: SummerCC BY 2.0
I went in to parenthood prepared. I had a decent amount of baby experience and figured I was as ready as someone can be to have your life up-ended by a tiny human. My husband and I discussed cloth diapering (we wanted to try it), sleeping arrangements (Pack-n-Play and crib only) and birth plans (unmedicated hospital birth with a doula). I knew that all of our plans needed some degree of flexibility as we figured out what worked best for us. Then our fuss-a-saurus, E, was born.

I should have suspected we were in for it before I even went into labor. E remained firmly frank breech for all of my pregnancy. No amount of chiropractor appointments, yoga or spinning babies techniques made a difference; this child was stubborn! So, disappointed, we scheduled a c-section and let our doula know we didn't need her after all. Even that didn't appease our tiny dictator; she wanted the birth on her own terms and sent me into labor a week before her scheduled arrival.

As she was removed from me, I listened anxiously for her first cry, signaling she was healthy and safe. I have never heard a newborn cry that loudly! My goodness, this child got her mother's lungs. She wailed, and continued wailing until she was five months old. She seemed to have two settings: "somewhat annoyed" and "Dear God I'm dying! Come save me!" Nothing made this infant happy. My husband and I joked that she hated life. I had dealt with fussy babies before but this one took the cake. And, no surprise, I could not tolerate her crying for any length of time.

This itty bitty person required us to re-think everything we had assumed about parenting.

To make it more complicated, our perfect offspring was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at birth and was sent home in a full-time harness, then upgraded to a brace and is now in a cast from mid-section to ankle (to knee on one leg). So there went our cloth diapering plans and our sleeping arrangement plans. Luckily, her hip dysplasia was not uncomfortable for her and she was otherwise healthy, so it wasn't the cause of her life-apathy.

Turns out, E disapproved of my parenting style. She had made the decision that we needed to do some attachment parenting techniques. If I wore her, nursed her often, and slept next to her, she stopped screaming. It was the only thing that calmed her down. As she hit four or five months, she figured out how to move a bit and was willing to entertain herself without me for upwards of 7 minutes! It was glorious. She still preferred to be worn and only slept next to me, mostly so she could drink from the tap at any hour.

We didn't plan to do any Attachment Parenting as my husband and I figured babies liked to play on floors and sleep in cribs. Nope, not this baby. So, we adjusted. We bought baby carriers. I bought shirts with easy access. We enjoyed the cuddles.

Now that she is in a spica cast for the next several months, I am grateful for the attachment training our daughter gave us. She doesn't fit in most strollers, high chairs or car seats now. She can't lay flat to sleep. (Also, diapering is a new, exciting adventure.) Having her in a cast is a lot like having a bigger, heavier version of her one month self.

Now we're just using what we've learned — we wear her for outings, errands and hikes. Although she is significantly heavier with a body cast, we are used to lugging her around at this point so it isn't too much of a hassle. Co-sleeping makes it easier to adjust her in the middle of the night to help prevent pressure sores and other cast excitement. She actually lets us sleep a little better now that she can't swing her legs into my face in the middle of the night.

I do look forward to the day we get our grown-up bed to ourselves and I am anxious for E to be done with her hip problems but these days in a cast aren't as difficult as I had anticipated. We are used to an angry baby and E is significantly more pleasant now than she was the first four months of her demanding existence. She has figured out how to crawl and stand without mobile legs and can make it across a room at record speed, much to the dismay of our cats. She has also modified her cry to include a third setting of "move me over there! I want something."

For the next offspring, whenever that may be, we plan to do more baby-wearing and so on — so I am positive that baby will hate to be held, refuse to nurse and require long stretches of solitude. Babies are just tricky like that.

  1. I always planned to parent with what I called attachment-lite (probably inspired by discussions here of being offbeat-lite) but watching how dramatically the techniques work to solve problems still surprised me.

    For example, when A was newborn, she and my husband had a difficult time bonding. They did lots of skin-to-skin but because I was breastfeeding, my husband felt left out and useless and I think A sensed his lack of confidence. For several weeks, I could not so much as hand her off to go to the bathroom without her screaming. Then, one day we decided to brave the grocery store with our newborn and I suggested my husband test out the Ergo baby carrier we bought for him. An hour later, she was sound asleep on his chest and has been an absolute daddy's girl ever since.

    Attachment parenting–lite or full–may not be for everyone as a default, but for parents who may be having problems with their infants, it is at least worth trying one or more of the techniques to see if they can solve anything.

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    • Also, may I add that if that photo is of your E, zie is beyond adorable. I'm seriously in love. ­čÖé

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      • It was amazing how well wearing E worked to calm her!
        (and nope, not my little one in the pic but I agree that it is an adorable baby!!!! I have some pics of my trouble maker on the flicker pool, cast and all)

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  2. THANK YOU very much to the mamma who posted this! I find comfort in your story as my little one kind of demanded the attachment type parenting too.

    I have a question about sleep routines when you do Attachment Parenting. My Husband & I did the "attachment-lite" type parenting the poster above speaks of where we wore her for outings and I would clean the house and do errand with her in my Moby wrap. She always slept all night in a crib as a baby but at 12 months, K decided she wasn't going to sleep through the night anymore and wanted us in bed with her. We are now at 19 mo. and still having multiple ups and downs through the night. How do you coax your child to sleep by themselves again once you have done the attachment parenting? Does anyone think we are having this issue because we wore her so much as she was little but now she is bigger (and running and playing all day) she is looking for that bond somehow and can get easier at night??

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    • I have no real solutions, just commiseration – my little one is 22 months and still not always sleeping through the night. We co-slept full time until she was 8 months, then part time in her own bed (floor bed) and part time in our bed, and then at around 16 months she was full time in her own room…still waking 3-6 times every night. Nowadays she sleeps through about 50% of the time, and when she does wake (only once or twice), it's usually easy to get her back to sleep. So, I'm calling that a huge improvement over where she used to be!

      The only suggestion I have is the book 'no cry sleep solution' – it's fairly attachment parenting friendly as far as sleep books go. It didn't fix everything overnight but it did have a lot of helpful advice.

      I personally found the Dr Sears sleep stuff annoying…I'd be reading how *easy* it is to just co-sleep and night nurse forever because you can just leave your top off and your baby will nurse without you even waking up…um, maybe for some people but I definitely can't sleep through that! I'd be shaking my head reading his sleep stuff like "easy for you to say MAN WHO NEVER BREASTFED". anyway, I digress.

      Does K have access to water at night? That seems to have helped my kid, that she can reach and drink water herself when she wakes up.

      I don't know, I'm sure some people probably think that the reason my kid has had sleep 'issues' is because of the way we parent her, but who knows really.

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  3. Oh wow, I hear you!!!

    "I am grateful for the attachment training our daughter gave us" – THIS!

    When my son was about five months old, I e-mailed Stephanie of Offbeat Families (then still Offbeat Mama) to ask if she could post a question on the site, asking if people could please tell me that babies who cried all-the-time, could actually become happy children. Cause I kinda lost faith in that.

    Et voila, we have a VERY happy 16 month old toddler! Still very headstrong and challenging at times, yes. Which toddler isn't? But he's a very different little guy from those first 4/5 months of reflux, in his case.

    I very much know what you're saying; I also used to say that Abel taught us how to be parents in a way that he actually needed us, not in a way we thought he needed us. We learned that you don't actually have to 'teach' an infant to sleep in a cot if they don't want to, that it's totally OK if they nap on you, and that it's OK to feed and feed and feed.

    "This too shall pass". From what you're describing, you're doing an excellent job!!!

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  4. Great article!

    My son was in a spica cast for seven weeks when his femur was broken at 11 months. We had no choice but to use attachment parenting-type methods, though we didn't really think of it that way. It was just what we had to do.

    For the first three to four weeks he was very upset that he couldn't move around, and wanted to be carried everywhere. He just wanted to be part of the action and to see what was going on. So I let him stay glued to my hip all day long. When he was able to move around more (it was amazing what a little baby in half-body cast can get into once they learn to pull themselves around!), he still needed a ton of extra attention. And he had a lot of trouble sleeping (I think I would too), so we took him into our bed in our bed most nights when he woke up crying.

    I hate that we always have to give these methods a name, and then we end up fighting over who is parenting using the best method. Every child needs something different. It is our job to pay attention and respond, and to let go of our preconceived notions of what a baby should need. They will tell us what they need, we just have to listen.

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    • Oh, yeah, the diapering sucks with a spica cast, doesn't it!? When he got the cast off, I was so glad I'd never have to make another roll of cloth and plastic wrap ever again!!

      • yeah. diapering is "fun", but way less awful than I thought it was going to be. We are in a cast for 4 months (hopefully not any longer) and we aren't even at the half point yet. But, she doesn't seem concerned and is currently playing a rousing game of 'chase the roomba'. I think the sleeping is the hardest part for us

        • I didn't really plan on being an attachment parent either…till my little guy came and attachment was the only thing that made sense.

          My kiddo is 2 1/2 and in a spica for a broken femur. I was telling someone other day it is like having a newborn and a sassy screaming toddler all in one! Diapering has been a challenge, and my poor baby smells disgusting. FOUR MORE DAYS!

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    • Yes, thank you for this reminder. The labels don't really matter. What's important is that we meet the needs of our baby. And we all know they will let us know what they need!

  5. I love that your take-away from your experience is "babies are tricky like that" rather than "therefore attachment parenting is the best way."

    I had kind of the opposite experience- I thought it would be great to "wear" the baby, and he thought that was great for about ten seconds, then needed to be doing something else. He's just not very snuggly. (Though mention the word Roomba and you'll see he's definitely attached to me- unlike your little one it's like the one thing he's terrified of. I think one of the brushes touched his leg once unexpectedly.)

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  6. Great piece! Thought my might like to know that my cousin, who was born with hip displasia, and had several surgeries and multiple casts for the first year of her life, is a healthy, happy, awesome 18 year old about to go to college who acts, dances, and does yoga.

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  7. oh yes i had one of these babies too. First boy just slept for hours in his cot no bother, played on his own from young, just soooo easy. Second boy screamed and screamed and i just could not put him down. He still is very attached to me and is super cuddly. He is 3 now and i find that life is just easier for all of us if he gets his needs for physical, emotional attention met first. Every morning we sit and cuddle for 5-10 mins and then he is happy. I work from home and he just sits next to me cuddling, quite happily for ages.
    I am very independent and really like my personal space and found the early months sooooo hard having this creature permanently attached to me. Just about broke me to be honest. Hence why we are having NO MORE BABIES!

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  8. Thank you for this post. Even if our daughters didn't have the same medical condition, you described my daughter perfectly. We did do some attachment parenting with our first but we went full out unexpectedly with our second because she was so angry. Again, thank you so much for posting. *hugs*

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  9. My twin sister and I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and consequently my twin sister has hip dysplasia. (It mostly affects my upper body, so I got to skip the spica cast and braces.) We're now both parents ourselves and consider ourselves lucky that our own kids haven't tortured us nearly as much as we did our mother.
    One hint for keeping the cast clean between changes- line the *ahem* potty hole with maxi pads. Much easier to change and keep baby's skin dry!
    Good luck and I hope E does well in life! Hip dysplasia can be managed, but any sort of physical disability can leave kids feeling left out. I'd be interested in hearing a follow up on how she does as she ages!

  10. On a similar note – my son was a micro preemie and spent the first few months of his life in the hospital. I couldn`t pick him up for the first weeks; his oxygen levels were pretty constant in the 65-75% range. Once I was able to hold him I would do skin to skin (kangaroo care in preemie lingo) for two hours every day. Within a week his oxygen requirements dropped to 35% and his overall condition improved. I'm not saying skin to skin is a miracle cure but the nicu nurses told me most parents do see a difference in their baby`s health. Makes sense right, we're social creatures and need that contact to feel safe.

    Since then I'm a big fan of attachment parenting – it worked for us and we loved it (baby wearing, cloth diapering, the works). My son is two and still very affectionate and a huuuge cuddler. I know all kids are different but to me a baby needs to feel close.

  11. Thanks to all for the supportive words : )

    As far as her cast goes: maxi pads, hair dryer and cute duct tape have become staples on our changing table. haha. We have a cast change coming up so hopefully we are half way done with this part of treatment but we shall see. It has taken some creative parenting but we are making the best of it. You would be shocked to see how many things we can strap her to using a side-less booster seat.
    And with the attachment parenting: I hope our next one is a little less demanding but if not, I will be well versed and have some awesome toned arms by that point. The minute I figure out a system that works for all babies, all the time, I'm going to patent it and buy a small island

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  12. While my son,now 8 months, had no medical condition, he did have colic for the first 4 months of his life. I can total relate to this! I was against him sleeping in our bed, th

  13. While my son,now 8 months, had no medical condition, he did have colic for the first 4 months of his life. I can total relate to this! I was against him sleeping in our bed. Little guy had other plans and very loudly screamed when he was put down, or put into any sort of carrier. So i held him for the first 2 months. We spent days bouncing him on the yoga ball just to get a few moments of peace. Finally around 4 months, something changed and he became a much happier, more content baby.
    Our many attempts at sleep training have failed, and so we nurse to sleep and have a family bed. I have given up on trying to make it be something it's not, or making him be someone he's not (a good independent sleeper), and find that my outlook is so much better now that I have accepted it. My son is full of joy and laughter, and I marvel everyday on what a changed baby he is.

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