When I found out I was pregnant, I was over the moon (it was a planned pregnancy). However, one of my biggest worries about having a child was whether I was up to the job of bringing up a stable, happy and healthy person. First of all, I worried that my personality disorder or poor mental health may be hereditary (and I do believe there is a genetic element to BPD, even if it is just a pre-disposition to the condition) and secondly I worried that my own symptoms would affect how well I could parent a child.
When Evie was born, I made a promise to her that I would do everything in my power to keep her safe, keep her healthy, and raise her to be a good, kind and balanced person. So, I would like to talk about my parenting choices and my journey so far, and how I feel they will contribute to that long term goal.
I have had a minimal experience with raising children before Evie. My sister has 5 and my brother has 2, but I haven’t really been involved in their care. Prior to her being born, I had decided that I wanted to breastfeed, and I was quite dedicated to doing so. As she was born 5 weeks early, she was quite small at 6lbs when we went home from hospital, but she was a good feeder and had no major health issues. Breastfeeding to begin with was difficult as it was quite painful, but I stuck at it because I truly believe that breastmilk was the best thing for her and wanted to avoid formula if at all possible. I also enjoyed the moments of bonding that breastfeeding offered, even if it was in the middle of the night when it felt like we were the only ones in the whole world. It is the best feeling ever looking down at your child on your own breast and seeing them become satisfied by something your own body has provided. It made me love my body (and all my life I have done the opposite!) for being able to not only grow and produce this beautiful child, but to nourish her as well.
I have received quite a lot of stick for my choice to breastfeed, mainly from my parents. My dad in particular, took issue with me feeding in public, claiming that it would cause embarrassment to the people around me, and on one occasion even asking me to face the wall. In the beginning I was nervous about feeding in public, using a cover and trying to avoid busy public places but as time went on I came to realise that if Evie needed feeding, that was my main priority, and if those around me had an issue with me using my breasts for their natural purpose, well that was their issue and not mine. Now, I feed anywhere, and I don’t use a cover because I have become quite a pro at latching on and feeding without exposing myself. I wouldn’t want to eat my dinner under a cover so I’m not sure that Evie should either, and in all honesty a cover actually attracts more attention that discreetly latching on without making a fuss!
My parents say they are “completely supportive of breastfeeding but….” which actually means they aren’t. Alongside the fact that my dad takes issue with my feeding in public, my mum thinks that if I feed longer than 6 months I am only doing it because I can’t let go and I have “issues” as there is no nutritional value. So many things to say about this! Starting with the fact that the World Health Organisation recommend that you breastfeed until 2 years of age (this is my plan), I’m not actually sure she is in a position to comment about issues as a lot of mine originate from my childhood. I hope that by continuing to breastfeed Evie until she is at least 2 (I am planning on letting her self wean rather than dictating the timings myself) I can not only provide her with additional nutritional support (and all the other benefits such as a boosted immune system) but also provide her with a stable attachment to me as her mother.
All through my life, I have sought out “mother figures”, whether it was middle aged women that I met in the course of life, teachers at school or a lady I ended up having a lesbian relationship with (despite her being a “mother figure” and 17 years older than me). I truly believe that I have continually sought out these people throughout my life because my own mother didn’t provide me with a decent secure attachment as an infant. From conversations I have had with her I know that she had me and breastfed me for four months, at which point she returned to work and I went to a child minder full time. It is easy to see how the secure attachment between us is lacking and why I spent the first 25 years of my life seeking one. I do not blame my mother, she did the best she could and she gave me more than I needed in terms of material items, I just feel sad for myself that she was not able to provide me with the emotional support I sought. Hopefully, armed with this information, I will not make the same mistake with Evie.
When Evie was about 4 weeks old, I made a post on facebook searching for advice on a baby carrier. This led me to join a group on baby slings, which followed on to a group of “babywearing”. I had not even heard of this concept before, but basically it involves carrying your baby in a carrier/sling/wrap. People who are hardcore seem to do it constantly, I actually am on the middle ground. When she was smaller I carried her in a stretchy fabric sling and it was fantastic to have her close to me (I refer to my previous point on secure attachments!) and she would sleep in there for hours.
Now she is nearly 8 months, I invested in what is known as a “buckle carrier”. It is still one of the carriers that puts their hips in the correct position and holds them close to you, but it is simple to put on and has the added bonus of lovely colourful fabric. The one I have is known as a “connecta” and although I do use a pushchair, I love carrying her in it too.
As I did more reading about slings and babywearing, I also stumbled upon information about a concept known as “Gentle Parenting”. Now, I was brought up in the fashion that I now know is called “mainstream parenting”, in other words, with punishments and threats (taking toys away etc) when you are naughty, smacking (I don’t mean abuse, but normal smacking as a punishment), use of the “naughty step” and being told off/shouted at if I did wrong. All of this was normal to me, as it is for many millions of other people around the world. I had never even considered that there was another way to bring your children up, but when I think about it, mainstream parenting didn’t bring me up to be a balanced, well adjusted child so maybe it IS worth looking at alternative options for my own daughter?
The more I read about gentle parenting, the more I like the concept. At first, I struggled with letting go of my “mainstream” ideas and thoughts about parenting and how children should behave. I thought that children should comply, they should do as they are told, they shouldn’t be “naughty” (bet you are thinking, well yes? They should shouldn’t they?) – not strictly true. Allow me to explain a bit about gentle parenting and then see how you feel.
The concept is quite new to me, so sorry if I waffle a bit, but hopefully I will explain it as well as I can. Gentle parenting involves parenting your children without the use of punishments, threats or shaming. Smacking is not used and nor is “time out” or the “naughty step”. The whole concept of gentle parenting is about forging attachment, connection and respect with your children. You parent with empathy, understanding and respect.
I really like the ideas of gentle parenting and am reading around the subject as much as I can in readiness for when Evie is a little older and starts challenging me with her behaviour. Here are a few links if you are interested in reading more, here and here. I like the idea of being gentle, not shouting and not smacking. I do believe in teaching by example and the fact the smacking is a form of abuse. I like the idea of having a close relationship with my daughter, and although I have no experience in parenting as yet, I am hopeful that by the time she starts pushing the boundaries I have set, I will be ready to deal with this appropriately.
I am hopeful that through parenting her gently, being supportive, respectful and empathic, and always making sure that she knows she is loved no matter what choices she makes (even if I don’t agree with them), I can protect her from any future mental illness even if she does have a genetic predisposition.