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More than just slings – Jen’s story

lillebaby stratford butterfly
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More than just slings – Jen’s story

lillebaby stratford butterfly
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jen wedding

When I was 12 I was diagnosed with ME, a chronic and fluctuating condition causing fatigue, joint and muscles pain, and a host of other neurological, muscular and other symptoms. This has meant my life was timetabled differently to a lot of people’s. I was unable to go to school for several years, but I wanted to learn. I read, and researched, and had home tuition to make sure I was covering the basics. Being self-directed and developing the skills to self-teach from an early age has actually been an excellent asset for “real life”. 

jen wheelchair uni

Living with a chronic condition often means people have different expectations for how your life will look. I was determined to go to university, which I managed with the help of an electric wheelchair. I met Andy there, and we became best friends, and three year after we graduated we got married! When we felt settled, we decided that this was the right time for us to start our family, even though I was more ill than I had been in several years. I was pregnant and using a wheelchair or walking frame when I was well enough to leave the house. At home I was using hands to hold onto furniture and rails to move around. We began considering what parenting would look like for us.

A sling is the thing!

The answer to getting around the house seemed simple, I would get “a baby sling”. A friend gave me a purple stretchy wrap, which I thought I would never be able to tie. But my friend, whose baby was now 10, showed me how to do it in a couple of minutes. Well, if after 10 years it was still so easy to do, then I was sure I could learn it. We washed the wrap and waited for the birth of our little boy.

For out and about I thought that the heavy pushchair we had been given would be both a baby carriage and a walking frame in one. For days when I needed a wheelchair, I could have the baby in the sling, whilst Andy pushed the chair. We felt sorted. We had it planned. Everything was going to go swimmingly.  

Well, things didn’t go quite to plan. In my experience things never do! Having spent all this time planning how we would deal with my mobility issues, the hormonal changes after birth and breastfeeding actually led to a remission and my symptoms became less severe. This was something we hadn’t anticipated at all! Still, around the house the sling came in handy, because, it turned out, this baby did not want to be put down. All those peacefully sleeping babies in Moses basket images, well, I think we managed to get him to sleep in his basket once! In the sling, he was content and peaceful. Put him down and he yelled and yelled! As it turns out, this is pretty normal for a newborn baby but all I knew was the sling was a lifesaver.

Out and about with a baby

stretchy wrap

Going out was a different matter. He hated the pushchair as much as the Moses basket. I wasn’t confident going out with him in a sling without anything to lean on and with nowhere to put the half dozen changes of clothes, and nappies that I insisted on taking JUST IN CASE! (Just in case what, I’m still not sure!)  What I found I was doing was pushing an empty pushchair whilst carrying my baby in a sling. This was unwieldy and inconvenient. I found that carrying in a sling whilst leaning forward over the pushchair was uncomfortable and with a child that had doubled his birth-weight by 12 weeks I was finding the stretchy wrap wasn’t always feeling supportive enough.

meh dai jacob

Off I went to my local sling library to hire “the other type of sling”. I headed up to a meet of Coventry Slings, and there I saw what seemed to me an utterly overwhelming range of slings. I had thought that “the other kind” was a buckle carrier and that was all there was. Well, after actually bursting into tears about the number of options I had to choose from, two lovely ladies helped me find the option which was perfect for me and my baby at that time.

One of those ladies was Em, who you will now know as the other half of It’s A Sling Thing. The carrier was a meh dai, and it felt so comfy and supportive. I found it much easier to tighten and loosen on the move than the stretchy wrap, and I loved it. I hired it over and over again for months, but I went along to every meet, joined as a member, tried other options too, but always keeping hold of the Meh Dai.

Perfect, for now

Three months on I found myself with a baby who was over 11kg at 5 months. I was struggling to carry him on my front, but I loved carrying him, and he loved being carried! I had been online though, and I had been reading, and lots of people said “you can’t back carry until 6 months” so I fought on finding things harder and harder. When he was 6 months I had a consult from Coventry Slings at home for back carrying with a buckle carrier.  

lillebaby stratford butterfly

This consult was eye opening. To me this bundle of buckle carriers all looked pretty similar, there was a Manduca, a Tula and Lillebaby and an Ergobaby, but when I put them on I found they all felt totally different! They ranged from incredibly uncomfortable for me, to amazingly supportive and comfy. I chose the Lillebaby, hired one, and the next day walked 8 miles with him on my back totally comfortably. That consult saved my carrying journey. It had become so painful trying to front carry such a heavy baby who still had proportionally little muscle tone for a child of his weight (although his tone was normal for babies his age, they are usually much lighter than he was).

lillebaby allotment daddy

We bought our own Lillebaby, and, around this time my husband caught the carrying bug too. We used to walk our baby to sleep for his naps, and often at bedtime too, as we loved going for evening walks together. I had become confident enough that I could get around safely and comfortably with just a sling that I stopped taking the pushchair everywhere with me too.  We kept trying lots of things, because this baby grew and grew and grew. He was over 15kg by the age of one.

These are really unusual circumstances, but such rapid growth meant that both his muscles, and mine, were having to get stronger very quickly. To help this using different carriers to alter where the weight was being carried meant that we were able to adapt whilst comfortably carrying. This meant that I got used to looking for options that were “perfect, for now”. I had no idea how long he would keep up this rate of growth, so all we could do was go with what worked at that time. This is a principle I apply a lot when advising people. Many carriers may go on to be comfy for years, but if it isn’t really comfy for you now, then you are gambling that it will last and that you will still want to use it!

Here comes another one

When our first baby had just turned one we were excited to discover we were expecting baby number two! This time Daddy wanted to be in on the slinging from the very start. He did a workshop on woven wraps, ring slings, and stretchy wraps. We had also started trying out all sorts of slings hiring something different every month. I enjoyed getting to know all the differences between carriers, and enjoyed the social life that came with it. I’d made a group of Mum friends that we met up with several times a week, and were in constant contact with online. I felt like I had found a group where I fitted just being me. We all supported each other through difficult times, and celebrated the milestones of our children. Parenting would have been a much lonelier and more stressful place without these wonderful, caring friends!  

When I was 7 months pregnant I did my first training as a Peer Supporter. I wanted be able to help Coventry Slings out as more than the admin and tea making volunteer I was at that point. This training marked the beginning of seeing myself as having the potential to support other mums, especially other mums whose needs weren’t always straightforward. With my experience of mobility issues, and of having an exceedingly heavy baby my carrying journey has been unusual. Everyone’s journey is unique, which is why personalised advice services can help to navigate the sea of options available.  I trained with Born to Carry and the amazing Rosie Knowles and felt that my mind opened further to the ways that slings can be a tool to support parents. I could be a part of that, for other parents, as Em had been for me.  

Dads carry too

My husband, Andy, took on more of the carrying as I became more heavily pregnant. But, with a toddler meh dai tied onbuhimo style (that’s right, on hire from the sling library), I managed to carry my oldest child until my second baby finally arrived at 42 weeks! He was born at home, and the first thing I did was let my mum friends from the sling library know. I invited Em over, by that time one of my closest friends and who had been on call for weeks in case the baby should make an appearance and we needed someone to look after our oldest. At 12 hours old Em was the very first person to carry our new baby in a sling whilst I had that blissful first post birth shower!

This time Andy carried from Day 1. He found that by using a sling, he could settle our little one off to sleep and, except when he was hungry, he was as happy with his Dad as with me. This made a huge difference, giving me time to spend with our big boy, and allowing Andy to take them both out for walks.

Slingababy

Seeing the difference slings had made to my family, and always being keen to learn I decided, with the encouragement of Andy and Em, that I would also train as a Baby Carrying Consultant with Lorette at Slingababy. So, with a 4 month old baby, I embarked on the most mind-expanding, challenging and empowering course I have ever taken. I have revisited the whole course again since, as there is so much to take in that once was not enough! I always get something new when I hear the material again. Attending CPD where baby carrying consultants from all over the country get together and discuss specific issues in carrying, and parent support has helped me to find more ways to help other parents. This was one of the reasons that I also decided to do the UNICEF Breastfeeding Peer Supporter Training.  

A new beginning

Early in 2017 I spotted an exciting sounding business prospect. An unnamed online Sling library and retail service was for sale as the current owner was ready to move on. The idea really excited me. The ability to support parents across the whole of the UK would be incredible, and it would allow me to work from home to support my family. I talked to Em about it, and we both thought that it had real potential, so, together, we put an offer in to buy It’s A Sling Thing. To our intense excitement, and a bit of trepidation, Kerry accepted our offer! In July 2017 we took over the running of this amazing business, and together we have so many ideas that we will never run out of things to do. 

Earlier this year (2018), when the opportunity to train with JPMBB presented itself, I leapt at the opportunity. Em and I are both looking forward to training as CalmFamily consultants too, starting later this month. Our future partnership with CalmFamily will give us a range of opportunities to support parents.

An ongoing journey

I still love slings, and both Andy and I use them daily, for longer walks, tired children, bedtime walks, commuting, to keep the kids safer near water or roads, and to just offer connection and comfort. Last night before bed my youngest begged to go in the wrap, just for a wander around the house, for a cuddle and to snuggle in. Earlier in the afternoon I had made them a wrap hammock under a table (a great way to break in sturdy wraps, by the way). My kids are getting older, and are incredibly independent and confident, but slings are still a useful tool. They have allowed us to climb mountains with the kids. I look back and think that I first picked up a sling because I couldn’t walk around the house holding a baby. I thought there were 2 types of sling. Now, I’m sitting in a room with hundreds of slings of dozens of types and think about how I have walked up mountains with my children.

I could never have imagined this life-changing journey, the people I have met, who have enriched my life. My future is about supporting more and more parents and carers to find more than just the right sling. It is about supporting families and their unique needs.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Parents & families, Why carry
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