What do children say about being worn?
Artipoppe Babywearing Story | By Abigail Jerip
Have you ever wondered what our babyworn children might say about us? Do you think they have relished in the babywearing journey just as much as we have loved experimenting with different carrying positions, brands, and blends? As a fellow pilgrim in parenting, traveling through this journey just like you, I do wonder if they have truly enjoyed this journey as much as I have. And as my son is quickly becoming a toddler, this is a natural juncture for reflection.
As a Sarawakian from Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, babywearing is nothing new – only slightly forgotten. Currently experiencing a renaissance, this way of life was almost lost about half a generation ago.
Deemed rural-fashioned or “kampong” (village), the negative perception of babywearing sprung from the fact that it is prevalently utilized by women travelling to the city from smaller towns and rural villages. They ngiban (*Bidayuh for traditional side carry) or kabis (*Bidayuh for back carry) their child with a putuong (*Bidayuh for a piece of fabric, roughly 2 meters long used for the sole purpose of babywearing). Juxtaposed against an urban setting, with strollers by the dozens rolling by (pun intended), an understandable prejudice formed around the practice.
Transitioning into motherhood was a struggle for me – quick, common-sense adjustments guiding me along – the survival skills of first time mothers, right? It wasn’t until a dear friend brought her woven wraps over, and sat me down for a mini pow-wow, that I reconnected with my roots. Before long I was hooked, and babywearing became integral to my life and parenthood. I soon found certain modern ways of wrapping to be very convenient, compared to the simple, single-layer traditional hip carry, and the thicker woven wraps much more supportive than a sarong. Not only that – entering the world of wraps opened up my eyes to a myriad of fabrics, designs, and colors that appealed to my inner vanity. Instant love.
However, where I found joy and comfort, there were naysayers aplenty. I am a sunny side up, glass-half-full kind of person. At least I will myself to be. So, every time I heard someone warn, “Don’t spoil your child with all that carrying!”, I remembered a modern, trailblazing CEO who openly reminisced about her mother babywearing her. She fondly described those memories when she felt ‘so secure and content”, while she listened to her mother’s heartbeat – and that she’d hope to do the same for her own child too.
Then there are those who call us, “Lazy moms”, refusing to carry our babies in our arms.” And others who say, “your baby will have attachment issues, and difficulty being independent”. When I hear these comments, I think of my uncle – a close friend of my parents – recalling how his mother used to carry him as she worked in the rice fields and farming the land, “My mother used to carry me like this on the farm. I felt so safe. I felt so secure. How else was my mother supposed to plant rice or farm the land other than in sandit? (**Iban for traditional side carry). Today, he is a grandfather of four. In his prime, my uncle was a senior engineer for the government.
One of the more memorable comments was particularly presumptuous. The mother said to me, “I don’t have to bring my kids out as much as you do. And when my kids are tired of walking it is time to go back home. I don’t need to babywear”. Well, today the woman who said those very words is an avid babywearer with her own mini-stash.
Looking back at it all, I realize love-centered parenting has a way of enduring those unpleasant retorts. All along I only had to look to my heart, my friends, peers and elders to find assurance. In the end, it is also not hard to find adults who were babyworn in Sarawak. Today, plenty are well-balanced adults who have nurtured the community. They are pivotal characters in nation building – men and women who actively give back to the state and society. My own parents, whom I love and respect, were babyworn themselves. And with my entrance to motherhood, it is a beautiful culmination of three babywearing generations.
Now, as my son learns to walk, finds his voice and eventually grows into his own person – I hope he reminisces on these moments together. Like when mommy wrapped him close to her heart after working long nights delivering babies at the hospital. Or how he went on adventures with daddy, tied high and secure on mommy’s back. And of course, his (very serious!) supervising role on carwash day, perched in daddy’s carrier. I hope in looking back on all these memories of feeling included, he feels rooted enough to venture off into this crazy world that is both scary and exciting.