Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Learning to Wear as a Blind Mama

K wears her son in a blue ring sling in the kitchen
As someone who is blind, I knew that I would need to babywear before ever becoming a parent. Setting aside all the great benefits and philosophical reasons, all of which I love, it really came down to practicality. Guide dogs and strollers really don’t mix! So, babywearing was the only way I was going to get around with my son independently.
But the babywearing world is a very visual world!
I quickly became overwhelmed trying to research that one carrier that would last me from baby to toddler. Having very few friends who were parents, let alone wore their babies much, I was on my own. I’m sure many expecting parents feel the same way, struggling to sort through all the information comparing carriers. Adding in the pictures, instructions, and YouTube videos that were all very visually oriented made me feel lost.
K wears her son facing out in a
Beco Gemini on the sidewalk
Eventually I picked a carrier and figured out how to use it, but the process was frustrating. Had I not known that babywearing was an essential skill for me to learn I might have given up. Having someone who knows nothing about babywearing trying to explain very visual instructions to someone else who knows  nothing about babywearing is…well…challenging.
I didn’t hear about BWI until my son was a few months old. At that point we’d figured things out enough, and I didn’t see the need to drag myself to a meeting. Living in Capitol Hill, none of the meetings are very convenient.
As my son got older our wearing needs changed. In the process of finding a new carrier that would work for us, I got more curious about the other options. I had friends who were wearing their babies now, and I envied the ease at which they perused new carriers and babywearing skills. I had several friends talking about wanting to try woven wraps, and I was curious.
K wears her son in a back carry in a multicolor
 soft structure carrier on a brick sidewalk
So, when my son was 18 months old I was motivated to go to a BWI meeting to learn the basics of using a woven wrap. I’ll admit that I was reluctant. I was nervous about getting help in a group setting, generally not the best for teaching visual skills to someone who is blind. But I got individual attention, and I was hooked on in person help!
K wears her son on her back in a navy with
multicolor elephant print soft structure
carrier inside a living room

I wish that I had made myself go to a meeting much sooner. Finally I had actual people who could answer my questions and let me touch step by step. I could feel what different carriers were like, rather than relying on friends or my husband’s descriptions. A whole new world of babywearing opened up when I attended that first meeting. Now, I have resources to help navigate the crazy visual world of babywearing, and I’m so glad of it.

 Posted by Kim
Editor's note: At BWI of DC-MD-VA, we want to help parents and caregivers wear no matter the challenges in their path.  Please let us know if you need accommodations to learn at a meeting.  We have educators who are fluent in ASL, our meeting locations are accessible with elevators or ramps, and we will work with you to make any arrangements needed to help you learn.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Babies and bats: Surviving Academia with a Baby in Tow

Baby’s first bat meeting. With M, then 3.5 months old, in a mei tai ready to hear more talks at a conference in Portland, Oregon. (Note name tag clipped to mei tai.)
When my first child was born in 2009, I was deep in the throes of graduate school. I quickly found babywearing to be an asset for, among so many other things, getting work done while meeting the needs of my baby (not the mention the free snuggles). While my new son napped in a carrier, I had hands free for typing and data analysis.  When he was about seven weeks old, I resumed attending lab meetings, with the baby tucked snuggly into a ring sling. 

While these activities were made easier by babywearing, I felt the benefits of wearing quite acutely when it came to attending academic conferences. Since becoming a parent 6.5 years ago, I have traveled to and given presentations at about half a dozen conferences, and in all but one instance, I had at least one of my children with me at the conference.

When my first baby was 3.5 months old, I flew alone with him across the country carrying no more than two small bags and two carriers, to attend and give a presentation at a meeting on bat biology in Oregon. Babywearing first came in handy during the travel portion of this adventure--  he stayed in the sling in the airport, on the airplane, and while taking public transit to the hotel. Then, because he still napped a lot and wasn’t mobile yet, it was relatively easy to keep him contained in a mei tai while I listened to presentations, viewed posters, and shared meals and conversations with colleagues.
1-year-old M is worn by his grandmother while I attend a conference nearby in Williamsburg, VA.
While I was fortunate enough to have a family member with me to help with childcare for later conferences, babywearing—by both myself and those caring for the baby while I attended sessions—made life much easier. My mother wore my then one-year-old son in a sling while she watched him at an animal behavior meeting, and I strapped him on when it was time for meals or crowded poster sessions.
In between sessions at the animal behavior conference in Princeton, New Jersey with 7-month-old E asleep in the SSC.
My mother wearing 7-month-old E in an SSC while caring for her at a conference in Princeton, New Jersey.
At a conference when my daughter was seven months old, our hotel was situated on the opposite side of a college campus from the meeting proceedings, almost a mile away. Using an SSC, I easily transported my daughter back and forth from the conference site to my mother, who was watching my son and sometimes the baby back at the hotel. Most recently, I attended a conference in Florida with my nearly-two-year-old daughter. Both my brother, who came along to watch her, and I carted her around on our backs through airports, at the conference, and on a couple of post-conference outings.
22-month-old E on her uncle’s back outside the conference center in Jacksonville, Florida.
As with so many other things, baby- (and toddler-) wearing has made the experience of attending meetings and caring for my children immensely more doable.  As many parents have learned, being able to continue to pursue other avenues of one’s life—whether it is a career, volunteer work, education, or caring for other family members— while spending time with and meeting the needs of your child—is a large part of what makes babywearing such a wonderful and valuable resource.

Posted by: Genevieve