I remember the first time I wore a baby. It was my firstborn – so long ago now – and my wife had encouraged me to try the ring sling we’d gotten as a gift a few months earlier. I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. Wearing the baby seemed a bit too touchy-feely for my taste, and a stroller just looked more convenient. After all, it even had a basket underneath!
Try the ring sling anyway, she said. It’s adjustable, so we can both use it.
That evening, I tried it. We were going out for a walk, when she put the ring sling in my hand before I could unfold the stroller, I just smiled. She’d been using it earlier, so it was pulled tightly through the adjustable rings to accommodate her smaller frame. I let her show me how to loosen them to adjust the sling for someone taller and heavier, and then I draped it over my left shoulder.
The baby was sleeping, on our bed since she decided within a day or two of birth that she did not like the crib, and I sat down next to her. Even then, she was a good sleeper once she was down, so I gently lifted her, marveling has I had been for the last two days at how small she was, and my wife helped me position her in the sling without covering her face. When I stood up, I was impressed at how easily the sling and its precious cargo rode against my chest. The baby fidgeted, so I held my arm tight against her, outside the sling, and applied a little pressure through the fabric. No one had ever told me about that, it just seemed right. In fact, wearing her just seemed right. She made her little snerking noise, and relaxed, so we went out for a walk.
Now, I have heard some dads swear by babywearing, saying it lets them get in touch with their wives’ pregnancy experiences, that holding the baby close to the abdomen gives an inkling of what the mother must have felt in the last few weeks. I don’t hold with that. Men and women are simply different, and there are some experiences that we cannot truly share, and that is one of them. But will say that wearing my baby that first time forever turned me on to babywearing.
The ring sling was comfortable, and it left both of my hands free. I could hold the child through the sling, I could carry a bag, I could lead the dog on her leash, I could hold hands with my wife. The best part, what really woke me up to babywearing, though, was feeling my child. Her weight pulled down on the sling, I felt every time she shifted, or wiggled, or took a deep breath. By the time we had walked around the block and back home, that baby and I had gotten into a rhythm, with my gait rocking her into a gentle half-sleep. It was a wonderful experience.
Of course, the baby did wake up when we tried to get her out of the ring sling. That’s the drawback of trying anything new: it takes a few times before you figure out what you’re doing. We had some laughs as we tried to untangle me from the ring sling, and then sang together for our daughter, and then my wife nursed her back to sleep. It was a pleasant end to the evening, and a good start to a baby tradition. After that, I walked with her in the sling two or three evenings, every week, for her first year. It was our bonding; her mother nursed her, and I wore her. It worked out well. She’s a teenager now, but might remember something of those first weeks. If she can’t, she definitely remembers watching us carry her two middle sisters in a variety of slings and wraps. I can see it when she puts her new baby sister in a sling, and sings to her as they walk.