why babywearing rocks, especially with special needs

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of babywearing (that would be the hippietastic term for strapping your kid to your body with some sort of carrier, wrap, or sling)– I’ve been doing it from the start, and even though my kiddos are now giant almost-two-year-olds, I’m still at it. In fact, I just traded in some of my fave carriers so I could get one that works better for wearing toddlers. People see me with Claire in a carrier, especially, and wonder how/why I wear such a heavy kiddo (probably around 30-32 lbs, though she hasn’t been weighed in a while) around, so I figured I’d share why.

Because of her spina bifida, Claire has disability in her lower body. Her legs are weak, and she doesn’t have great sensation in them, either. This means if I want to carry her on a hip, the way most people tote toddlers around, I’m entirely supporting her with my arm. She can’t “cling” with her legs to help support some of her own weight. Where I can pretty easily sling monkey-child Etta on a hip and she clings to me like a little suction cup, Claire is 32 lbs of weight, which I end up trying to support with my left arm. It doesn’t work out. I can barely do it just around the house, walking from one room to the other, or trying to juggle her and fill a sippy cup at the same time. Carriers solve that problem. I can strap her on in a sling or carrier and have the kind of hands-free ease I have with Etta on one hip.

Also, since Claire doesn’t yet walk, and even though she’s close to walking, she likely won’t be strong enough for extensive walking for a while yet, having her in a carrier allows me to hold Etta’s hand and have her walk beside us while also carrying a diaper bag for us to get into and out of places without requiring a stroller. As a twin mom, I have long been pretty dependent on a stroller to go anywhere on my own, so it’s nice to be able to get out without it once in a while.

So, now you know why I’m still toting my tots in slings and carriers!

I figured I’d also share my thoughts on the various carriers I’ve tried over the last two years.

Moby Wrap

wearing infant in moby wrapThere are other wraps out there too, like the Solly Baby Wrap, and even Ergo Baby has gotten in on the wrap game (cool feature: it folds into its own attached pocket), but the wraps we had were Moby. I loved them in earliest infancy, and Etta the colicky newborn spent days and days strapped to us in a Moby. They’re soft, stretchy, and comfy, and though the wrapping process seems complicated, you quickly get the hang of it. I think the stretchy but tight support probably feels fairly womblike for baby, and my kids found it very comfy and soothing. However, the thing is basically just yards and yards of stretchy material, and I never liked putting it on in public because it would basically drag on the ground as I got it on. It felt like a process. It was also pretty hot to wear in a Southern summer after the girls were born. Verdict: If you’ve got a little baby who wants nothing but to be held all the time, this will be a lifesaver. However, the lifespan of a stretchy wrap is short, so you may prefer to skip this type of carrier in favor of a ring sling.

Ring Sling

wearing a newborn in a ring slingSoon after the girls were born, I got some linen, ordered some rings, and made myself a ring sling. I loved it for belly to belly carries when the girls were tiny, and believe it or not, still use the sling with my toddlers to carry them on my hip hands-free. I think ring slings are some of the most versatile carriers on the market, and while learning to get baby in safely and comfortably may seem intimidating at first, it’s pretty easy to figure out (YouTube helps!), and you’ll soon be a pro. Ring slings can be kind of pricey (looking at you, Sakura), but I really don’t understand why. You can easily DIY your own, like I did. Verdict: a ring sling is one of my fave carriers. If you only get two carriers, make it a ring sling and a soft structured carrier like an Ergo, Beco, or Boba.

Mei Tai

wearing baby in a mei taiMei Tais are like a step between wraps and slings and more structured carriers like the Ergo. The one I had was an Infantino Wrap and Tie. A popular but pricier option is the BabyHawk Mei Tai. Pros: affordable, easy to use, fairly comfortable for smaller babies. Cons: I don’t think these are very comfortable with a baby over 20 lbs or so, because you carry all of the weight with your back/shoulders instead of on your pelvis. Verdict: a good, affordable carrier, but not in my top 3.

Baby Bjorn

IMG_8559The Baby Bjorn original carrier is polarizing among hardcore babywearers because many say it doesn’t properly support baby’s hips, even when baby is facing in, and they are often used to wear babies on the front facing out, which many say is also bad for baby’s physical development. Here’s the thing: we had them. We liked them a lot *for a while*. They were easy to get babies in and out of, but by 9 months old, our kids were getting too heavy to be worn comfortably because of the lack of waist belt on the Bjorns– I could feel all of their weight burning between my shoulder blades. It was at that point that we saw the light, sold the Bjorns, and discovered the wide world of better soft structured carriers out there. Baby Bjorn has since released the One carrier, which looks to have adopted some of the features from carriers I like better, but I haven’t tried one, so I can’t speak to them. Verdict: Because there are other carriers that can be used longer and more comfortably (for parent AND baby), I don’t recommend a Baby Bjorn.

Soft Structured Carriers

There are a LOT of soft structured carriers out there. The differences among them are subtle, and I really think it’s hard to go wrong. If there’s a baby store near you that would let you try on different carriers, that may be a great way to figure this out. The things that rock about these carriers are the wide, padded waistbands that shift weight to your pelvis rather than your back, allowing you to carry baby comfortably even into toddlerhood. Also: they generally have padded shoulder straps for added comfort, a sleeping hood and wide, supportive seat for baby, and can be worn on the front (best for smaller babies), or the back (best for older babies and toddlers). Some require extra inserts to do so, but generally these carriers can be used from birth through toddlerhood. I have tried a few and am interested in a few others, so here are my thoughts:

  • 20140318-112643.jpgErgo. Ergo’s soft structured carrier is probably the most popular on the market, and for good reason. They are comfortable and easy to use, and fit a wide range of people– my husband and I each had one, although I believe it is more comfortable on my 5’8″ frame than his 6’3″ one. I still have and use an Ergo with my girls (age 2), but do find that the shell/seat is a little shorter/narrower than is comfiest at this age. Note: if you want to use this from birth, you will need to buy a separate insert for infants. If you don’t plan to do much babywearing after age 2, this carrier could very well be the only carrier you need.
  • IMG_7227LilleBaby. I found a LilleBaby on sale and decided to give it a try. It’s almost exactly like an Ergo with the added feature that it can be used to carry baby on the front facing out. If you have a kiddo who isn’t happy without a great view of the world, this carrier is a great option. Another feature I liked was the higher shell with the optional neck support to support bobbly babies without completely covering them with the hood. It’s just as comfy as an Ergo as far as the straps and waist belt and weight distribution go. It also doesn’t require an extra insert to support babies as small as 7 lbs. I didn’t *really* need this in addition to the Ergo, and neither of my girls is crazy about front facing out, so I passed this carrier on to my sister in law, and I know she will love it.
  • Beco Gemini. I have not personally used a Beco Gemini, but wanted to list it as a quality option here, because I have used their other carrier (below). It looks a lot like a LilleBaby carrier in that it can be worn with baby on the front facing out,  has the extra head/neck support that can be folded up and down, and does not require an insert to carry infants. One thing that sets it apart is the shoulder straps can be worn crossed across the back, which is just a nice feature for keeping the straps from feeling like they’re sliding off your shoulders, and helps support the weight more evenly.
  • 20140318-112658.jpgBeco Soleil. I recently bought a Beco Soleil after selling one of my Ergo carriers. It’s a lot like the Ergo, but the seat is wider/more padded and the shell is taller, which provides more comfortable support for older kiddos. Also, the straps can be worn across the back for more even weight distribution. A Soleil can be used from newborn through 45 lbs, but does require an extra insert for the infant days.  My toddlers and I are both more comfortable in it than the Ergo, but I still like and use the Ergo too.

Other soft structured carriers that may be worth checking out even though I haven’t used them: Moby GO, BabyHawk Oh Snap, and the Tula Baby Carrier.

Ultimately, if I were starting over with baby gear, this is what I would get: a ring sling and a soft structured carrier. I’d use the ring sling in early baby days and for convenient hip carries into toddlerhood, and the SSC for more extended babywearing or for doing things like cooking.

*Note: this post is not sponsored. Every sling I’ve tried I made or paid for. None of these links are affiliate links.

voices for justice

All I had was a crappy BlackBerry camera, so you'll have to take my word for it that this is Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp.

Last night I went to some of the best church I’ve ever experienced. Except it was in a Music Hall with 2500 other people and led by a handful of famous people.  I was at a rally/rockshow in support of the West Memphis 3.

The West Memphis 3 are Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly, and Jason Baldwin, a group of young men arrested and convicted as teenagers for the murder of three children in West Memphis, AR.  Many people, including myself, believe the West Memphis 3 are innocent and wrongly imprisoned.  One of them, Damien Echols, is on death row.  I encourage you to read about their case and decide for yourself. It blows my mind that we can have people on death row on such shaky evidence.  There is no DNA evidence tying any of the Three to the crime scene, although DNA evidence of one of the victims’ stepfather was found at the scene.   Instead, the case relied on what was a most-likely coerced and later recanted confession from one of the Three, Jessie Misskelly, who is mentally handicapped and, though he was a teenager, was questioned without a lawyer or a parent present.  In addition, the way the investigation was handled, the way the story was told to the public and the media, and notes recovered from the jurors all point to the fact that these three men are wrongly imprisoned and have been for 17 years.

In those 17 years, the Three have found support for their cause all over the state and all over the world.  Thanks to a pair of HBO documentaries, they even gained the support of some major celebrities: Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and Johnny Depp.  With Damien Echols’ oral arguments before the State Supreme Court coming up on September 30, their local and celebrity supporters decided it was time to hold a rally to both raise money for the WM3 legal defense fund and to get active in contacting state leaders in support of new trials for the WM3.  That led to last night’s Voices for Justice rally.

Of course a rally featuring Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Patti Smith, Ben Harper, Dhanni Harrison, Joseph Arthur, and Bill Carter drew a large crowd– where else are you going to see Eddie Vedder letting Johnny Depp take lead guitar, or both of them playing backup for Patti Smith?  Still, I was really disappointed to see that Bobby Ampezzan’s review in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette focused primarily on suggesting that people packed out Robinson for a rock show, not because they care about a cause.  To that I ask, Bobby, did you SEE how amped people were when Rev. Thompson Murray from Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church gave a stirring min-sermon about the cause of justice as something Jesus would have supported?  The way people cheered during the videos highlighting the miscarriage of justice in this case?  The way people gave money as buckets were passed, offering style, around the music hall to collect money for the WM3 legal defense fund? But what does Bobby know? He describes Natalie Maines as having “a shaved head” (she was sporting a cute, short pixie) and rags on her for “[using] cue cards held aloft in the pit for one of her numbers” despite the fact that she barely talked the entire show because she said she was too emotional about a cause she has long-supported for words.  It really disappointed me to see that write-up, and I felt like it had an agenda to downplay the real experience of the rally.

Like I said before, the entire experience, to me, was most akin to some really good church.  We started with a sermon and a preacher telling the crowd that Jesus is always on the side of justice, quoting Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  We had some congregational singing, along with Eddie Vedder as he performed Tom Waits’ “It Rains on Me” and with the entire assembled “band” as they performed “People Have the Power.”  We heard the personal testimony of Eddie Vedder, as he described spending a recent evening around a campfire in his back yard with Fistful of Mercy (Ben Harper, Dhanni Harrison, Joseph Arthur), when they stood in a circle saying a kind of prayer that the WM3 could one day join them there, and realized that the answer to their prayer was to get down to Little Rock for the rally.  Isn’t that how prayer so often works? Instead of using it to magically give us things, God uses it to remind us that we need to take action.  That’s how it usually goes for me.

For me, some of the most powerful moments of the evening were while Natalie Maines was singing.  While she has one of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard, I think I was most stuck by her fiery spirit.  I like a woman who refuses to be shut up.  She sang a traditional gospel song called “Death’s Got a Warrant,” previously recorded by another favorite of mine, Patty Griffin.  The song was obviously aimed at the true murderers, and said “you can’t hide, God’s got your number and he knows where you live.  Death’s got a warrant for you.”

To me, the best song of the evening was Maines’ performance of Dan Wilson’s (best known as the lead singer of Semisonic) “Free Life.” The song was very stirring, as it seemed to be about Damien Echols reuniting as a free man with his wife Lorri Davis.  Here’s a snippet of the lyrics:

Let’s take a little trip down where we used to go
It’s way beyond the strip, a place they call your soul
We’ll sit down for a while and let the evening roll

Don’t worry about the time; we’ll find a place to stay
The people round here seem familiar in some way
Look kind of like we did before we got so cold

And in the air the questions hang
Will we get to do something?
Who we gonna end up being?
How we gonna end up feeling?
What you gonna spend your free life on? Free life.

It was a good question for all of us. I hope the people in attendance won’t take for granted that we are blessed to have our freedom. I hope that they are moved to support the cause of justice, because when someone can sit on death row for a crime no one can be certain they committed, we are all a little less free.

And you know what? I have enough faith in people, enough faith in what I experienced with 2500 other people last night, to believe that it wasn’t just about Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp.  It was also about three innocent men in prison.  It was about justice.  And there are many ways to help between now and September 30th.

the happiest kroger on earth

Full disclosure: I was recently contacted by a PR person from the Kroger company, who had found my blog and wondered if I might like to join some other Little Rock bloggers in a tour of their new Kroger Marketplace store which opens tonight in West Little Rock. Since many of my local bloggy friends were going, I said sure! So, today, I went on a guided tour of the nicest, newest grocery store I’ve ever seen, and I ate free samples of delicious food, and I had a fabulous time.  Honestly, it’s not hard to have a fabulous time when surrounded by ladies who will giggle with you over the pussy willows in the floral department and laugh at your quips about dog popsicles being FOR dogs, not MADE FROM dogs and make jokes about how a bunch of bloggers around a sushi sample tray is a lot like Shark Week.  And I admit, I’m just plain interested in grocery stores, so I thought I’d share what I learned (I was not required to write about this event).

You see, though I’m a super proponent of local, sustainable food (see my “we might starve without a CSA” post for proof, or check out this post for a rundown of my “food rules”), most of my food still comes from my local grocery store.  In Charleston, I was rather spoiled in my last year there, because a brand-spankin’ new Harris Teeter opened up less than a mile from my house and an awesome Earth Fare natural supermarket was located just down a greenway from us.  I could bike to both.  And y’all, the Teet, as I liked to call it, was FAN-CY.  It had the largest produce section I’d ever seen, and, upon first visit, I noticed the fanciest thing of all– like a Methodist, I felt “strangely warmed” in the frozen foods section.  I looked up to see that they were piping in hot air to cut down on the chills when the freezer doors were opened! It’s not very eco-friendly, I’ll admit, but it sure is fancy!  We got most of our produce from our CSA, most of our other groceries from the Teet, and I hit up the Earth Fare once in a while to shop the bulk bins.

No grocery store I’ve visited in Little Rock has come close to being as nice as the Teet. Until today.

Have you ever seen a grocery store produce section with every veggie in a perfect little pile, not disheveled by a hundred shoppers’ grubby little hands?  It’s glorious.  The WLR Kroger Marketplace has the largest produce selection I’ve ever seen, and they said they make an effort to acquire local (within 400 miles) produce as much as possible.  Anything you see labeled local is within 400 miles of the store.  Sure, it’s not hydroponically grown in your neighbor’s back yard, but I will applaud any step in the right direction– when a company like Kroger, the largest grocery store chain in the world, tries to cut down on the amount of petroleum used in the shipping of our food, it makes a difference.

nice selection of organic produce.
perfect piles of produce.

In addition to an awesome produce department, this Kroger had BULK BINS. I could have hugged them.  I’m a big bread baker, and a big baker in general, and having a place to buy organic flour and raw sugar in bulk? Well, it makes my little heart happy.  There was also a large selection of natural/organic products, and even a large selection of gluten-free products.  Right now I have to make separate trips to a Kroger store for my groceries and a Whole Foods for the bulk bins.  After this store opens, I’ll just be hauling my little hiney out to Chenal and hitting up the fancy Kroger Marketplace. (Though my usual grocery store, the Kroger in Hillcrest, will be reopening after renovations this October, and I’ll still shop there for most of my day-to-day food.)

Bulk Bins!

I was also very happy to hear from the guys in charge of the meat and seafood departments.  Kroger apparently is very big on voluntarily labeling country of origin and wild-caught/farmed on its seafood, which is really helpful for me as I try to eat sustainably when I consume seafood (for a consumer’s guide to sustainable seafood, check this site out).  We also learned that Kroger goes above and beyond national standards and employs its own inspectors to make sure its seafood and meat is of the freshest quality.  And when it comes to meat, I was happy to see that they had a number of all natural, hormone/antibiotic/nitrite free, vegetarian-fed, sustainably raised meat to choose from, including pork products.  I have cut down a lot on my meat production in order to afford to eat natural/sustainable/ethical meat when I do consume meat.  Beyond the products that made me happy because they fit into my food values, I have to say that the folks working the meat and seafood area obviously take a lot of pride in what they do and have a passion for their jobs.  That’s fun to see!

The seafood selection, which will be labeled as to country of origin and wild caught vs. farmed, which will make choosing sustainable seafood easier.
So happy to be able to get natural, more ethical meat in a major grocery chain.
Linda from the bakery had a theatrical flair and a love for her job.

Overall, yes, this is a conventional grocery store and it’s still full of rows of foods I wish didn’t exist– heavily processed, full of corn syrup, empty calories in boxes and bags. BUT, this store is also making it easier for people to get fresh, more local produce and fresh, more sustainable meat and seafood, and that’s a step in the right direction that I totally applaud.  The store also has a commitment to helping shoppers create more meals at home by demonstrating cooking techniques, suggesting pairings, giving samples, and having well-trained employees who can answer shoppers’ questions.  All of that on top of bulk bins? Well, my only complaint is that it’s way too far away from my house for me to shop there on a regular basis.  Now to begin the countdown until my neighborhood Kroger reopens!

If you’d like to see more photos from the store, you can check out a slideshow on my Flickr.