“Oh, asan ang mga anak mo?”
(“Where are your kids?”)
People at my workplace would often be surprised if I came in with just a bag. Sometimes, I think they would fail to recognize me without my “baby in a bag”. Actually, people would stop to greet NOT ME but my kids, recalling how one used to be just so small, stuck “in a blanket on my chest”, or that now, I have one running little girl and another little one on my “front pack”.It’s been three years since I started babywearing. Babywearing might be a new term but the practice of keeping babies physically close to their mothers has been around in traditional societies. In fact, one theory suggests that babywearing, the sling in particular, helped the ancestors of humans survive as the sling helped the mother become mobile while protecting the vulnerable offspring.
Today, caregivers have a lot of safe babywearing options to choose from, most of which are made from textiles such as cotton, bamboo, and/or linen. One just needs to do thorough firsthand and secondhand research. It can be as simple as a long piece of woven wrap or sophisticated as a soft-structured buckle carrier with little pockets. Long before the modern branded carriers came, babies were worn using pieces of cloth found at home. Towels and blankets came in handy. In traditional societies, babies were even worn using cradles and baskets!
There is much to say about babywearing – how it has become an “expensive” industry to which babywearing moms like me could attest to; the safety standards concerning ergonomics and the physical development of the child; cultural appropriation; and other attachment parenting practices closely connected to it, such as breastfeeding and safe co-sleeping. With all the issues surrounding babywearing, I can speak most confidently about how it has helped us level the field between husband and wife.
Babywearing has been the greatest equalizer in our family. It has helped us raise our children without the need for a mainstay nanny. Although there are times that we leave our children with extended family members, our children mainly stay with us, me in particular. I have never stopped working and studying even through childbearing and childbirth, except perhaps for a few days after I gave birth.
Babywearing is just a part of the entire philosophy that our family decides to live by everyday: gender equality. The Philippines is still a largely patriarchal society but little improvements happen. Women are still expected to be the primary caregivers and a career outside the home is difficult, especially with the lack of dependable childcare options. Although inequalities are still present, women in the Philippines are given more opportunities to pursue studies and a career outside the home. I consider my workplace, also where I am currently finishing my Master’s thesis, to be somewhat child and family friendly. With babywearing, I am able to teach my students while attending to the needs of our child, especially feeding concerns. While bottle feeding stored breastmilk worked for our first child, our second child would not want to bottle/cup feed.
When it comes to public spaces and transportation, there are courtesy lanes/areas that accomodate PWD, senior citizens, pregnant women, and adults with small children, although there needs to be more consistency in implementation. Babywearing has helped us get through the daily commute in Metro Manila and even outside the Philippines. While it is not the safest option when riding vehicles, it has given us mobility, especially when people do not honor courtesy area assignments.For the fair share of the pie, my husband also participates in childcare. As I function best during day time, it is fitting to have me take over the children’s needs while they are awake. At night, after dinner, he takes over the kitchen work – even after a long day at work – and waking up to the toilet and feeding needs of the children. When we are out doing errands, he also babywears, especially now that we have two children. There are days that I would feel most of the physical toll on me, considering that I carry an additional 8+ kg while going about work. (Sometimes, I have to lift two kids, especially when both fall asleep due to a long commute!) But, I must say that I am a lucky wife. There might be less romantic frills than most movie-type relationships I see but I get all the extra help a housewife needs. For example, during times my work requires heavy concentration, say writing my thesis, my husband takes over most of the domestic work without batting an eyelash. Also, we collaborate not only inside our home but also in doing work, specifically in the field of music education and values formation. “Hindi ka ba nabibigatan? Buhat mo siya buong araw.”
(“Isn’t she heavy? You carry her all day.”)
People often ask me variations of this question, especially upon carrying my baby as a way to help me balance my bags or just for the heck of carrying a baby. If anything, babywearing has not made it equal for everyone in the family but it has equalized our playing field. I realized this on the first day I left my children at daycare and school – I was free. I basked in the freedom of walking to my workplace seconds faster than my usual pace, almost tiptoeing every step in delight. Yet, even with additional kilograms every time I go to work, I am still thankful I am able to work, study, and go to some of the usual places I visit when it was just only me.To me, my children are my “beloved burden”, a term I borrow from Itie Van Hout’s book on babywearing around the world. As a family, we consider the weight of our options. Bringing our children with us through almost everything, figuratively and literally, has slowed us down but made us thoroughly think every step we make. It has redirected us from reaching the fruits on top of the trees to removing weeds and sowing the seeds at the bottom. From standing tall to bathe in the blinding heat of the sun, the weight has helped us stoop down to rest in the cool shade of trees. My husband and I always have our children’s best interest in what we do so, together, we lovingly carry them along the path until they need little help to create their own map.