In Part Four of our series, mum of three Becky Dickinson needs an extra pair of hands and ends up tying herself in knots…
Mornings. Even before children were part of the equation, they were never my strong point. At least then all I had to do was drop a teabag in some water, instead of trying to serve Cheerios with one arm, with Newborn under the other, while searching for school shoes, hairbands and car keys.
The inevitable result is milk on the floor, shoes on wrong feet, hair unbrushed – and when we finally make it to school – another entry in the Late Register.
Multitasking, it seems, is just another term for doing several things badly at once. It’s also an inevitable part of motherhood, along with raisins down the sofa and LEGO in the fruit bowl.
The problem is I now have more children than hands. If only nature had designed a way to grow an extra limb with each pregnancy.
Then it strikes me: what I need is a sling. I picture myself as one of those serene babywearing mums, blissfully carrying my gurgling offspring around like an external organ, while doing the laundry, the school run and whipping up a few cupcakes in between. This thing could transform my life. Or at least enable me to clean my teeth in the morning.
I don’t want anything that looks like I’m going on a country hike, that’s what the all-terrain buggy is for, and I don’t think my back would last that long anyway. So I opt for a simple piece of fabric you wrap around your torso, which promises to come with ‘easy to follow’ instructions. Unfortunately, they’ve sold out of the plain colours, and I’m too desperate to wait for more stock to arrive, so I order the tie-dye version.
Mistake number one. ‘What’s that?’ gawps Unhusband, when it arrives by post a few days later. (In case you’re new here, Unhusband is the father of my children, but still hasn’t made an honest woman out of me.)
I have to admit it’s a bit more ‘festival’ than I would have liked, in varying hues of indigo and purple. I haven’t worn anything this psychedelic since attempting to sneak under the fence at Glastonbury about two decades ago. Oh well, at least it’s not pink. But if it makes life easier, I’m prepared to forgo vanity for the sake of a bit of tie-dye – anyway, it’ll help the vomit marks blend in.
I unravel the sling and am alarmed to discover it’s the length of the sofa. I turn to the instructions for advice. Mistake number two. Instructions, like mornings, were never my strong point. No doubt somebody more adept could whip this thing together in a flash. But, to the enduring disappointment of my six year old son, I can barely rustle up a paper aeroplane. And I’m not sure my origami skills are up to slings either.
I tie the ‘apron’ section around my waist and hold Newborn against my chest. She immediately starts rooting, then screams when I don’t undo my bra – mainly because I can’t get to it. The whole process is delayed while I let her feed. After all, I can hardly expect her to stay glued to my boobs without getting something in return.
Fifteen minutes later, I start again. Fifteen minutes after that, Newborn has been exposed to more expletives than she was during labour. I give in and rope in Unhusband for some assistance. Naturally, and rather irritatingly, he sees the problem instantly (I had it on upside down) and weaves us in in less time than it takes the kids to make a mess.
I’m worried I look like a cross between a hippy kangaroo and a cycle pannier. Unfortunately, Newborn seems to share my anxieties and starts mewling.
‘She doesn’t like it,’ says Unhusband, unhelpfully.
‘She just needs to get used to it,’ I insist.
I jiggle about a bit, singing The Grand Old Duke of York until she settles down.
‘Maybe she’d rather face forwards,’ says Unhusband. Begrudgingly, I admit he could be right. There’s only so long you can stare at someone’s boobs, even if they are your food source.
We unravel the whole apparatus and start again. Unhusband succeeds in strapping us in to the ‘front facing’ position and I succeed in not dropping the baby.
Bravely, I decide to embark on a walk to the local shop to grab a newspaper. I’m not sure why – most of it will only sit around unread until the next recycling collection. But it’s less calorific than chocolate, and I feel better pretending my world doesn’t entirely consist of nappies and washing.
Unfortunately, getting to the shop involves footwear and I’ve just discovered that babywearing is strangely similar to being pregnant again, in that I can’t actually see my feet. Note to self: put shoes on before strapping baby in sling.
Shoes on, we make it the shop. Newborn seems to enjoy the ride and I enjoy the closeness. People even coo at her chubby little face – seemingly oblivious to the fact I’m wearing several metres of tie-dye bondage gear.
I’m starting to feel like a fully-fledged babywearer. Thanks to my new shiny sling, having a trio of children doesn’t seem so impractical after all – until I reach forward to pay for my paper and Newborn possets all over the counter. The shop assistant shoots me a prickly glance.
I ferret around in my bag for some baby wipes, realise I don’t have any, make a half-hearted attempt to wipe it up with my elbow, and end up smearing it towards the chewing gum display instead. A hasty exit seems like the only option, leaving my curdled breast milk for the next customer.
Oh well, at least I’ve got my paper and Newborn is gurgling contentedly. After a little practice I even get to grips with getting the sling on and off. Better still, I discover it covers my baby belly, which is more than can be said for the rest of my wardrobe.
I’ve finally mastered the art of babywearing and Newborn has discovered her inner marsupial. The only problem is that any attempt to put her in the buggy now results in a ‘how dare you’ scream.
So if you see someone wandering around looking like they just escaped from Glastonbury with a baby poking out of their chest, and a couple of small children hanging off each arm, just smile politely and offer her a baby wipe. Or a gin.