2019 International Babywearing Week - Continuing The Tradition


Happy 2019 International Babywearing Week!



The theme for this year’s celebrations is “Continuing The Tradition”, which I think is so timely given all the discussions and much-needed disruption in the babywearing community in recent years.




I have been part of the community for 12 years now, and even though I’m done having children (unless I can convince Dan otherwise haha), I am still going to be a part of the community for as long as it’ll have me! My work with making baby wraps aside, I genuinely enjoy writing about babywearing, sharing babywearing knowledge, and - quite frankly - looking at pretty wraps and slings!

More than anything, though, I will remain in the community because the presence of people from cultures whose traditions were taken away (read: people like me) is vital to representation.

Let’s go back to Malaysia a hundred years ago. As a largely agricultural community with rich natural resources, babywearing was a way of life. It was how parents got any work done. Babies can’t be left behind - they needed to be breastfed. So along they went with their parents to work the land.

Then the colonists came.

And nothing was ever the same.

Formula was introduced. Bottles were introduced. Children can be left behind now - and so babywearing was lost for a time. A long, long time. (1)

Obviously, I’m simplifying things. My native land still suffers - on a psychological and even physical level - from colonialism. The colonialists - from all around Europe, and also for an extremely violent period, from a fellow Asian country up north - have mostly left (we gained independence from the British in 1957) but media messages, representation, and huge amounts of foreign commercial entities back home would have you believe otherwise!

So why do I mention this history?

 Because our tradition was ripped from us, just as our babies were ripped from us, and we have yet to get back to where we were. For many decades since our colonised years, our traditional way of raising our babies was nothing but distant history. And I knew that needed to change.

When I co-founded Malaysian Babywearers back in 2008, we listed our challenges and objectives. At the top of the list? Changing the perception of babywearing.

Back then, and even these days to an extent, babywearing was largely seen as something you do if you can’t afford a stroller. It was not what well-to-do, educated, city-dwelling mothers ought to do. It was seen as, well, unseemly.

And so began my journey at breaking the stereotype. It was partly how the nickname Glam Mama came about - I wouldn’t dream of babywearing in public without a full face and stylish outfit to go with my wrap!

Woman wears baby in Wrapture Empire Metropolis wrap
Image Source: Wrapture Australia

As odd and embarrassingly shallow as it may sound, it worked. We created a community that understood the importance of babywearing, with a focus on bonding with our children, and balancing our parental duties with other responsibilities. We got on TV, in magazines, and newspapers. We did annual International Babywearing Week babywearing walks in cities all over the country, with one of those walks being attended by almost a hundred parents! And by the time I left Malaysia in 2015, I would frequently see babywearing parents at shopping malls and playgrounds.

We challenged the negative perception of babywearing and successfully turned it around! Babywearing is now normalised. I cannot be more proud of the amazing leaders in the Malaysian babywearing community who continue to do the hard work (like the upcoming IBW celebrations, which you can join for FREE!) at normalising this important parenting skill and supporting parents in their babywearing journey.

But as I mentioned before, there’s still a lot of preference for Western ways of doing things - even today, everything from Western wrap makers to Western babywearing techniques are frequently seen as superior.

In fact, I personally do not know how to carry my children in a traditional Malaysian way. I know how our Indonesian brothers and sisters do it, and I have seen approximately one Malaysian friend carry her child in a traditional Bornean carrier, but I do not know a specific Malaysian way of slinging or wrapping, which is really sad.

The closest I’ve come up with from combining my background in babywearing education and love for traditional fabrics is this page from my book, where I use a length of cotton batik fabric as a no-sew ring sling!

instructions on how to use a length of batik fabric as a no-sew ring sling

However, I am positive that although our historical babywearing tradition is likely lost forever, we are now at the beginning of a new age. I think we are witnessing the birth of a new tradition - touched still by Western thought, but will somehow develop into our very own Malaysian way one day.

And the only way to get there is by “continuing the tradition”.

Malaysia Boleh!

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Sources:
(1) Palmer, G. (2009). The politics of breastfeeding: when breasts are bad for business. London: Pinter & Martin Ltd.

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