Anna Lopez is wearing her 18-month-old son in a linen sling, walking next to her three-year-old, carrying a backpack and drinking her drink. In her sundress, you can’t tell right away that she’s due in a couple months with her third. It wasn’t always this easy: when she came home from the NICU with her oldest, who’d been born prematurely, “I had no idea what to do with this baby that was monitored 24/7 for the first six weeks of his life, where there was a nurse staring at him all night long.” Sometimes in those early weeks she would hear him stop breathing for a moment in his sleep. Was it safer to co-sleep or would she roll over on her baby? Prepared as she’d thought she was, Lopez had no idea. Her doula helped her through. A few years later, Lopez has remade herself. She teaches natural parenting courses, leads a babywearing group in Warwick and just published Intuitive Birth: The Comprehensive Guide to Supporting Your Body for Natural Childbearing. In our society, she says, we’ve gotten so far removed from nature that we no longer trust our instincts. We turn instead to books, gadgets, doctors and experts to help us birth and raise our mysterious offspring. Her mission is to help women leave behind the clueless, scared, helpless mindset and get back to being confident, connected and empowered mothers.
How did you get interested in pregnancy and birth?
I remember thinking my mom was a totally healthy person, no problems. All of a sudden she went to a hospital, where I thought only sick people went, then came back, still healthy, with a new baby, also healthy. It confused the heck out of me as an 8-year-old. Why would someone with no problems go somewhere I associated with broken bones or stitches? I started getting more and more curious about it then, reading books. That just opened up my whole interest in different cultural practices. My mom was also a little more holistically minded. If we were getting sick the first thing she would do is instead of running to the doctor for antibiotics, she would make us some kind of garlic honey infusion at home. I always grew up with that as the first course of action, and then if you didn’t feel better you’d go to the doctor. It was a secondary thing.
You grew up knowing you wanted to work in the birth worldl, but ended up going into engineering. Why?
I did biomedical engineering for my undergraduate degree. I started doing the pre-med focus, then I realized it’s just a lot of memorization. It was almost learning how to control biology instead of understanding it and working with it. I realized conventional medical education wasn’t for me. I knew I wanted to work in the birth world, but this seemed so detached from everything I though to be the “right” or “natural” approach. When I realized it wasn’t the right path after all, then I was completely confused, didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t really until I started researching parenting more right before my oldest was born and contacted a midwife, that a whole new world opened up for me. I realized in full then how different midwifery was from the standard medical model and everything that went along with it. It was almost like I received a culture shock, in a good way, without going any place new. Even then, I kind of knew what midwives did, but I wasn’t sure what the difference was between midwives and an OB-GYN. Even with all the reading I’d done — I’d read about tribal cultures, about alternative medicine in the U.S. — but experiencing that firsthand was a shock to me. Just the way their office looked, for example. It was not a typical doctor’s office, it was in the basement of someone’s home. The exam table was the most medical part of it. The scale was the same as I had. And then they told me about doulas; that was the first time I’d heard the word. With them, I started putting two and two together. I started putting this long-held theory into practice. I realized how little support there is, and how spread out the information is. There was no one place that I could make sense of all of it.
One of the things you spent way too much time researching was diapers. What did you learn?
When I started looking into baby products — between toxins and waste, cloth diapering seemed to me the obvious choice. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I’d be spending hundreds of dollars a month on plastic that I would then throw out. I learned about absorbency materials, what makes them absorbent, the health hazards of that. Then when I started asking my midwife about cloth diapers she said, “Oh I didn’t use diapers at all with my baby.” That just completely blew my mind, when I found out about elimination communication. So I started with my first at about three months old. He was almost 100 percent out of diapers by the time he was seven months old. Between seven and 10 months I think I changed like two diapers.
So that’s just when you observe your baby to see when they have to go. This guy [my younger] gives me no hints whatsoever so I try to go by timing. But for him [my older] it was a combination of obvious cues. So if I’m trying to feed him, he’s fidgety, squirmy, his diaper is dry, I’d think, okay he just woke up from a nap, he’s ready to eat but he’s not eating, so maybe he needs to pee or poop. So I would just take the diaper off of him, put him on a little potty and usually he would go. Or he was playing and he would stop and have a concentrating look. When he started becoming a little more mobile, he would just crawl over to the potty himself. Once he started walking and really eating solids a lot, around 10 months, I did start needing to put diapers on him again because he was really into walking and there was nothing that would catch his attention, but he was completely out of diapers before he was two. I know most children, especially now, start getting out of diapers around three. To me that seems crazy.
Tell me about babywearing. Why is carrying your baby in a sling a big deal?
It was really my experience with him being in the NICU for so long. When he came home, I just wanted to hold my baby. I started feeling that separation that I think many of us do: a lot of us spend more time away from our kids than with them. That didn’t feel right to me. I knew that by baby-wearing, we’ll get that bond back that we were missing. So I started babywearing not really so much for the convenience of it — it definitely was convenient — but just that closeness. I realized that then I’m more in tune with what he needs, and that also makes me calmer around him. Which I was really surprised by. If I wore him that day, even if he has his fussing hour, or he’s been extra annoying or needy that day, it just doesn’t stress me or bother me as much as the days where I’d come home from somewhere else without being near him. So then I really started promoting babywearing as a way to reconnect with your baby. For a lot of parents, I feel like there’s a big disconnect. We’re in the adult world, they’re in the baby world, and we don’t really have much togetherness. I realized when I’m babywearing that’s when I would be more in tune with when he’s crying because he’s sleepy or when he’s hungry or when he needs his diaper changed, versus just staring at this wailing baby I might as well be a stranger to and not knowing what to do with him and getting stressed over it. He was just such a held baby, I just could not put him down; he was like Velcro to me. I was living in the Bronx and would take the train everywhere, and I was in a walk-up, I had a bookbag on my back, baby in my front, I could really go everywhere.
Would you call yourself an attachment parent?
I definitely agree with all the attachment parenting principals, but I would say intuitive parenting is the next level of that.
Lopez is at mindbodybabie.com.
– Interview by Becca Tucker