I Was Relentlessly Judged For 'Baby-Wearing' My Child With Special Needs

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
mother comforting son
Scary Mommy and Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty

“Wow,” yet another elderly woman would say to me while I was shopping with my three kids, ages four and under. “You have your hands full.” I was so used to hearing this, and would simply smile and nod in response. It certainly wasn’t easy trying to cross every item off my grocery list with three young kids in tow, but we did it anyway out of necessity.

As one of my kids got older, it became obvious that something was going on. There were the epic tantrums that came out of seemingly nowhere, the need to touch absolutely anything and everyone, and the constant crashing and falling on purpose. Running errands or even going on a playdate was becoming increasingly difficult and miserable for all of us. I decided one day, in desperation, to order a toddler carrier and started to wear my child as much as I could. I didn’t anticipate that choosing to wear my toddler with special needs would result in a whole lot of judgement.

Now, I’m not the type of mom who asks for approval or permission from anyone. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Baby-wearing my child was absolutely what was best for them and for me, helping calm my child and provide the sensory input needed. I didn’t have to worry about my child’s ADHD driving them to impulsively run off (out the door and into a parking lot). But despite my mama-don’t-play-with-ignorance attitude, the judgement got real old, real fast. Unsolicited “advice” from all the Karens got on my last damn nerve.

For example, one day I had scheduled a routine lab appointment for myself. Two of my kids were at school, which meant I thankfully only had one child in tow. As soon as we arrived in the parking lot, I proceeded to go about my routine—strapping on my carrier and then maneuvering my child into it. We were both content and comfortable, making our way into the building.

Tim Macpherson/Getty

I checked in with no issues and waited my turn, standing in front of a wall of windows swaying, as I often did, to keep my child soothed. When the lab tech called me back, she gave me the up-and-down look. As soon as I was seated in the lab chair, she decided to render her verdict on our choice to baby-wear. Her opener: “Can’t your child walk?”

I was appalled. First, because what if my child couldn’t walk? Second, she was being so unprofessional and offensive. When I didn’t reply, she said, “You can’t carry them forever.” (My guess? She was one of those mom-shamers who also judges how long a woman breastfeeds–or doesn’t, or co-sleeps, or educates her child. Sigh.)

She threw in a few more child-wearing digs while preparing tubes, an alcohol wipe, and a needle. I looked at her and calmly replied, “My child has special needs, and keeping them in a carrier is the safest option. Plus, we’re in a lab. This isn’t exactly the best place for a child to be crawling around on the floor and touching objects.” She pursed her lips and didn’t respond. What else could she say without looking like even more of a jerk?

When we would run errands, like visit the library or go to the pharmacy, my child would be strapped to my back, playing with my hair, looking around, or happily singing. We would be perfectly content, taking care of business, when yet another woman would approach us to ask with a snarl, “How old is your child?” Followed by pointing at the carrier and stating, “That would hurt my back. Doesn’t that give you a back ache?” There were no introductions, no friendly parenting conversations. I would often hear, “How much does your child weigh?”—as if me stating my child’s weight would lead to a revelation that I should no longer bother keeping them happy and safe.

After this happened numerous times, I had a rehearsed response. I would smile and say, “No, this doesn’t hurt my back. Look how happy my child is!” Then I would turn to my kids and say, “Let’s go!” and walk away from whomever was trying to bait us with their discomfort and parenting “expertise.” I wasn’t down with entertaining their ignorance, and leaving them in the dust was an effective clapback.

There’s nothing wrong with being curious and seeking education on a topic. What’s not okay is interrogating a mother and child with the sole purpose of raining down judgement for their choices. By the way, the child can hear all the grown woman nonsense. The lack of respect for my parenting choice was annoying, but the outright disgust directed at my child—a child who was still in diapers–was appalling. The thing that bothered me most is that my child was receiving gobs of negative messages from adults about baby-wearing, even though that baby-wearing was a result of things my child couldn’t help.

Of course, I didn’t offer my child’s medical history to every rude inquirer. The reasons why I chose to baby-wear my child wasn’t up for debate. Though at times, I very much wanted to tell the rude woman what was up and then watch her squirm in embarrassment. What I’ve come to realize, after many years of parenting, is that many special needs are invisible making the child vulnerable to assumptions from strangers. FYI: many kids don’t outgrow their needs just because of their size or age.

Even if a mama has a child without special needs, but baby-wearing is their jam, so what? There’s so many benefits to baby-wearing, including the parent having their hands free, the child being emotionally close to the parent, and safety in situations where the child can’t freely roam. If a parent chooses not to wear their child, that’s cool, too. Whatever floats each of our boats is what’s right for our family.

Just because we don’t understand another person’s choices, doesn’t make those choices wrong. The Golden Rule should be enacted when it comes to baby-wearing, or child-leashes, or strollers—and in all parenting decisions. Because being a mom or dad is difficult enough without another Karen inserting in her two cents.

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