It still amazes me how my desire to design the “perfect” baby wrap for my great-niece-to-be, turned into such a labour of love! I still remember the day I found out that Cassandra, my youngest niece who was like the daughter I never had, revealed that her and Josh were going to bring a little bundle of joy into the world. To say that I was quite shocked would be an understatement. The fact that they had just purchased their first home together, were just settling into their jobs, and that they were still only 22 years old was a bit concerning, at best. If you add to the fact that Cassandra was the least likely to bear children, based on her expressed lack of desire to ever have kids, my concern was understandable. However, I knew she had a good head on her shoulders and that she was a smart and responsible young lady.
Seeing as my niece and nephew-in-law lived over 5 hours away, I knew how difficult it would be to support Cassandra once the baby arrived, both physically and emotionally. With Josh working nights, they were on opposite schedules and they would soon discover that baby-to-be would have a busy schedule of her own.
Considering the bond that Cassandra and I had developed since she was a newborn herself, I had a horrible feeling of helplessness; knowing that I would not be able to be there for her when the struggles of being a new mom kicked in. From the labour and delivery, to the fact that life as they knew it would be turned on its head, she was about to jump into the world of “motherhood” with both feet. There had to be something I could do to help!
In October 2003, after a very difficult pregnancy, many months of hospitalization, a feeding tube, an induction at 36 weeks and an emergency c-section, my son Alexander entered my world - not breathing, I might add. I can’t even begin to explain the terror I felt when this beautiful little baby of mine was literally pulled from my womb without a single peep. No coo, no whimper, no grunt, no cry, no nothing. The silence was deafening and seemed to go on forever. After the medical staff administered oxygen and itty-bitty chest compressions for several minutes (or lifetimes), our little miracle took his very first breath. All I could do was cry, and cry, and cry. God had blessed us abundantly!
Then there were the days when Alexander’s colic turned into weeks, and then months. I began to wonder if there was more going on and if my son would EVER sleep or settle again! He became highly irritable, and almost impossible to breastfeed. He was highly-reactive to most stimuli, in turn he was frequently startled and over-stimulated. His cries and physical movements were almost frenetic in nature. Putting my education and theory into practice, I soon experienced the positive effects that close skin-on-skin contact and babywearing had on us both. Wearing him, in fetal position on my chest, made a world of difference and brought a brand new sense of calm and harmony into our lives!
Now fast-forward to June 2018 when my niece gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Hazel; the sole inspiration behind my baby wrap. I’ll let Cassandra share her experience with you, in her OWN words:
“After pushing for an hour and a half, I laid back feeling defeated and exhausted. With my eyes still closed, I told Josh I couldn’t do it anymore. However, on the next contraction, it only took one more push and she was here. They let me hold her, skin to skin, and I was able to nurse her right away. About 45 minutes later, they took Hazel off me to weigh her. That’s when they noticed it. Our baby girl had an omphalocele. Our tiny Hazel, less than an hour old, had a birth defect in which her intestines and other abdominal organs were outside her body, protruding through a hole in her belly button. The pediatrician explained that, not only could she have permanent genetic issues, but she would require surgery and needed to be transferred to the NICU immediately. About 11 hours after birth, a 3-man transport team came with a fancy battery-powered incubator to pick up Hazel and transfer her to McMaster Sick Kids, for surgery WITHOUT me! By the time we got there about an hour after her, the surgery was already done. They let me hold her right away and highly encouraged skin-to-skin, which we did for hours. They explained how critical it was for her healing and development, to feel that comfort and connection. Once we got home, Aunty Kim’s wrap enabled me to continue building that bond with Hazel, and offered me more freedom and confidence by allowing me to have my hands free to get other things done. I don’t think she could have picked a better name than she did for this fabric carrier; the Hugging Hazel wrap! Then again, I am a bit biased!”
As a Registered Early Childhood Educator, a past Assistant to the Developmentally Handicapped in the York Region District School Board, and a parent of a child with a trifecta of exceptionalities, I have been a long-time advocate for Babywearing as an actual parenting tool for overall healthy development. There is no shortage of information or statistics on the positive effects (biological, cognitive, psychological, sociological, long term health) of holding, carrying and babywearing. I don’t like referring to these practices as “benefits” as that would imply an advantage or something “added” to what is baseline. Holding, cuddling and carrying infants from birth is an integral part of healthy human development. It is the baseline; not something that some parents choose to do as an added benefit for their children. Gentle physical touch and sensory connection (feeling warmth from the skin, recognizing parent’s voice, listening to their heart beat, recognizing parent’s smell, etc.) is a basic need. The absence of this loving connection can be very detrimental to children. Babywearing is often referred to as the 4th trimester because it replicates the in-uterine environment of warmth, safety and containment. This creates a solid foundation of security and nurtures a newborn’s ability to begin developing the new skills required to interact with their world.
I feel that babywearing should be an easy, comfortable and hands-free way to accommodate that need to bond with and nurture young infants. It should be accessible to everyone who is capable of safely carrying a baby! Unfortunately, most of the wraps and carriers available in today’s market are not designed with inclusivity in mind. For example, the brilliantly coloured fabric wraps with their “feminine” patterns were not designed to cater to the masculinity of many fathers. It is usually the soft-structured or framed carriers that are geared towards men, who are photographed carrying their babies as a means of transportation, rather than bonding. Also, the majority of wraps or carriers demand a certain level of ability to safely wrap, tie, or fasten. They require specific mobility and visual acuity which automatically excludes individuals who are limited in these areas. There are also parents who lack the confidence or comfort level with wraps that require complicated twisting and tying, in order to safely secure their child onto their body. With all this in mind, I designed the Hugging Hazel Wrap to accommodate a vast majority of individuals, and encourage confidence in babywearing. If they have the skills required to pull a tight-fitting tank top over their head, then they can use the Hugging Hazel.
The process of designing my wrap and conducting thorough product trials with parents and their infants sparked an overwhelming interest in the wrap. It started to sell itself by word of mouth alone, before I even considered manufacturing it!
With Hazel as my inspiration, following a year of extensive research, health and safety testing, parent/baby trials, several prototypes and design changes, sourcing, organizing, meetings, money spending (lots of money spending), sleepless nights, and many tears, I can finally introduce the Hugging Hazel Wrap to the world. I truly hope you and your baby find as much joy nuzzling in the Hugging Hazel, as I did creating it! Hold them. Wear them. Breath them in!