Caught by the River

Free Range: Baby Carrying

Amy Liptrot | 19th January 2023

As her sons leave babyhood, Amy Liptrot reflects on the act of carrying.

We are above the cloud. It’s a winter lunchtime and I’m carrying my toddler on my back, home from playgroup, down through the woods. He’s wriggling, pointing at horses and shouting about a bus but as we walk, back down into the fog, he stills. My steps downhill are heavy. He’s big now, a sturdy two-year-old. I feel his weight change and know he’s fallen asleep, head dropped against my neck. 

It strikes me with a pang that, as he is stopping napping, this might be the last time he falls asleep while I carry him like this; the last of hundreds of occasions. 

I carried my boys in my belly for nine months, then on my front, then on my back. For a time in 2020, I carried them simultaneously. In the first months of their lives, we walked so much, through the valley footpaths and woods, up hills. I watched the new world reflected in their eyes, dark trees and bright skies, quick birds. I carried them into their first rains, first springs. Being outside and moving calmed us and was so important for my mood and my body. 

It has been my greatest pleasure to walk by the river with them and whisper the names of the birds. It has been my great pleasure to hold little feet in my hands in the summer, to feel soft hair falling against my neck. It has been my great pleasure to strap his heart against my heart, to pop wild berries in his mouth, to have a person sleep on me, to feel connected to mothers all around their world and through history with babies wrapped on. 

We’re coming out of babyhood. After almost six years of pregnancies and breastfeeding, nappies, cots, highchairs, all of these things are ending. I’m gaining more freedom and pride in their development yet have this quiet screaming. Motherhood is persistent change and exquisite loss. The relentlessness of children is a physical manifestation of time passing: clothes outgrown, mispronunciations righted, soft blankets packed away. These have been years of much joy and contentment. What is next with this weight off my back?

Carrying my kids has been incremental weight training: They have got heavier and I have got stronger. I move into the future stronger and softer. My belly is soft, my shoulders strong. I could cry at any moment yet also withstand great test. 

For now I savour this descent in the quiet mist, small yellow wellies at my hips, the valley stretching out, our chests breathing together. I will not always have him on my back but I’ll always carry him.