Central Iowa Babywearing: A History

For a city of approximately 200,000 people, Des Moines, Iowa has a huge babywearing population. Have you ever wondered how babywearing became such a common practice here? Local mom, Sarah Reid, an avid babywearing and founder of Wallypop offered up the history of babywearing in Central Iowa.

One day, two moms who had met at their childbirth class met another mom, new to town, at a LLL meeting. Besides natural birth, breastfeeding, and otherwise generally hippie ways, these three moms also shared something else – a passion for babywearing. They were excited to find each other, because none of them knew anyone else who wore their babies in central Iowa. (They were certainly NOT the first people in central Iowa to do so, however.)
Wouldn’t it be so much fun to get together and show each other our carriers (and our diapers – one of the moms was brand new to cloth diapering) and let the babies play and have a mommy play date? YES! So, one day, they did just that, and they invited a few other moms they’d found along the way. And it was fun, and everyone learned from each other, and POOF! It was the first meeting of Des Moines babywearers and Des Moines cloth diaperers. That was some time in the summer of 2004 – a whole decade ago. (Though we’re certain that none of the moms involved looks a day older than they did that summer day.)

After that playdate, one of the moms (Sara Janssen) started a mission to spread babywearing across the Metro. She was her own one-woman babywearing group – lending out carriers from her sizeable stash, meeting moms in her home to show them how to wear their babies, and talking about babywearing everywhere she could. The three moms (Sara, Sarah, and Louisa) started getting together in public places to wear their babies in the hopes of starting up conversations with other moms about babywearing – an effort which was only somewhat successful, and which also resulted in getting busted for soliciting at Jordan Creek mall. Oops.

It became evident that continuing to have informal meetings at Jordan Creek wasn’t going to continue to be a super great strategy, so Sara found the group a regular meeting place at a local church. And, she found NINO.
NINO (Nine in, Nine out) was the first international babywearing organization. It is now defunct, but for the several years it was around, NINO provided the support that many local babywearing groups needed to get started and to start spreading the babywearing love.
So, Des Moines had a NINO group, and we had a place to meet, and we met so many awesome moms – many of whom are still friends today.

At the time of the first NINO meetings, the KKAFP (Kangaroo Korner Adjustable Fleece Pouch) and the Moby were all the rage. (Kangaroo Korner closed in 2010, but you can still try out the group’s KKAFP in our Lending Library.) Only a few had woven wraps. Most people who used ring slings wore padded ring slings. (the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder was promoted by Dr. Sears and LLL, and was nearly the only baby carrier available locally).
It was somewhat of a challenge to get a baby carrier in Des Moines. If you didn’t want the padded ring sling available through LLL, your options were pretty limited. I don’t honestly recall whether there were any baby carriers available at the big box stores at the time (other than Baby Bjorn and similar), but I know this was before Moby was available in stores. Just before the NINO meetings started up, I had officially opened up Wallypop and Louisa bought Stork Wearhouse, giving local parents a few more babywearing (and cloth diapering) options. The NINO group provided a means for parents to try out carriers they could otherwise only see online.
Most of the moms who came to the early meetings were a lot like us – first time moms, pretty generally into natural parenting, and eager to learn how to wear their babies. The format of the meetings was largely the same as it is today – informal, lots of chatting, and moms helping other moms. The group didn’t have a lending library, but we did have Sara’s stash, and each of the regular attendees usually brought their own stashes, as well, so there was plenty to try on at each meeting.

In 2006, Sara moved away and the national organization of NINO imploded. Sara handed the now nameless group over to me, since I was already running the cloth diaper group (which started up about the same time as NINO, and met on opposite Tuesdays at the same time and place). We lost Sara’s stash, but sought donations of carriers from anyone who cared to donate, and got a decent group stash going. It was rather full of Wallypop carriers and somewhat lacking in any of the pricier carriers, but enough people continued bringing their own carriers to share that it worked.

At this time, the focus of the group was still mainly on introducing babywearing to newbies, and having at least one or two examples of every type of carrier (wrap, mei tai, onbu, podegi, ring sling, pouch) was a priority over having examples of a wide variety of brands. Most people coming to meetings were interested in seeing what a mei tai looked like in person, or learning how one might use a ring sling, rather than discussing the finer differences between Brand X ring sling and Brand Y ring sling. As the liability insurance that I carried for the group didn’t cover loaned carriers, Des Moines Babywearing didn’t lend out carriers, but many individual members lent their personal carriers to other moms.

We renamed the group Des Moines Babywearing and focused on our mission of introducing babywearing to area parents. During the next several years, the group waxed and waned in membership and attendance. We changed meeting locations. We started up a Yahoo Group, so parents who couldn’t come to the meetings could seek support online. We also tried evening meetings, with probably a dozen attempts to get an evening meeting going over the next 4 years, but could never get enough attendance to make them worth the effort.
We celebrated as we started noticing that babywearing in Des Moines was getting more commonplace. It was awesome the first time I saw another babywearer “in the wild” in Des Moines and it was someone I hadn’t already met!

Eventually, as my own schedule got more complicated, and as I began to notice that the moms coming to the babywearing meetings were pretty much the same moms who came to the cloth diapering meetings, I combined the two meetings into one monthly meeting that became Des Moines Babywearing and Cloth Diapering.
Around the time that the two groups combined (which might have been in 2007), we as a group had the AWESOME idea of holding a twice-yearly Garage Sale. Members had been posting their own private garage sales at which they planned to sell their old carriers and diapers on the Yahoo group for several years, but it just seemed more convenient to gather everyone in one place and have one giant diaper and carrier sale. Area parents brought their used diapers and carriers, set up tables, and sold their goods to other parents in the community. They paid a small table fee, and the money went to the group as a fundraising effort. It was a huge hit and continued to be a very popular idea for many years.

After my second child was born in 2008, and with my schedule getting more and more crunched, I asked Tiffany Tice to help take over the groups. Tiff led the meetings and I handled the online support, served as a point of contact, and taught classes across the Metro on behalf of the group. (This turned out to be an amazing partnership, as Tiff was great to work with, did an awesome job with the meetings, and a few years later, donated a kidney to my youngest child. You gotta love Tiff.) Eventually, as Facebook got more popular, we shut down the Yahoo groups and moved to Facebook, and Tiff took on a more active role there, as well.

As Tiff’s kids were aging out of the babywearing phase, Tiff found a replacement to take over her role with the groups. The groups were growing like crazy at this time, and pretty quickly, we ended up with four group leaders/admins. I took a much less active role in the group, serving more as an advisor than in any active capacity, and eventually stepped down entirely in early 2013, feeling that I needed to cut a few activities from my life before I went completely insane. About the same time, the groups split into two groups once again, with the Babywearing component becoming BWI of Central Iowa, and the Cloth Diapering component remaining Des Moines Cloth Diapering. Babywearing International of Central Iowa became an official chapter in November 2013.

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