Written by Vanessa Cariddi.
Babywearing. In some parts of America, Babywearing might be thought of as something reserved for attachment parenting. Or maybe a special thing to do with a very, very New Newborn. At the very least, the image of a woman (or a man) wearing a baby is something many Americans might recognize as belonging to another culture - certainly not America, land of the Car, where every expectant family spends time and worry finding the safest, fanciest, most comfortable car seat and stroller for their new bundle of joy.
Well, New York City is the land of the subway. And strollers, to be frank, are a DRAG when using the subway.
A little background, in case you aren't familiar with the NYC Subway system:
It is the largest metropolitan transportation system in the world, by number of stops, with roughly 469 stations, at time of writing.
That number continues to grow as new subway lines are added. In addition to subways, there are nearly 300 different bus routes throughout the 5 boroughs. In 2015, roughly 5,650,610 people rode the subway on an average weekday. That's five and half million people A DAY. Most New Yorkers ride the subway at least twice per day, to and from work, and with the cost of living increasing all the time - currently averaging $3653 a month for a two bedroom apartment - people are living further and further out from their place of work, making the public transportation system an essential part of life.
And cars? Ask most New Yorkers about having a car in the city, and you will get a response roughly equivalent to: NOPE. Parking is impossible to find and expensive, and fender benders and break-ins are common.
So, back to Babywearing.....
Most NYC subway stations are not accessible by elevator. I counted 89 "accessible" stations on the MTA website, but many of these only have elevators in one direction, meaning you might be able to get your stroller onto the subway without navigating stairs, but on your return trip, you need to carry the stroller and the baby up stairs. And sometimes, there are a LOT of stairs - as many as 7 flights of stairs. And many of these stations don't make it possible to transfer from one train to another without stairs. And because the subway system is old, many parts of it are under almost constant repair, so it is not unusual to arrive at a station expecting an elevator, only to find it "out of service".
ADDITIONALLY, on buses, caregivers are required to remove their children and all their stuff from strollers, and fold and store them (strollers, not children), under the seats.
Remember when I said using a stroller on the subway was a drag? A DRAG.
BABYWEARING TO THE RESCUE.
While all the reasons usually discussed for Babywearing remain true in NYC, there's another big one: surviving the subway without a stroller!!
My personal experience with riding the subway while Babywearing has been overwhelmingly positive. We've gotten through cold and flu season while keeping baby away from sick fellow passengers and all the germ covered surfaces of the train,
we've gotten through construction rendering elevators and escalators out of service (not to mention entire train lines),
we've hiked our way out of power outages, unexpected route changes, snowstorms, "police activity", track fires, and, on a positive note, last minute changes of plan to enjoy some social visits with friends before returning home.
I've also worn a sleeping baby to cocktail parties,
music rehearsals (my secret identity is an opera singer),
and while traveling internationally for Opera Gigs, including a month in Europe. Did you know that all major airports in NYC are accessible by public transportation? Managing suitcases for three people AND a stroller is physically impossible in my opinion, but Babywearing got it done!
There are other NYC oddities that make Babywearing in NYC a matter of survival, like shopping at the neighborhood store with aisles so narrow they don't accommodate a stroller (in case you are reading this from outside NYC, I'm not kidding), getting laundry done - because you *might* have laundry in the basement of your building, but you almost certainly don't have it in your apartment, and oh, let's not forget about the MILLIONS of New Yorkers who live in walk-up apartments. Five flights of stairs with a stroller, your groceries, your laundry, and whatever else you might be lugging? NO THANKS.
I took my first subway ride with my now 17 month old daughter when she was just 10 days old.
I know families who rode the subway home from the hospital with 2 day old newborns. Babywearing has brought my family all the benefits one might imagine in terms of bonding, success with breastfeeding, a calm, happy, secure child, but what stands out the most to me when I think with gratitude on my Babywearing journey is how easily we have been able to get around the city and continue to enjoy the richness of city life without being hampered by a stroller.