Sweetheart, I’m Pregnant! WHAT??? We Need a Cradleboard!

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Crow cradleboard auctioned for $137,000 in 2015.

I felt hesitant about having another child.

I know, I know. You’re not supposed to say that. But it’s the truth; I felt unsure. We talked about it a great deal; it was essential for my wife, and I adore my wife, so I agreed. I know small children don’t stay small, and I am looking forward to having older kids. I think that will be fun. I hear teenagers are pretty nice, right?

My Toddler, the Grand Overlord of the House

Having small children is complex, and it’s not for everyone. I am not a big baby or toddler person. You can’t have a meaningful conversation with a baby or a toddler. I love my daughter, who turns three soon, but it’s exhausting. The relationship is just a tad one-sided. Sometimes I feel like she is an authoritarian dictator. She rules over our household, commanding her minions to do tasks for her. 


Yesterday, my daughter walked up to me, looked me square in the eye, and demanded, “DADA, CHANGE MY POO-POO!” “Yes, overlord toddler daughter,” I said, feeling dead on the inside after changing poo-poo on demand, drawing African animals, and playing Lion King games with pea pods and blueberries for two hours.

“Yes, I shall draw you another lion. You shall have all the lions you desire. I shall change your poo-poo. I shall do whatever you command.”

When my wife recently told me that she was unexpectedly pregnant, I was shocked. And by shocked, I mean shellshocked and somewhat horrified. But we were going to start trying to conceive soon enough, so it’s okay. My wife was ecstatic, and I was happy for her. And after writing my dreamcatcher article and reading about Native American cradleboards, I thought it made for an excellent excuse to write about cradleboards. That is the thought pattern that most men have, right?

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Ute beaded cradleboard made of buffalo hide.

Cradleboards, Slightly Less Trendy than UPPAbaby Strollers

I don’t know why UPPAbaby strollers are prevalent nowadays. I see them all the time in my upper-middle-class neighborhood. You know they are expensive when you must scroll down 10-pages listing how the VISTA V2 will turn your baby into Einstein before finding the $1099.99 price tag. That seems reasonable for a baby who gleefully poops its pants a dozen times a day—right?

Before People Bought Thousand Dollar Strollers

They used cradleboards.

What are cradleboards? Native North Americans from the Arctic down to Patagonia used these traditional baby carriers and still occasionally use them. They vary in construction, but all include a flat, wooden backboard. The child was swaddled in cloth, laid on a cushion of soft plants, and lashed tight. Native peoples did this for the first few months of the newborn’s life. It was a practical and safe way for the mother to carry the infant around while traveling or working. The mother would tie the board to her back using straps wrapped around her shoulders, chest, and forehead. The craddleboards are versatile; you can lean them against a tree or rock; dangle them from a pole or branch or attach them to a horse! Unfortunately, you can’t hang a VISTA V2 onto a longhouse. I tried; it went terribly, and my daughter bawled. Just kidding, our house is short.

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Apache cradleboard.

The UPPAbaby VISTA V2 Does Not Come with a Protective Amulet

Different tribes made craddleboards in varied ways. The Apache wove them; the Iroquois and Penobscot made them of wood; the Navajo created them from Ponderosa pine and buckskin. They varied depending on the climate; Arctic cradleboards were sling-like and placed within the mother’s parka. But they all had a protective, firm frame. They had footrests on the bottom and a cover to shade the infant’s head, like the canopy on the VISTA V2. The cradleboard headpiece usually has padding and occasionally a sacred amulet for protection. Unfortunately, the VISTA V2 does not come with an amulet; this is unacceptable. How could you pay $1,099.99 and not get a protective charm? Do not worry; I will immediately email UPPAbaby demanding a golden jewel-encrusted amulet to protect my family from the dreaded blowout.

Cloth Diapers? Try Using Shredded Bark and Moss

Native peoples used a system like cloth diapers but employed cheaper and more environmentally friendly materials. Caregivers lined the inside of the cradleboard with fresh plants; shredded bark, cattails, or moss. This lining functioned as a diaper. When the baby made a poo-poo, mommy or daddy removed the icky bark and replaced it with fresh bark. The plants often had antiseptic qualities to reduce dreaded diaper rash. So, when your neighbor chastises you for using environmentally damaging disposable diapers, admonish them for not using cattails and moss.

Researchers studied how cradleboards impact child development, finding little overall impact; they soothe during the first few months, like swaddles. But unfortunately, cradleboards may lead to hip dysplasia, where the hip socket does not cover the ball of the joint. Dysplasia can occur because one must firmly straighten the newborn’s legs in the cradleboard. While these studies are controversial, a 2012 study on laboratory rats produced the same result. So how did they get lab rats in cradleboards?

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Navajo cradleboard made of cedar.

Go Retro, Buy a Cradleboard

As for us, we do not own a cradleboard and have no plans to purchase one. But I think they are fascinating, and if we were not paying for double daycare, a mortgage, and student loans, I would obtain one. I eagerly await the day when trendy hipsters in Brooklyn go mad retro by ditching the UPPAbaby stroller and buying a cradleboard. That’s more ironic than a mustache.

If you seek a cradleboard, know that accomplished artisans created them, and they were costly. As such, they were often gifts handed down from generation to generation. When looking for a cradleboard, be aware that they will vary depending on the tribe. Research the tribal production methods before purchasing to understand what materials they used. Ensure that what you are buying matches what your research revealed. Pay at least a few hundred dollars to guarantee you obtain a high-quality, authentically crafted item.

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Crow beaded cradleboard made of cowhide.

I am fond of the Crow cradleboards. The Crow people reside in modern-day Montana. They historically created some stunning pieces made of wood, hide, muslin, and glass beads. One of their cradleboards auctioned for $137,000 in 2015, the equivalent of 125 UPPAbaby strollers!

The Reveal

As for us, we will be prioritizing other expenditures, such as a new toddler bed and a Double BOB stroller. I know; we’re almost as bad as the UPPAbaby people. But how could you not want to spend $749.99 on a stroller named the Revolution Flex 3.0 Duallie? Hopefully, I can find one for $500 on Craigslist or Nextdoor. Plus, you can RUN with it! Luxury strolling aside, I feel better about everything, and I am excited to have another kid.

Oh, and the reveal: we’re having another girl!

Matthew Belsky is a higher education professional and map enthusiast who lives in Minneapolis. He works at a university disability services department where he supports students with mental health conditions, ADHD, and other disabilities. He holds degrees in Fine Art, Geography, and Education. He enjoys spending time with his family, hiking, traveling, mushroom hunting, and reading about history, geography, and macroeconomics.

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