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Being unwilling to sleep train does not make me a martyr

Too often, parents who follow a gentler path when it comes to infant sleep are accused of being martyrs. Their experience with sleep deprivation and exhaustion is also often minimised as something they’ve brought on themselves and part and parcel of that good old rod they have created for their own back. Well I’d like to set the record straight.  
I am not a martyr for being unwilling to sleep train my child.

I am also not the perfect mother who’s life is as glossy as a magazine.  
I am not holier than thou or seamlessly floating through these days with two babies born just 20 months apart.  
I am messy. I am real and all too often, I am pretty freaking knackered.  
I don’t need to be held to any higher level of account than any other mother and excuse me for sharing my experience regardless of how different it may appear to the mainstream idea of how this time in life should be managed.  
There is no ‘fine line’ between being there for my baby and sacrificing it all for the sake of attachment. This is bullshit.

My baby is a completely dependent, completely trusting human being who has ZERO capability to meet their own needs and relies 100% on me to make sure either I, or someone else who loves them responds to them.

I hold the power here.  
I am not a slave to a tiny dictator. I have the power. I can choose to respond or not respond. I can answer my baby’s cries each and every time or no. I decide the whens, wheres, whys and hows. I hold the power.  
All my baby has is their cry and their sweet precious smell and looks to fall back on. They are so incredibly powerless and vulnerable that it makes my heart ache.  
My baby has also been born incredibly prematurely by animal standards and the need for closeness to their ‘safe place’ on my chest or their daddy’s is so raw and real.

Human babies grow an enormous amount in the first 1-2 years of life. Not just physically in length and girth but also in terms of movement, communication, brain connections, emotions and so much more. They also sprout a huge number of sharp teeth that cut through their soft gums causing great discomfort. The world is new. Every experience is mind blowing and through it all, their busy little minds are whirring away and at times making sleep incredibly hard to achieve and then maintain.

Sleep for our babies is nothing like sleep is for us as grown, mature adults and it’s not meant to be.

A baby waking and nursing frequently at night throughout the first year and beyond is behaving like a normal human infant. A baby needing help to find and maintain sleep is also behaving normally. Sleep is not something that can or should be taught to our babies. They know how to sleep even if they need a lot of help. They will find more independence with sleep naturally as they grow.

My belief in this process is strong though naturally at times, while I ride the waves of intensity with my growing and developing baby, I do doubt myself, my baby and the process. I believe that a large part of this doubt stems from lack of being able to get a good handle on what is normal by looking around me in society. Our society is so far removed from normal infant sleep that the ridiculous expectations and beliefs that follow make it extremely hard for mothers who follow their baby’s lead.

Being accused of being a martyr for being unwilling to train my baby who is behaving exactly as they should for a normally developing human is so incredibly unfair.  
I will not train my baby because despite my exhaustion and despite the incredible pressure to conform, I am unwilling to compromise my baby’s legitimate needs for the sleepy ideal.  
I would pick my weariness for the last 3 years always.  
I am not a martyr though and instead, I have been forced to recognise my own needs in ways that do not compromise my baby’s need for night time parenting.  
I make decisions that are not all about me but they definitely include me.  
I matter but so does my completely dependent human.  
So please, don’t think of me as a martyr.  
I choose to mother this way because it feels right deep down in my core. I don’t do it for looks and I don’t do it as some kind of sick self flagellation. I believe my baby needs me and that my night time nurturing is worthwhile.

To the gentle mamas facing heavy questioning right now, hold strong. Your work right now matters. You haven’t brought this on yourself, you are simply following the needs of your unique human and there is beauty to be found through the weariness. Keep on nurturing mamas x

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Would I have been happier if I’d just sleep trained like my friends?

Would I have been happier if I’d just sleep trained like my friends?

This question appeared in my feed.

The answer best comes in the shape of another question, is the grass always greener on the other side?

Sleep training is not the miracle cure all that it is often portrayed as and although it is proclaimed to have worked ‘wonders’ for many, it is the source of much stress, anxiety, repetition and struggle for the parents who often find they train, retrain, retrain and you guessed it retrain again. I have MANY friends and acquaintances who have sleep trained and all in all, while it may seem like they are living the high life full of solitary sleep, easy naps and non-needy babies, in actual real life, they seem to struggle just as much, if not more than I do with my nontrained, nonconforming, wakeful little bedsharers.

Life with little kids is tough and stressful and poses many challenges regardless as to whether you managed to hit the supposed pinnacle of successful parenting and achieved the all night cot sleeping, self settling, predictable nap ‘good’ baby.

So yes, you may still be picturing yourself as somehow a happier, more well rested version if you’d gone the sleep training route but this then begs the question, how and why did you take this alternate route?

For me, it was because I ‘failed’ at sleep training and so was forced to rethink my way of approaching infant sleep and through that experience, I came to recognise just how wrong sleep training felt to me on a visceral level. My motherly instinct screamed at me that my baby needed me so but for a long time I didn’t trust this instinct to know what was best for my child.

My instinct was right.

My baby desperately needed me just as much at night as he did during the day and one thing that has really helped me quantify the huge value of the comfort I have provided to him from the time I ceased sleep training is the thought of just how many nursing sessions, cuddles, hand holding, comforting words, singing and prompt response my baby would have lost out on had I indeed ‘succeeded’ at silencing him.

His intense needs have been incredibly stifling at times but honestly, the knowledge that he has always had his needs met fills my heart so much.

The thought that I may never have known, recognised or understood his needs saddens me beyond belief. My sensitive, beautiful babe has at times, asked more of me than I ever thought I could give but I kept on showing up. He needed me and I was there.

I feel comfortable and at peace in this knowledge and it something that those who ‘succeeded’ in sleep training will never know. They will never know if their baby had every need met because they were silenced. They were taught not to call out when they needed help through the night.

For that, the grass on my side will always appear greenest to me. I have no doubts of what I have gained in this long weary season and I am grateful also to not have to worry about what may have been lost.

It can be a long and lonely path to take choosing to go against the dominant sleep training culture but for those on it right now, keep faith in yourself and faith in your baby. You will make it through this together and it will all be worthwhile. Hang in there mamas x

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Why following your instincts is even more challenging if your baby has high end needs

Why following your instincts is even more challenging if your baby has high end needs

Honouring your instincts and mothering the way that feels right for you is extremely challenging in today’s society that values styles of parenting that are very ‘textbook’ and focus heavily on setting boundaries, routines and limits on responsiveness right from the very early days of a baby’s life. Anyone who has opted to follow their baby’s lead when it comes to nursing and sleep will tell you it can be a lonely path to take and it is hard not to doubt yourself and your baby as you make your way through this season in life with all the twists, turns and challenges it naturally takes. I’d like shed some light on a subgroup of mothers who face even heavier challenges … the mother of the high end needs baby.  


I was just at the park with my kids and I was standing with a group of mums when one mum asked the other if she was getting any more sleep as she’d looked shattered the previous day. The mum says, ‘oh my gosh, I’m just so exhausted! My little guy (about 6 months) has started waking twice overnight and my big guy woke for a drink and has done for a few nights in a row. The baby seems hungry but oh my god, I’m exhausted!’

Now I’m not claiming she wasn’t exhausted. In her experience, she most likely is.

But, I swear to god, if I’d heard that same conversation a couple of years ago while I mothered my first high needs baby, I would have-

a. Wanted to slap her across the face
b. Burst into tears and shaken her while I screamed, ‘exhausted? I’ll show you f#%^ing exhausted!’ then run away and gone home with my little sleep thief feeling even more shit and alone because no one else seemed to get it.
c. Or most likely, just walked away with my baby quickly to hide my tears and gone home feeling desperately alone.

Now, I realise that most people who already follow their baby’s sleep lead would know that 2 wake ups a night at 6 months freaking rocks and is absolutely normal BUT for the mother who is following her wakeful little firecracker’s lead, two wake ups can sound like the ultimate luxurious dream as she wakes for the 6+ time that night.

It’s not just that it’s hard for this mother to feel as though she is understood (because let’s face it, she’s largely not), what’s even harder is for this mother to be able to keep any faith in herself and her baby and what they are doing as a pair when everyone around them seems to experience this infant sleep business in such a different way.

Why can’t my baby sleep like that? Why does my baby wake so excessively? Is there something wrong with them? Have I created this mess? Maybe it’s because I breastfeed to sleep? Maybe I do have to teach my baby to self soothe so they can link sleep cycles? Maybe it’s because I’m drinking a coffee a day now? Maybe it’s because I am misunderstanding my baby’s early sleep cues and missing their window? Maybe it’s because I let my baby catnap during the day? Maybe I need to start solids? Maybe a bedtime bottle of formula? Maybe it’s because we bedshare? Maybe I should try the cot again?

I can safely say as a person on the outside who once lived inside this confusing, disheartening, sleep deprived, muddled haze, that provided your baby has been checked out for any underlying health issues that may be exacerbating their normal wakeful behaviour, you have not done a single thing to cause this waking. Your little person just happens to have an intense need for parenting both day and night. It is normal for a baby to wake and nurse back to sleep frequently at night. It is physiologically impossible for an infant or toddler to soothe themselves from a place of distress and therefore, self soothing is not something you can teach your baby.

This may feel like cold comfort to the mother in the thick of living and loving their high needs person but I can tell you now, the first time I heard this, I felt like an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders …

It was no longer MY fault.

It was no longer my BABY’s fault.

And, it felt almost heavenly to know I was not alone.

And still, the weight would grow heavier and heavier and heavier over time as the relentless waking, the relentless weariness, the relentless need for comfort day after night after day after day after night …

I would cycle through patches of extreme vulnerability so frequently and all of the beauty that a gentler approach to parenting would become tainted by my exhaustion. The questions and doubts would creep on in and heaven forbid I showed it to anyone for I’d be swooped on by pitying faces and sleep training promises and told my baby was manipulating me and all about the good old rod I’d created and how abnormal he was and how unnecessary breastfeeding at night was.

It may be seen as super judgemental for a gentle parent to propose that maybe a mainstream parenting technique like sleep training is inappropriate but my goodness, in my experience it’s a bloody free for all when it comes to advice coming from the other way.

My gentle ways that felt so right even if I was shattered and brought my baby so much comfort were routinely ripped to shreds which in effect, ripped me and my extraordinary efforts to shreds, too. Society held so little value for the huge amount of blood, sweat and tears I poured into that baby of mine. I was treated as though I was a bit crazy, a bit of an alternative hippy and once people learned of my complete distaste for sleep training (even if they knew what we had gone through), they so often gave me that pitiful shrug and head tilt, of ‘oh well, if you aren’t willing to do it then I guess you’ll just have to stay tired.’

So little empathy.

No true understanding.

It was a truly lonely journey.

I had to cling to little things to get me through. I had to tell myself and my baby frequently that we were a team and we’d get through this together. Posts on The Milk Meg that normalised night waking and boobin all night became a lifeline. Pinky McKay’s reassuring articles about breastfeeding and soothing a baby to sleep helped me gain more confidence in why it felt right to help my baby so. The 12 Features of the High Needs Baby by Dr William Sears saw me in tears … for the first time, someone seemed to ‘get’ my baby. Evolutionary Parenting and Sarah Ockwell Smith helped me better understand why sleep training is not something any baby needs but why it is so popular. I found the amazing books Sweet Sleep by La Leche League and The Discontented Little Baby Book by Dr Pamela Douglas and learned so much about normal infant sleep patterns.

I looked, learned and reached out and you know what I found in all of this … I was so far from alone.

My baby was not a freak.

And I most certainly was not the only mother sitting by herself crying over the fact that her friends thought that 2 wake ups at night was something they’d call a ‘bad night’.

To those who have less intense little people, I know how many times you would have experienced doubt and worry on your gentle journey but I ask you to really think of those mothers in both your real and virtual communities who have an extra added layer of ‘hard’ that they are battling through and take time to show them you see them and their incredible efforts and the way they continue on despite the heavy weight of societal pressure telling them they are wrong every chance it gets.

Next time you read a, ‘I never wanted to sleep train but I honestly can’t do this anymore!’ plea, please, I beg you to stop, reflect and then respond. The whole, ‘I could never do that, how could you consider…’ comments are by far the worst.

Talk with this mama. Fill her confidence in mothering with her instincts back up. She needs you to have her back when she’s vulnerable. She needs to know she can do this incredibly hard thing but may need to ask help to keep doing it. She needs your practical help and a little empathy never went astray.

To those mamas with intense little ones, I salute you. You are the unsung heroes of the mothering world and your wee one will forever benefit from the incredible commitment of love, time and patience you have given them. Your efforts are not in vain. You are doing incredibly important work, never doubt it.

 I sincerely hope to see the day where it is normal to nurture your baby and meet them at their point of need regardless of how intense those needs may be. Until then, I will continue to speak of the biological norm and shine a light on the wonderful work being done by gentle mothers the world over that deserves to be revered instead of ridiculed.

I dream of the day we can say we have truly moved beyond the sleep training culture.

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