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Can we get past the ‘Mummy Wars’ and actually start a conversation?

Dear Clem,

I wasn’t going to write about this as I could see from the comments section of your first article that shit was already way too intense and hot for any good to come of a conversation. I even tried to avoid reading your second article because I honestly wanted to let this alone. But then, I received a message from a friend who sent me your latest article and she asked me how on earth can we even talk on this topic without it being shutdown with the assumption that any talk of it is ‘judging’, ‘shaming’ and stoking the embers of the ‘Mummy wars’ fire.

And she’s right. I have so much to say and so much I’d love to discuss on this but I feel a gag over my mouth for fear of shutting down hearts and minds immediately as the defence wall comes up and the lines of communication fail.

But there is more to all of this than you and I and our unique babies, families and setting.

  • There is the Society we live in.
  • The rules that are set.
  • A culture that is accepted.
  • Mainstream thoughts and beliefs.
  • Yard sticks to measure up to.
  • There is a dominant norm that pervades parenting.

This applies not only to us, as mothers and fathers, but also to our babies, toddlers and children.

There are expectations, shoulds and shouldn’ts

And as a new mother, we want to get it all so very ‘right’ don’t we?

I know I did.

And my goodness, was I out of my depth.

And so I turned to people I thought would know ‘best’ for me and my baby.

I asked questions, I asked for help, I listened and I learned.

I trusted.

I trusted these people above my own feelings on matters.

I trusted these people above what my baby told me was so.

They had to be right? Right?

They’d done this before, for some it was their whole profession.

They knew what was normal, what was acceptable, what was Safe, what was best.

Or did they?

My baby didn’t sleep from the day he was born.

He was your classic catnapping, all night waking, high need baby who only slept happily when in my arms and preferably at my breast.

We did months on end of 20-40 minute waking. No, I’m not a martyr trying to glorify this kind of sleep deprivation. I dealt with this after ‘failing’ at sleep training (Responsive Settling), even after a sleep school stay for support. My baby could not be ‘broken’ no matter how consistent and persistent my husband and I were and you know what happened when all the sleep training methods failed?!?

The system washed their hands of me.

Me, a first time mother who had plunged into PND, with nothing more to add.

No further support.

No further avenues for help.

Left with a head full of sleep training propaganda. Fearing for my baby’s health and development because his sleep still looked nothing like they said he should and if anything, was worse.

If he was ‘chronically sleep deprived and his development would be suffering’ before we launched into full blown sleep training, I was f@#$ing terrified to think what kind of damage his continued waking was causing.

What could they offer?

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

I was blamed and dare I use the hideous word ‘shamed’ for my failure.

I must not have done it right.

I mustn’t have been consistent enough.

It’s because you still breastfeed him.

Etc etc Infinitum

I was in the worst place in hell at that time.

I had done everything, Every. God. Damn. Thing. ‘They’ told me and my baby still wouldn’t sleep.

Was he some kind of defective model? Was he actually trying to kill me?

Maybe he would’ve been better off with a different mother?

But then, I had a phone conversation with a free midwife service I’d signed up for and she was the very first voice in my 6 months of a true baptism of fire into parenting who allowed me space to question whether perhaps, maybe my baby wasn’t actually broken and in need of fixing.

Maybe he actually needed everything he asked of me.

Maybe if I stopped trying to do all the things I thought I ‘should’ be doing to ‘fix’ him and instead just went with the path of least resistance, I may be able to claw back some peace in my world.

She got me thinking of an alternative.

What if I couldn’t stop his waking, what would it take for me to be okay?

And so, my exploration into alternative approaches to sleep training began.

And it continues to blossom today.

I refuse to buy into the mummy wars.

I refuse to pit mother against mother.

I sleep trained and I know full why I did. I know the exact feelings that went into it. I know the thinking and rationale for why I did it.

I own that.

But, I would say that 99.9% of that decision came down to

  • A.Trusting and believing mainstream belief of infant sleep and that my child NEEDED me to teach him how to sleep for his own benefit.
  • B. I was soooooooooo f@#$ing exhausted and sleep training was the only answer I was given to get my sleep back.

This understanding, I believe is key.

My baby did not ever sleep the way Society dictated. He never conformed. But, after looking at all possible underlying health issues that may have exacerbated his normal wakeful behaviour, I learned that he actually slept and behaved like many, human babies do. He was on the extreme end of the spectrum but even then, he was still ‘normal’. Coupled with this, I learned about the myth of self soothing and why his very immature, body and mind were going to need my comfort and help to find and maintain sleep as he grew and changed at an incredible rate of knots.

But I was still beyond, bone achingly tired and depressed.

Yes, the relief of knowing my baby wasn’t broken helped alleviate huge a amount of anxiety but seriously, ‘what about me?’ I couldn’t keep this gig up for any longer.

Something had to give.

But, now I knew more about how and why my baby needed me so, I could begin to work out my life, my support and my situation to make sure I could be alright, too.

I found little to no, information, specifically on this topic but I pieced many things together and worked out was best for me, my baby and my unique family and though things were far from perfect, I found some relief.

For us, that did involve breastfeeding, bedsharing and babywearing.

That does not mean any one of these three things will be the silver bullet for every family.

I have never proclaimed that and it would be arrogant as all hell (not to mention dangerous) to assume such a thing.

Through all of this, my baby continued to wake.

In an extreme fashion.

Every night. Not just some. Not one night off.

Every. Single. Night.

I’m still not a martyr.

He was my baby.

He needed me this intensely and I needed to honour that or my anxiety went through the roof.

So I called in every kind of help I could get.

And because of my privileged life, I came out the other side.

He finally slept for longer than 2 hours at a time when he turned two, but I already had another 4 month old baby, so I was managing those wakings rather than soaking up the longer stints.

Once again, not a martyr. That second baby was a complete surprise and not what I’d recommend to anyone making their way through with an extremely wakeful baby, but it was my fate and it has worked out.

And do you know, I was so incredibly lonely in my experience?

For you see, despite being surrounded by other mothers, many of whom are still my beautiful, treasured friends, not one of them erred from the mainstream parenting beliefs.

They all sleep trained and openly chatted about the successes, set backs, methods and frustrations.

All of them utilised formula at least some of the time in their baby’s first 12 months.

None of them judged me, but they definitely pitied me.

The look in their eyes when I’d arrive somewhere looking like a shattered shell. The many comments about when was I going to try the cot again. The questions about maybe now being a better time to try Sleep Training.

They loved me and my baby but none of them had a clue why I did things the way I did. Not even the ones who knew the whole story.

Guaranteed, none of them would ask ME for advice when it came to nursing or sleep.

Gosh, be careful or the wakeful baby might be catching.

I was alone while surrounded by friends.

Life has changed a lot since then.

I found my happy place with my way of parenting that soothes my heart and feels good in my soul and I now have a great many people in my life who I can talk and share and lean on when I need to.

But, I am still not mainstream.

I am still the weird hippy, crunchy mother (though I can’t identify with either label they are still given to me).

Most people still sleep train.

They do.

It’s why the industry continues to thrive.

It’s why very few people question why you wouldn’t want to do it (actually I suspect people don’t want to know why I won’t do it, in case this may make them look differently on their choices) they just think I’m crazy for not doing it.

Sleep training culture runs deep and it is written all through our society as gospel and as a parenting necessity.

It is unquestioned and unrivalled.

But what if, Sleep Training is just another way to break a mother’s trust in herself and her baby?

When it is ‘God’ and the ‘Cure-All’, where are all those uncomfortable, distressing feelings a mother experiences through the process placed?

At her weak maternal feet.

She must be stronger.

She must persist.

She must ignore the urge to comfort her own child for the child’s own good and her own.

There is just so much more to this.

I can’t dismantle this culture of deeply held belief and doctrine on my own.

And as you can see, conversation is nigh impossible to even start.

So, instead I have made it my mission to at least allow mothers the possibility of an alternative.

I never again, want another mother to feel like she has no other choice than to sleep train.

I never again, want a mother to feel like she must either sleep train or slip deeper into mental illness.

We can and should do better and until we demand better supports and real alternatives, then the majority of individuals will, continue to turn to Sleep Training.

I have established The Beyond Sleep Training Project on Facebook and it turned 1 just last week. We now sit at 15k members and grow by 1.5-2k a month. It is a beautiful space for people to consider their alternatives outside of Sleep Training and you would be more than welcome to join to see it in action. We work with compassion, kindness, support and advocacy and many families have now found their happy place parenting without fear because of it.

I am white, middle class and privileged, but I too, suffered at the hands of the current system.

It is my hope, that regardless of a person’s unique situation, we can all work to find a way to allow that person to parent their baby the way they need to be parented while also being okay within themselves.

I truly believe this is a goal worth striving for and I’d dearly love to have you in on the conversation.

Sincerely,

Carly

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Reflections on weaning

It’s been two weeks since you last tried to breastfeed.

It’s been much longer since you last nursed.

I can’t remember our last feed.

25 months almost to the day, you had your last attempt to see if there was anything left in your beloved ‘boobies’ and as you latched on and came off almost as quickly, you declared to me and your dad and big brother, ‘nothing there’ before diving off my lap and jumping onto the bed and laying down next to daddy and and bro to enjoy a bedtime story instead.

You weren’t sad.

You were very matter of fact about it.

There was simply nothing there now and you left it at that.

The warning signs were there, you’d been reporting for weeks that, ‘not much there, mum’.

You seemed happy enough to get what you could while it lasted.

My supply had been in steep decline as the pregnancy hormones ramped up.

Weaning by pregnancy it seems, is what I do.

My first was weaned at 16 months due partially to pregnancy but also with a heavy push by me due to near- unbearable nursing aversions (no doubt pregnancy related).

I night weaned my extremely high needs guy when he was 15 months and though I sought gentle advice and supported my baby throughout, I have to admit now, in hindsight, that the process was indeed quite traumatic for my guy. Not just in the ‘I don’t want you taking away my boob’ kind of way, but in a more distressing, ‘I still really needed that mama, I wasn’t really ready’ kind of way.

I don’t harbour guilt for this though. I did the best I could in the circumstances and with the knowledge and experiences I had.

This second baby though, has really highlighted to me how gentle the weaning process can be, even if it is parent-led in parts, once a child is ready for the change.

Night weaning my second was a breeze at nearly 20 months. I could still feed him to sleep. I had just worked hard to ensure he understood that once he had night boobie, the boobs would sleep until the sun came up. It took exactly zero tears for him to get the hang of it. He was ready. He was able to understand. He felt supported and capable.

As far as day weaning went, well ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’ worked brilliantly with my first (who actually Day weaned easily after the night weaning was done), but my second guy never needed me to offer, as he asked about 50 billion times a day, so I found distraction and delaying (we can have boobie when we get home from the library) was a better technique for us. Once the frequency decreased, it decreased rapidly, as did my supply thanks to pregnancy and the normal drop you’d expect from reduced nursing.

Before I knew it, we were only nursing twice a day- one before his lunchtime nap and once at bedtime.

Then his reports began, ‘not much there, mum’ and we had to find new ways for him to find sleep.

I wish I could recall the last time he had a big long nursing session in my arms, but I can’t.

I had no idea it was our last.

I can’t even remember the last time he fell asleep nursing.

I had no idea it was our last.

Because weaning was so gradual and slow, with very steady decline and no rapid changes, I didn’t even feel the effect on my boobs nor my emotions. No weaning blues like I had with my first after such a rapid wean. Certainly no sore boobs or discomfort.

Just a faded memory of what was our 25 month nursing journey.

A journey I shall treasure for life.

Through tongue tie, oversupply, severe engorgement, mastitis, mastitis again, growth spurts, all-night sessions, sick baby , scared baby, sore baby, teething baby, snuggly baby, busy baby, tired baby … nursing saw us through.

And so, as I reflect on a time now in the past as I look forward to the dawning of a new journey later this year, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and awe. I will be forever grateful for getting to nurse my babies and in awe of the incredible power of breastfeeding and the role it has played in my mothering experience.

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Bedtime Battles? 5 ideas to try instead

Bedtime in many homes can be far from the peaceful scene portrayed in Children’s Books and is often fraught with frustration, tears (from all parties) and a battle of wills that can result in exhausting marathons.

But what if a difference in approach could change all of this?

There is so much information out there about Bedtime routines that help lead your child down the sleepy path and most of them look and sound very similar- low stimulation, soothing baths, darkened lighting, quiet voices, calming books, cuddly toys, soothing music, kisses goodnight and then … sleep.

But many skip over two key elements to more peaceful bedtimes- Comfort and Connection.

It is not an exaggeration to say that many bedtime battles would cease to exist if a child’s need for comfort and connection was met as they fall asleep.

Falling asleep is a vulnerable experience. Yes, it is biologically driven and ‘should’ occur quite naturally as sleep pressure builds and the Circadian Clock in our body signal time for sleep, but these sleep regulators can only act effectively when other human needs have been met. Regardless of how much you have tried to create a ‘safe space’ for your child to sleep or worked to create ‘self soothing/ regulating’ behaviours in your child, it is natural that they will feel safest to be at their most vulnerable and relaxed when they know you are there as their comfort and when they feel connected to your presence (physically and mentally).

So the very first idea I would suggest you try, if you haven’t already, is

#1 Stay with your child as they fall asleep

Hold them, lay down with them, sit by their bed. Stroke their hair, breastfeed them (if they are nursing), rub their backs, hold their hand. Be there for them.

Do this consistently over a week or more to see if this makes a difference to the tone of bedtime and you may not need to look for any further ideas.

Sure, you may have chores to do, other children to attend to, want some adult time with your partner, a strong desire to have some alone time, but by meeting your child at their point of need as they find peaceful sleep can be ever so rewarding and affirming if only we can adjust our mindset to allow it to be of utmost importance, too. Surrendering to this need for comfort and connection ourselves, often translates into a calmer, less frustrated small person, also.

If you are already on board with #1 but you are still facing an uphill struggle at bedtime, the next thing to consider would be –

#2 The Timing of Bedtime

As a culture, we have some pretty fixed ideas of when an ‘appropriate’ bedtime is for our young children and often this centres around the holy grail of 7pm. But this is a societal expectation, not biological fact and as a result, the reason some of us are battling with bedtime is quite simply because our children are not yet tired enough for sleep.

You’d know yourself just how frustrating it is to try and get to sleep when you aren’t actually tired enough to sleep and this frustration is the same for our children. Sleep is not within our conscious control. You cannot make yourself sleep and your child cannot either.

The release of Melatonin, is key to the feeling of needing to fall asleep and a 2013 study out of the University of Colorado found that in a study of 14 toddlers, this release and subsequent peak varied from child to child but averaged out to about 7:40pm. Once Melatonin is released, it can take 30-60 minutes for the need to sleep to come on.

It’s worth considering whether or not your child’s bedtime resistance is less to do with behaviour and more to do with the lack of sleep inducing chemical at that time.

We’ve always found this very apparent as our little ones have transitioned their number of naps or if on one day they’ve had longer or later naps for whatever reason. Less sleep = earlier to bed, more or late sleep =later bedtime. By accepting and expecting this variation, we saved ourselves the time and frustration of trying to get children to sleep when they were not physically ready.

If you think you’ve got #1 and #2 sorted and you are still facing issues, then here are 3 more out of the box ideas to consider-

#3 Rough and Tumble Play Before Bed

This seems very contrary to all the calming, winding down and low stimulation that is usually recommended but for those facing bedtime struggles, this may an option worth trialling. It would be useful at this point to look at the level of physical activity available to your child each and every day. I know, as the mother of two extremely high energy children, it is always much harder for them to find rest unless they have been vigorously moving throughout their day. Riding bikes, running, climbing, bouncing, swimming, walking and adventuring … all make for a much less restless bedtime in our house, but sometimes, even after the rigours of day, my two still have some remnants of wriggles and niggles that they need to shake off before they can settle for the night and so, after bath time in our house, we have a crazy nudie run around time and rough and tumble play with Daddy before we swap to Pyjamas, a quiet story or two and soothing music and snuggles to sleep. This last little Razz Up seems to work wonders for my babes and though may have quite the opposite effect for some, it’s worth considering if you wish to try something different.

#4 An Evening Walk

On nights where there’s been some extraordinarily long, or later naps and we know our guys won’t be ready to settle, we go for an evening stroll as a family and we let the night air work it’s calming magic on all of us. When our babes were smaller, we did a combo of older babe in pram and little babe in carrier, then both in pram and as they have grown, quite often one or the both will stroll along with us until the weariness hits and then it’s the pram to home and straight off to bed.

My husband and I have found this option is fabulous for our relationship, too as lengthy night time settles in dark rooms have meant very little time for us to talk and reconnect at times. These walks allow us to catch up and relax into our worlds together while our babes are happy and calm.

The light exercise also worked wonders on our weary bodies as it wasn’t to strenuous but helped us work out our own restlessness before bed.

#5 Get Outside in the Dark

If you’ve not got the energy or inclination for option 4, there is still great calm to be found in simply getting out into the night with your unsettled little person. Cuddle or sit together and star gaze. Look for the moon and talk about it’s size and shape. Look for any night animals and listen for night sounds. Admire any lights you can see and any glimmer of sunset that is left. Feel the breeze on your cheeks and talk about the calmness of night. You may enjoy a song together and a cuddle until you feel a little more ready to try bedtime.

So with these ideas in mind I wish everyone more peaceful bedtimes starting from tonight x

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