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 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@#$ing terrified to think what kind of damage his continued waking was causing.
What could they offer?
Nothing at all.
I was blamed and dare I use the hideous word ‘shamed’ for my failure.
I must not have done it right.
I mustn’t have been consistent enough.
It’s because you still breastfeed him.
Etc etc Infinitum
I was in the worst place in hell at that time.
I had done everything, Every. God. Damn. Thing. ‘They’ told me and my baby still wouldn’t sleep.
Was he some kind of defective model? Was he actually trying to kill me?
Maybe he would’ve been better off with a different mother?
But then, I had a phone conversation with a free midwife service I’d signed up for and she was the very first voice in my 6 months of a true baptism of fire into parenting who allowed me space to question whether perhaps, maybe my baby wasn’t actually broken and in need of fixing.
Maybe he actually needed everything he asked of me.
Maybe if I stopped trying to do all the things I thought I ‘should’ be doing to ‘fix’ him and instead just went with the path of least resistance, I may be able to claw back some peace in my world.
She got me thinking of an alternative.
What if I couldn’t stop his waking, what would it take for me to be okay?
And so, my exploration into alternative approaches to sleep training began.
And it continues to blossom today.
I refuse to buy into the mummy wars.
I refuse to pit mother against mother.
I sleep trained and I know full why I did. I know the exact feelings that went into it. I know the thinking and rationale for why I did it.
I own that.
But, I would say that 99.9% of that decision came down to
- A.Trusting and believing mainstream belief of infant sleep and that my child NEEDED me to teach him how to sleep for his own benefit.
- B. I was soooooooooo f@#$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.
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.