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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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Should we expect sympathy and support from everyone?

 
I have been told on more than one occasion that for someone who talks a lot about empathising and sympathising, I lack empathy and sympathy for mothers who are experiencing challenges.  I have been told I create an ‘us and them’ and a competitive edge to parenting challenges that shouldn’t exist.

I’m a massive over thinker and muller of all things, particularly criticism, so I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve observed similar accusations being levelled at others which helped me see that this is a greater issue.

In my situation, this relates to my voicing my experience of having to weather hearing people complain of their exhaustion and frustration with their child’s sleep when what they claim is nearly killing them is the kind of night’s sleep I used to only be able to dream of.

Apparently, I shouldn’t feel that way because sleep deprivation isn’t a competition or a pissing contest and maybe that mother who has been getting hours of solid sleep every night while I was lucky to get 30 minutes in a row really WAS as exhausted as I was because we all experience these things differently.

Where was my empathy for this mother while demanding she recognise me?!?

Honestly, merely thinking on this at the height of my extreme sleep deprivation would have seen me in tears of despair.

No one seemed to be able to see me and my struggle in real light without minimising it with faux empathy. They couldn’t give true empathy because unless you’ve lived it, you can’t actually empathise with what was going on a deeper, more meaningful way.

What was needed was sympathy but even that was in short supply.

But where was my sympathy?

Well you know what? As the person at the very fringe of sanity, deep in the hell hole of deepest darkest, relentless sleep deprivation, I honestly had to leave the sympathy for those not so up to their neck in it, to others who could empathise or sympathise without it causing physical anxiety and despair.

There is always someone worse off than us in this world.

That is most certainly true.

It’s true in every facet of life.

It is such an important perspective to keep and I never, in all my time felt like I had nothing to be grateful for.

But, I think this perspective can also help us to recognise in any given context, when someone simply should not have the onus on them to be providing sympathy and support to another.

I say onus as expectation, because I am sure some outstanding humans are able to remove their own struggles well enough to offer the required sympathy and support but I simply do not believe it should be a given.

For me and millions of mothers like me, when I was at my lowest ebb, it near broke me to hear a mother complain of her exhaustion because her baby woke twice the night before. I could not and should not have had to be her support while so heavily in need of support myself.

This applies to other areas, a mother who has been unable to meet her breastfeeding goals and is still processing her experience, should not be called upon to be the source of sympathy and support for a mother who has successfully breastfed but is facing a challenge in her journey.

The mother with a baby in NICU, who is yet to be able to hold her baby freely and has had to witness her baby having painful medical procedures, should not be called on for sympathy and support for the mother of the baby fighting off a cold.

The mother with a chronic illness or pain should not be called on for sympathy and support for the mother temporarily debilitated with an illness while still caring for her children.

In each and every scenario, these mothers DO deserve empathy, sympathy and support but the point is, it does matter where we expect it to come from.

We as mothers often bear incredible burdens.

This mothering game can be hideously lonely and isolating.

We should not be being asked to bear even more burden by our sisters in motherhood by expecting those in extremely vulnerable circumstances to minimise their own significant, genuine struggles in the name of sympathy and support for those who while also struggling, when put in perspective, their struggles are less profound.

I am past the severe sleep deprivation stage now, and I usually average 8 hours of broken sleep a night with good chunks mixed in. I am in a totally different headspace now to back in sleep deprived hell and my ability to offer sympathy and support to those facing all kinds of situations they find challenging has significantly increased.

I CAN be the source of sympathy and support and even throw a little empathy in for good measure.

The space within me that was completely taken up with self preservation has opened up again and I try to fill it with compassion and understanding.

One thing that will forever remain though is my heartfelt love, admiration and fierce defence for mothers mothering their extremely wakeful little firecrackers. They are and always will be my people.

Our shared experience is one of unimaginable relentless challenge. The stamina, the faith, the vulnerability and strength of those who live and survive this will never be lost on me.

It’s okay if you can’t relate. Just try to keep things in perspective. Seek sympathy and support from those who are capable of giving it and forgive those who, in all their humanly glory, simply cannot muster it today.

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And then there was peace.

And then there was peace.

I have had one hell of a 24 hours with my babies. No great tragedies or events that need to be detailed. Just more the kind of time where every little thing that can go wrong does. Every turn you take there’s a hurdle. Every time you stop to breathe, someone cries.  


My 6 month old is particularly intense right now. I could hazard a guess at a few developmental reasons why if I could have been bothered but in truth, I was too tired today to work it out.

I hit survival mode at about 7am this morning.

Once I’m on survival, it’s really never going to be my best day. Not because I’m being careless but more because quite often, I only feel like I can offer my physical self to my children. The mental and emotional part turns inward. I go into pity party mode with lots of, ‘I swear they hate me sometimes.’ And ‘of course you had to wake up, can’t let mummy have two seconds to herself.’ I lose my empathy switch. I race through the day, just waiting to get that precious time for me. Just me. I am not present. I am not in tune. I am out of sync.

I can recognise this happening but quite often, I can’t turn it off. Not until I get the chance to reboot. Had the stars magically aligned and my babe’s sleeps had overlapped, I may have reset. They didn’t.

It was a long, relentless let’s just freaking do this kind of day.

My toddler was unusually quiet and my baby whinged, whined and moped all day. They wanted and needed their mum. Physical mum just wasn’t enough.

But then came bedtime for baby. Nope, fake out. But then came second attempt at bedtime for baby. Nope, fake out.

He is never hard to put to bed. Ever.

But then I put him down for one last play to wear him out and for the first time today I really watched him. There he was in all his grizzly glory on all fours desperately trying to crawl to me. The frustration was raw on his face. He knows exactly what he wants to do but his little body is still figuring out how to do it. Eventually he crumpled to the floor and burst into tears.

My empathy switch lit back up. My poor tired, frustrated, hard working, learning baby boy was shattered.

I carried him back to his room and we danced our slow dance in the dark until I could feel his calm. I then put him to my breast and remained present as he started to nurse.

His beautiful face. Those lashes. The little hand clutching my finger. The other hand stroking my back. The sound of his breathing. The sound of his suckling. The sound of the quiet little sighs as he slowly surrenders to sleep. I feel his weight deaden. He has found his peaceful rest.

After a day of mayhem. A day of tears. A day of frustration. A day of confusion. He returned to his safe haven and his safe haven returned to he.

I was lost at times today and so was my sweet babe. But this is home. This is where we need to be. In sweet synchrony. Him and me.

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