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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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Finding Myself After Becoming a Mother

I was someone before I had a baby. 
I was confident, satisfied, stimulated, happy and loved. I felt valued, productive and capable.

I liked me. The old me. The pre-kid me.

I wanted a baby so badly. I wanted to grow a family with my beautiful husband. I wanted to hold my baby and watch him grow and learn. I wanted to learn how to mother. I wanted this big life-change.

But, in all honesty, I never wanted to lose my old pre-child self. I really liked her.

I wanted her AND to be a mother.

So, when my precious little firecracker came along and blew my pre-conceived ideas about how life would be with a baby in the house, I felt completely lost.

Becoming a mother stripped me completely bare.

Over the 30 years of my life that were child-free, life had layered layer upon layer of detail to my identity. Layers of who I was. Layers of how I understood myself to be. What made me, ME.

Birth, Labour and Delivery were the first part of the stripping process.

The vulnerability, the strength, the uncertainty, the power, the completely raw, unfiltered, primal part of me I had no idea was even there was suddenly a new part of my identity. It was equal parts pride and confusion, as I had to process what my body had just experienced, all mixed in with the sudden realisation of what it means to have your very own precious human relying on you.

My body felt foreign to me.

Every day in the immediate postpartum was full of strange, unfamiliar changes taking place within my body. This body I thought I knew so well, was now unpredictable and uncomfortable.

I was tired to my very core and yet strangely energetic and charged.

My heart felt like it was expanding with love too quickly for comfort.

This piece of perfection before me, had I really helped create him?

I was amazed and impressed with the way my body managed to grow, birth and now feed my baby, how incredible was it to know my new powers.

But the days melded into night back into day, back into night again.

I hated the smell of the milk that seem to hang on my clothes. I hated not knowing if what I was doing for my baby was right or wrong. I hated when we couldn’t seem to stop the crying. I hated that I couldn’t put my baby down. I hated that he seemed to be becoming more unsettled and awake every day. I hated that I couldn’t seem to achieve even seemingly basic tasks. I hated our filthy house. I hated that I felt like I should be coping better. 

Surely something was wrong?

And this was only the first few weeks. Surely things would get better. Easier somehow.

Surely one day soon, I’d be able to feel rested once more.

But the weeks crept on. Then the months passed by.

I was stripped, further and further. Layer by layer. Until I could see nothing in myself that was there before.

I was a shell.

That pre-baby me, I loved so well? She seemed to have vanished entirely.

So, who was I then?

Just a mother? Well I seemed pretty shit at that (though my baby was pretty darn incredible so I couldn’t be all bad, could I?).
Maybe I was just my boobs? They did seem to be the only thing that made my baby happy.

Oh, but he also loved my arms. He needed them to hold him tight.

Maybe also my voice, my humming, singing and whispered words, they did seem to bring some peace.

Then I guess my face, that seemed so gaunt, unembellished, pale never seemed to fail to make that baby’s eyes sparkle the moment he’d see me. Sometimes, with the biggest of smiles and other times with arms outstretched and tears streaming down, like I was the only one who could make things right.

And I was tenacious … For months, I had tirelessly (despite being tired to my bones) sought help to try and help him with his sleep until I finally found surrender in acceptance that a part of his unique perfection was his wakeful nature. My tenacity continued but now in the form of my vow to be constant.

More months passed by and still I was constant. he maintained the waking and I kept on responding.

There was no break. Not one night to breathe.

My stripping back continued, despite being convinced there was nothing left to lose, as I shed anything and everything I could to lighten my load and maintain my focus.

Two of the things I shed would change my world for the better-

1. keeping up the appearance that I could cope on my own

2. my tightly held pre-conceived ideas of what mothering should look like.

I started to seek active help for myself (not to fix my baby) and I became open to ideas that would allow me to mother the way I needed to mother, not the way I had decided was needed before I had even met my child nor the way society liked to tell me to do it.

I started to consciously find the light and value in my baby, our day and vitally, in me.

I came to see what was left in me once all the pretence had been stripped away.

Me, when I was pared back to my core.

I started to try to see myself the way those who loved me did.

This process, this extreme stripping of layers, gave me the space to re-evaluate, reinvigorate and redefine myself in a way I had never been able to do before.

Turns out, pre-baby me that I loved so well, well she had plenty of baggage. Her identity was clouded by a mix of things that mattered and things that were just things … superficial.

In the process of losing myself, all that was truly lost is the stuff that didn’t really matter.

More than Three years in, I no longer miss the old me. I am no longer grieving for my pre-child life.

I am absolutely in love with the newfound me.

She is the best mix of the important stuff that made me, me before as well as the learning and wisdom I have gained from the process of becoming a mother.

The incredible part is, I know that I will continue to grow and evolve as my babies grow and their intense needs lessen or shift and the space to just be ‘me’ opens up once again.


Relinquishing control, finding beauty in embracing the flow of life with a baby or toddler, surrendering to the needs of another and making space in my heart and mind.

It’s been one hell of a ride.

This fleeting season where our babies seem to consume all of us and more, provides such an important opportunity for self-growth if only we can free ourselves up to be vulnerable and open to the process.

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Why Responsive Settling Isn’t Truly Responsive

When in it comes to Sleep Training, there are extremes on the spectrum, with Cry It Out at the far end with complete withdrawal of response- shut the door at 7pm and do not open it again until 7am, with more ‘responsive’ techniques sitting somewhere in the middle, down to the gentlest, slow moving, truly responsive options at the far end. Responsive Settling proponents would have themselves down the ‘gentle’ end of the spectrum but as someone who has experienced the technique as the mother of a wakeful baby, I can say that gentle, it most certainly is not.

The sell is strong though and I believe that those who created the technique and those who teach and utilise it, wholeheartedly believe they are responding to the babies entrusted to their care but there is a massive gulf between any response and appropriate response. Responsive Settling whilst more responsive than no response, does not allow a parent to be appropriately responsive to their unique infant’s needs.

Why?

Well I will detail my experience more in a moment but I think first and foremost, the reason that Responsive Settling still so clearly misses the mark is that it still fails to recognise and respect normal infant sleep behaviours and instead works to pathologise and stage interventions on them when no ‘problem’ actually exists for the baby and instead the true problem lies with unrealistic sleep expectations, lack of support for very tired families and a society hellbent on ‘fixing’ anything that has been decided is undesirable or outside the accepted ‘norm’.


(Image: Gentle Parenting Memes)

But even if you don’t buy that, I will explain how the Responsive Settling technique looked in my reality and you can decide for yourself if it really could be responding to a baby in an appropriate way.

A little scene setting for you-

I was a First Time Mum. My baby was born wide awake. He was never a sleepy newborn. Not even the day he was born. He slept for brief bursts during the day, was super sensitive and startled incredibly easily. He hated being down. Ever. He wanted to be in arms or on a chest 24-hours a day.

He cried whenever we put him down and seemed to find the feeling of falling asleep very scary. He’d be all drowsy and relaxed with eyes drooping and then BAM screaming, as though that last little falling feeling you get as you drop off was the most terrifying sensation in the world. I had never heard of the Fourth Trimester. I had no idea that a baby wanting to be held close 24/7 was in the range of normal. All I knew was that everyone around me had babies who looked calm, relaxed, happy to chill out and slept for big chunks of time, flat on their back with little to no help from their mothers. My baby’s night time involved loads of waking but he was usually quickly settled by the boob. I was terrified of bedsharing and felt that I had already created so many ‘bad’ sleep habits already, I didn’t want to add anything more to our repertoire so I was insisting on getting up to him and tending to him in another room. I also had my head filled with the notion that although a newborn may wake frequently at night to nurse, this should lessen over time in a straight line, with him dropping feeds and sleeping for longer without my help.

My baby strongly disagreed.

And so, we became at odds with each other. He needed me intensely but I was convinced he wanted me but didn’t need all that he demanded.

By 3 months, I was exhausted and full of doubts.

By 4 months, I was a wreck. Cue our four-month health check with Child Health. The Nurse listened as I sobbed my heart out detailing my baby’s extremely wakeful behaviour and lack of day sleep. I was desperate for help. The nurse echoed my concerns. She told me my baby was Chronically Sleep Deprived and that she would refer me to The Mother-Baby Unit in our capital city for a stay to help me get the matter in hand. She knew there was a long wait for the public service but if we had Private Health Insurance then she knew the Private Facility in the same city offered the same program using the Responsive Settling technique.

She pointed me to the videos on the Public services website to allow me to have a try of the technique at home prior to our stay.

We attended the Private facility for a 5 day stay 2 weeks later. In the lead up, I tried to implement the strategies I had watched on the website, without any success and much distress for my baby and me. I grew ever more frustrated and intolerant of him as I came even more convinced that he was just being difficult and that he had to learn to sleep so we could all get back to being happy.

I went into the program with a desperate hope.

This HAD to work. I couldn’t for a moment consider it wouldn’t because I couldn’t fathom what my life would be or what we could do next if this didn’t work.

My enthusiasm was there but I had a dull ache in my heart the whole time leading up to the stay that remained throughout. I had never wanted to listen to my baby cry. Why o why couldn’t my sweet baby just find sleep like all the other babies? I didn’t want to do this to him but I couldn’t allow his lack of sleep impact on him anymore. No, I was stronger than that and I would do whatever I needed to meet my baby’s needs and if that meant having strangers keep me in check so I didn’t ‘give in’ too easily, then that’s what I’d do.

And so, the stage was set.

We started off with a meet and greet circle time. We had to tell each other why we were there. I could barely hold my head up as I confessed my child’s ‘sleep sins’ and my role in his ‘bad habits’; there were sympathetic head tilts, a knowing look in the eye, a shoulder rub and word of, ‘it’ll be okay, we can help’ offered up.

Then came the slide show that detailed the game plan. My 4.5-month-old was deemed too old for the ‘Comfort Settling/ Hands on Settling’ group which was for the two newborns present. We were instead with the older ‘Responsive Settling’ group.

We started when it was time for his afternoon sleep.

We had to implement a Feed-Play-Sleep routine and so I had to feed my baby and make sure he didn’t fall asleep, then read him a story, kiss him and tell him it was time to sleep, place him in his cot and walk out and close the door.

Then, I waited by the door, to see what, if any, response my baby would require to find sleep.

The nurses had zero interest in hearing what I thought he needed, or even what I thought may happen next. It was assumed I had never afforded my baby the opportunity or space to try and settle himself before and therefore, we needed to ‘just wait and see as I might be pleasantly surprised’.

Pleasant it was not. Initially, my trusting baby just kicked his legs around and chatted, no doubt feeling safe in the knowledge that mama would reappear soon. But she didn’t. He then started sounding worried. If he could talk back then, I’d say the sounds would roughly translate to, ‘Mama, I’m getting worried, where are you, I need you, where are you?

I knew this, but I wasn’t allowed in. This was just him ‘grizzling’ because he was getting ready to sleep, apparently.

He then ramped it up. I explained that this only ever went one way and it most certainly wasn’t headed towards sleep and if anything, it was driving him ever further from it. The nurse assured me he was okay and suggested I move to the base level ‘response’ while we stayed at the door. We opened the door and ‘shushed’ loudly at him to let him know I was there but it was sleep time and he wouldn’t get picked up. My baby wailed on.

I told them it wasn’t working and they told me to persist a bit longer. He continued to cry.

We then crawled into the room (so as not to give him the false impression we would pick him up), and I patted the mattress next to his head and continued to ‘shush’ loudly, no eye contact was to be made. He cried even more.

I was then encouraged to place my hand on his chest and continue to ‘shush’ him. He was past hysterical by now.

The nurse then told me I could pick him up to calm him as we had to respond to that level of distress as it wasn’t good for him. I scooped him up and soothed my sweating hysterical baby. But, as if it wasn’t enough, once he was calm, down he had to go again. He immediately howled. I placed my hand on his chest and ‘shushed’ but my heart could take no more.

THIS is one of the key moments I look back on with great shame-

I could take no more, so I fled. I ran from that room, without my baby and sat in the hall and rocked in a ball crying my heart out. The nurse had picked my baby up at this point and she rocked him off to sleep as it was decided that was enough for that settle. I should have run WITH my baby, not away from him, but I guess this is testament to how crushed I was.

Once asleep, she came out to find me to assure me we would try again next time and I’d be surprised how quickly he’d learn.

And so, a few hours later, we did it all again. It went almost exactly the same way. The only difference was that there wasn’t that momentary calm at the start. My clever little man knew what was going on and was crying before I could even walk to the door.

Door, shushing, floor, shushing, mattress patting, shushing, chest rocking, shushing, calming hysteria, shushing, place back down, shushing, hysteria, me running, nurse rocking.

This second time, one of the nurses came to me to give what she no doubt thought was pep talk and asked me if I was going to be ‘stronger’ than my baby or not? I told her to p#%s off and get away from me.

Again, a few hours later for bedtime.

My mum came to visit the next morning and was upset by what she could see. She told me my baby looked pale and exhausted and asked what was going on. I told her and she told me that I either spoke up to the nurses and told them this wasn’t working and we needed a new tack or we’d be leaving. I was a mess.

The morning settle was the same so after lunch I started packing our bags.

A nurse saw and came to ask me what I had hoped from the stay. I told her I NEEDED help but I didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere and no one seemed to have any better ideas to help my baby as their way still ended with hysteria and rocking in arms which was no better than I was doing at home anyway.

She asked me what I thought might work, and I told her that if I could at least go to him BEFORE he was so upset, I may be able to keep him calm enough to find sleep. She agreed to support me on the next settle and miracle of miracles, it worked.

I was elated.

It continued to work my way for the next few days there but nights continued to be a challenge as they wanted me to try to resettle before offering a night feed but I needed their help with this as the instant he had me, he wanted the boobs and my husband was a 2.5-hour flight away.

The nurse was ‘happy’ to help but just as they showed no faith in what I told them about my baby by day, they showed no interest in hearing my belief that being prompt was essential because if you allowed him to wake right up, the settle could take hours versus the minutes if he was still drowsy.

So, I’d hear him stir and knowing my baby, I knew this only meant one thing- he was waking and would not return to sleep without help, so I’d go to the nurse’s station and alert her to his waking and ask for her to attempt the resettle. She’d deliberately go slow saying I need to not rush to his side as he needs to try to resettle himself first. At 2am in the morning, I’d say, we talked about this during the day and this DOES NOT work for my baby, please come now or we’ll be awake for hours. Feet.Dragging.Teeth.Pulling.Sloth.Slow movements, before starting the horseshit ‘shhing’ at the door routine responses and then rocking a hysterical baby who was now wide awake and HAD to have a breastfeed to find any form of calm. At least an hour later, I’d finally crawl back to bed only for him to wake an hour or so later and rinse and repeat. It. Was. F^&*ed.

The next day, in daylight hours, I would reiterate the need for prompt response and I’d firstly get reminded that the goal was to get my baby self-soothing and that affording him space was essential. I’d then try to explain the HUGE difference in awake time because of this and they assured me that this short-term pain and extra loss of sleep, would have a long-term pay off that was worthwhile.

I agreed to stick with it. He was sleeping a longer block at the start of the night so I felt that maybe they were onto something and I owed the effort to try and make it work.

So, after 5 days, my baby was sleeping in his cot, settling to sleep without much help and having a longer block at the start of the night.

I left feeling like the wheels of positive change were in motion and I felt positive that with continued commitment, we would have him sleeping ‘well’ in no time.

It wasn’t to be.

My husband and I threw ourselves at the technique with a 300% commitment to being consistent and persistent (bordering on lunacy).

Our baby however, held an even greater faith in us and belief in his own needs and he continued to fight and call and demand our presence with an intensity that was even more than before.

Within a week of returning home, despite adhering to every responsive settling ‘rule’, we were up to 2-hour battles for every nap, every bedtime and ever resettle through the night. It was horrific.

We were all exhausted, frustrated and incredibly at odds with each other.

We WERE responding damn it!!!

We responded to every god damn cry, every god damn whimper (well the whimpers that sounded ‘emotional’ anyway). He couldn’t possibly NEED us, he just WANTED us. This was bulls&*t. Why did he need more from us than they said we should give? WHY? Why wasn’t he learning? Why wouldn’t he just let up?

Our poor baby on the other hand was no doubt deeply confused about why these people who he loved and needed so completely seemed to be so hellbent on pretending like they couldn’t respond the way he truly needed them. Why do they keep standing at the door or tapping my mattress when they know I need a cuddle? Why are they taking so long to let me nurse when all I need is a quick minute and we could all be back to the sleep we all need?

Responsive Settling gives the illusion of response. 

Being told how to respond, when to respond and when to withdraw that responsiveness is NOT being responsive. It’s the equivalent of when someone is talking to us and we are busy or can’t really hear so we just smile and nod or say something like, ‘that’s nice dear’. It allows the adult to feel they are doing SOMETHING and therefore they are being ‘gentle’ while they train their baby. It is a disturbing mismatch that plays a significant role in the justification and vindication of the widespread use of these techniques in Public and Private facilities and by consultants around the world.

I desperately NEEDED help. There is an overwhelming need for help for new mothers, particularly those with mental health challenges and those with very wakeful babies.

The Possums Clinic in Brisbane offer the service I needed back then and I can only hope that all service providers begin the rapid shift to their approach. The Possums Sleep Film, should be compulsory viewing for Mums and Bubs groups nationwide and their Professional Development courses would surely see a change for the better in the practice of Frontline Care Professionals.


I hold no malice for the people who worked with me during my stay at the Mother/Baby Unit but it would be wrong of me not to speak up and to demand they reflect on their practice, the impact it had on not only me and my baby, but many of the people they see and to ask, maybe there is a better way.

So, here’s to growth.

Here’s to change.

Here’s to ensuring very tired mothers and babies receive the care and support they deserve and need.

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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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The last resort- when sleep training feels like it’s not a matter of choice anymore

The last resort- when sleep training feels like it’s not a matter of choice anymore

‘If you have a flexible relaxed baby you don’t really have a problem do you? I have a 10 month old and she won’t sleep anywhere but in my arms, takes up to 1-2hours to get her to sleep. SHE needs sleep, I need sleep. So what other choice do I have but to try sleep training? So once again let’s not judge people. Not all sleep training is cry it out so get off your high horses and go back to being perfect mums while I do what I can to survive’

This is a comment I received on my latest article and it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart for this mama.

I know this feeling all too well. The desperation, the feeling that I had no choice but to try sleep training.

The crossroads.

This is not a mother coming to sleep training willingly. She has for 10 months, helped her child to sleep in her arms because that was the way that worked. She has responded. She has given. She has no doubt tried gentler techniques and still her baby finds sleep difficult and still this mother is exhausted, desperate and doubting everything she has done.

I reached this point earlier. For me, it was the 4 month appointment with a CHN that left me feeling I had ‘no choice’ but to sleep train and it is how I came to be in sleep school with my baby 2 weeks later.

This is a horrific situation for a mother to find herself in. To find herself feeling as though she must do something to her baby that she has desperately been trying to avoid. If this mother or I had truly believed that our baby needed to be taught to sleep through whatever name the sleep trainers would like to call their Controlled Crying technique, then we wouldn’t have left it to our last resort. Our only last remaining ‘choice’.

I remember saying to the nurse manager at my check in meeting at sleep school that I never wanted to be the mother who let her baby cry.

I wanted to soothe my babies. I wanted to hold, nurse and see them comfortably off to sleep. But I also wanted SLEEP!!! I wanted sleep in chunks. I wanted to recover from birth. I wanted to stop having to think, talk, live and breathe nothing but sleep. I was convinced that I could reasonably expect this from my baby. I was convinced that what I was experiencing with my child was far from normal. I was convinced that it must have been what I was doing that had led to my baby’s wakeful behaviour and that the ONLY way to fix it was to undo all of these ‘sleep associations’ and train him to learn to sleep alone through the ‘Responsive Settling’ techniques prescribed at the sleep school I attended.

I looked on the surface to be a willing participant in the process. I agreed to it. I went along with it. I persisted with it. I ultimately ‘failed’ at it.

But under the surface, I was anything but willing and this is where I see the failure of the system, society and these ‘services’ of the Sleep Training Industry.

A mother’s instinct to mother her unique baby the way they need to be mothered is there for a reason. These intense, high needs babies often have underlying health issues that further exacerbate the wakefulness and to ‘train’ them to the point that they stop signalling to their caregiver that they need help is so incredibly unfair on that baby. Other intense, high needs babies, such as mine, don’t have underlying health issues but simply NEED the extra comfort, contact and support to be able to rest relatively peacefully. They aren’t broken but do not fit the mould. They ask more of their mother even when she has nothing more to give. They are relentless and with no light at the end of the sleep deprived tunnel, it is beyond the point of difficult for the mother of such a child to keep things in perspective. ‘This too shall pass’ has a hollow ring as night after night after night for months and even years the waking continues. The intensity continues. The neediness continues.

Of course, when this mother hits the point of, ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ She will be vulnerable and far more accepting of advice and techniques that go against her instinct. She is fucking done. She is SO unbelievably over it and tired that she actually dreams of running away and sleeping whole nights away.

When someone is at their most vulnerable, it is easy to manipulate and take advantage of them. They are DESPERATE for an answer. They will pretty well try anything to change the current circumstances. They are in no fit state to be making decisions that may or may not have long term implications for their baby because surely, a short term pain is worth it to regain the sanity and SLEEP that is ‘needed’.

It makes me absolutely WILD that our mothers are being left to get to this point. Society and the sleep training norm have allowed and even encouraged us to get here though.

If a mother presents herself to a GP, Paediatrician, CHN, Sleep School or Sleep Consultant with a tale of desperation and last resort then it is THEIR responsibility to that mother to bring her back from that brink. It is their responsibility to find out how that unique child of hers is asking to be mothered, why it has brought her to the point of exhaustion, what supports can be put in place (physical, emotional and environmental) to help her come back from the brink and continue mothering this baby of hers the way they need to be mothered. It is absolutely NOT the time to be encouraging her to sleep train her baby as though it is the answer to her prayers.

Her baby is wakeful for a REASON and that reason has fuck all to do with what she has been doing and fuck all with not being able to ‘self soothe’.

Firstly, rule out health concerns: allergies, intolerances, food sensitivities, tongue and lip ties, birth trauma to name but a few possible causes of wakefulness. 

If her baby nurses to sleep and refuses the ‘feed, play, sleep’ routine, it’s because that baby finds the perfectly normal biologically perfect method of nursing to sleep the best way to go to sleep.

If they take a long time to drift off or fight sleep tooth and nail even while being held tight and rocked, but eventually go- this is what they need!!

If they wake at night and only fall back to sleep while nursing, they are behaving like a normal breastfed human infant. If it is happening many times, then investigating why through health concerns is important but encouraging safe cosleeping or bedsharing arrangements may help anyway.

A baby wanting to be cuddled and not put down IS NORMAL.

If these support services, truly have these vulnerable mothers AND their baby’s best interest at heart, they will do whatever they can to best meet the needs of both mother and child.

She should NEVER be made to feel that she has no choice but to sleep train. There should always be a choice and the goal should be to work with her to establish her true choices and go with the one that feels right in her heart, right for her baby and right for the family.

The conversation around sleep training needs more branches. Yes, it ‘works’ for many. Yes, it is touted as having ‘saved’ many mothers but what if we could avoid it? What if we never had to get to it as ‘last resort’?

What if.


For some thoughts on alternatives to sleep training, check out this article 👍🏻💙

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Dear Mama of the extremely wakeful baby,

Dear Mama of the extremely wakeful baby,

I know you are tired. Scrap that, I know you are weary to your very core, but can I tell you something? You are one hell of a mum. 

I know you dream of the time you get more than a couple of hours sleep at a time, but can I tell you something? You are rocking this mothering gig.

I know you feel miserable some days and it’s hard to hold back the tears, but can I tell you something? Your baby appreciates your commitment.

I know you find it hard to talk about what’s going on. I know you feel fragile and often times, when you do open up, people just want to ‘fix’ your baby’s sleep and suggest things that don’t sit well in your heart, but can I tell you something? You don’t have to pay them any heed. You know your baby. Follow them and your heart.

I know you will go through painful patches of anxiety and doubt as you watch other people with their babies and see how easily sleep seems to come. But can I tell you something? If your baby were theirs, they’d be struggling just as much as you are.

I know you regularly question yourself and worry that maybe it is something you’ve done that has created this wakeful pattern, but can I tell you something? It’s not. You are simply responding to the unique person you’ve created who happens to have an intense need for comfort day and night.

I know you wonder if it will ever end, but can I tell you something? It will. I can’t tell you exactly when but it will, once that tiny person of yours is ready. Our clever little people are biologically designed to grow more independent with sleep in time.

I know you wonder some days if you can go on much longer like this, but can I tell you something? It’s okay to ask for and accept help. We were never meant to do this alone. You matter too and doing what you need to keep you chugging is vital if you are going to be able to keep meeting the needs of your baby.

I know you may be desperate to try something new, but can I tell you something? Be careful who you turn to because not all support is created equal and not all support has both your best interest and that of your child in mind. Ask questions, trust your gut and follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to walk away and look for a more suitable alternative, because they are out there.

I know you think you aren’t doing very well, like a wakeful child is somehow a signal of failure, but can I tell you something? I now know sooooooo many mamas who have had wakeful babies and each one of them is stronger, more compassionate, intensely proud and endlessly grateful for the experience and lessons that baby brought to their family.

Mother of the wakeful baby, it’s time to give the guilt and the doubt a break. If you feel like shit today, feel it. But after you’ve had a big cry and a nice hot shower or a yummy cuppa and vent to a trusted friend, look at that perfect human you’ve made and think of all that is right about them. It may be their winning smile, it may be the way their fingers curl around yours, it may be the sweet milky breath, it may be their contagious chuckle, it may be their chubby arms reaching desperately for you or clinging to your neck.

They are sensationally in love with you. They couldn’t be where they are without your tender loving, time and patience.

It really is okay tired mummy. You aren’t doing anything wrong.

Chin up, shoulders down, deep breath in.

You can do it xxx
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Extreme Night Waking- tips for living, loving & surviving the ultimate Sleep Thief

Extreme Night Waking- tips for living, loving & surviving the ultimate Sleep Thief

So this is for the mums who have a baby who does not fit the sleep mould.

The ones with babies who takes them to a level of sleep deprivation few will ever know.

Sleep deprivation that has no light at the end of the tunnel.

Sleep deprivation that doesn’t simply end after the newborn phase, wonder week, teething or sickness.

To those mothering highly sensitive, super cuddly, super needy, darling little people.

To those mothers who have doubted themselves and their baby and felt like failures as they watch sleep come so easily to those around them with a few tricks and bits of ‘training’

This is for you, if you’ve thought of running away to sleep a full night in a hotel.

This for you if you sobbed your heart out as your little dear lays gazing up at you at 3am.

You know this is for you if you agree that only 3 wake ups is a ‘good’ night.

This is also for the fathers, the grandparents, the aunts, uncles, friends and acquaintances who want to understand the battle your loved one is going through as she mothers this little blessing who is no doubt precious beyond words whilst wearing her down to her very core.

First of all, don’t think for one second I am trying to make this situation you are in seem easy. I know firsthand the physical, mental and emotional strain you feel right now. Sleep deprivation fucking hurts. It really fucking hurts. It saps you of your energy, you can’t think clearly and you lose motivation very quickly as your world swiftly shrinks down to one singleminded desire … SLEEP! For many of us, these sensational high needs babies don’t even feel the need to get any sleep from the day they are born. While many babies sleep off their birth experience, ours are wide awake, often easily terrified, fussy little buggers and you’ll know doubt have had a midwife or early days visitor comment, ‘ooh, he’s very awake for a newborn.’ No such thing as time for mum to sleep and recover from the birth … Nope, especially not if the mum is a first time mother who is no doubt trying her darnedest to do everything ‘right’ and will be trying to put said baby down once asleep to avoid cosleeping.

It is exhausting and overwhelming.

Also, don’t think I am any stranger to extreme night waking. I remember when I was going through it, I felt so alone. I didn’t know anyone else who’s baby woke every 20-40mins all night every night for a few months straight from 6 months. I’d read gentle parenting books or blogs in the early months and think, ‘that’s all freaking well and good if you have nice easygoing kid but how can I keep up that kind of comfort with my crazily, intense baby?’ I was sure they couldn’t mean it was for me as good as it sounded.

But in the end, these gentle methods were actually EXACTLY what was needed for both my baby and myself. We needed a way to tune into each other. I needed to stop trying to control what was uncontrollable and start working WITH the baby I had instead of the baby the books decided he should be. These methods did not make him sleep more or better. There was no magical cure and there was no magical change that suddenly saw him turn into a sleeper. I remained sleep deprived. Extremely sleep deprived. He marginally improved towards the end of my second pregnancy and again a bit more after the new baby was born. By then, sleep deprivation was my norm. But I was and am okay.

So here’s my tips for trying to not only survive the ultimate sleep thief in your life but also to live, love and feel good about yourself and your baby.

TIP 1- change your mindset

  •  This will be the ultimate mind game. You can choose to change your focus. This took me a good 6 months to realise but I actually felt less tired when I stopped thinking about how tired I should be. The pain does lessen as your body adjusts to less and broken sleep but often our mind still registers, ‘oh, I only got about 3.5 accumulated hours of sleep last night, I am EXAHUSTED!’ Yes, that is bugger all sleep but I bet your bottom dollar if you are a regular at this kind of stuff, you’ll still kick goals the next day if you just get on up and get on with it. Make a plan for the morning to get your grumpy, tired arse moving and get on with it.
  •  Stop calculating how much sleep you had, how long you were awake, predicting the next wake up. None of it matters and none of it helps your frame of mind.
  •  If it was a particularly bullshit night, give yourself the chance to cry, vent to someone, make a seriously yummy cuppa, have a little pity party and THEN get on with it!

TIP 2- Perspective

  •  You are not alone. You are not the first and won’t be the last mother to go through this. You haven’t done anything wrong. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with your baby (of course you will have no doubt ruled out any health concerns). You are not failing, in fact, you are doing brilliantly, your baby IS just as hard as you imagine and there are easier babies getting around and that’s why it looks easy for others.
  •  People may simply not get what you are going through because everyone has their own version of a ‘good night’ and a ‘bad night’. When we went through our worst patch of waking every 20-40 mins, I would have given ANYTHING for a 2 hour stretch of sleep! ANYTHING! And then I’d have a friend complaining of their shocking night which involved baby waking 3 times, 2 of which were between 4 and 6am (meaning there was at least one bloody good long stretch in there). It all depends on your perspective. This isn’t a competition so I do try to understand when others complain about a night of sleep I can literally only dream of but more than anything, I try to turn this into a positive… From our perspective, we can fully appreciate when our babies DO genuinely have a better night. It might not be the best but better is all we truly sleep deprived folk need for a little reboot here and there. We appreciate it far more than those who have never been where we are.

TIP 3- Try stuff and investigate different avenues

  •  Investigate health concerns – paediatrician, lactation consultant, chiropractor, osteopath, naturopath, dietician … We consulted all of them. Every possible health concern was ruled out. It’s a strange feeling you get as each possible ‘cause’ of your child’s wakefulness is ruled out. On one hand, it is an extraordinary relief to know your wee one hasn’t been battling any sort of pain or discomfort preventing their sound sleep but on the other hand, if it were ‘something’ then you might have found a fix and sleep sweet sleep may have beckoned. Cue mummy guilt for not feeling 100% grateful at that moment for your beautifully healthy little sleep thief. It’s a lingering thought and fully understandable in the circumstances. Your human, brush off the guilt.
  •  I could never have reached acceptance if I hadn’t have tried everything I wanted to try first. The only regret here was that I did unfortunately try a few things that went against my motherly instinct and caused my baby trauma and I can’t take it back (sleep school being the top of my list). Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right? If the answer is yes, go for it. If it doesn’t work, it simply wasn’t what your baby needed. You didn’t fail and they aren’t being difficult. It was an idea that didn’t work. Move on

TIP 4- Acceptance

  •  It may seem negative but simply accepting that your baby IS going to wake at 20,40,60 mins (whatever their current stint of choice is) and EXPECTING them to wake versus hoping they may magically sleep for longer actually helped me a lot! While I was in the ‘maybe tonight is the magical night where he sleeps longer.’ I lived with continual feelings of disappointment and frustration as night after night it didn’t happen. Accepting the waking helped.
  •  Accepting that there was NOTHING I could do to stop my baby waking helped me refocus my energy on what I could control- getting myself the best quality sleep I could, when I could. Quality over quantity. For me, this meant- eating dinner early with bub so I didn’t have to eat into the sleep time to cook or eat, showering as soon as bub was down to help me wind down and to guarantee I had a shower each day, bedsharing once Bub woke after I went to bed, putting him on the boob- screw night time resettling, and laying and resting or occasionally napping while Bub catnapped during the day. Did this bode well for my night time social life? No. Did I get much time to talk with my husband? Not unless we went for a walk to get Bub to sleep which became a fabulous way to ensure we talked away from the TV. At the end of the day, this was a season and for this season, this is what I needed to do. I still socialised during the day and enjoyed my adult time then. The nights, well they were for sleeping any chance I could.

TIP 5- Keep on communicating with your partner

  •  Living long term with sleep deprivation can be a serious strain on your relationship and we were no exception. Tempers were often short as well as patience with so much of our energy put into looking after baby and just trying to make the most of the day that it was easy to get into bad patterns of not really talking and not bothering to connect. Thing is, I couldn’t have gotten through all of this without my husband. At times, he felt completely useless and sometimes he was simply spent but I knew he was there for me, my biggest support and the love of my life. The single biggest thing that kept us going was to keep our lines of communication open. Even if it was the briefest of interactions, we tried to make sure the other knew we still loved them and at the end of this all, we’d get some more time for us. We also started walking in the evening after babe’s bath. This got me out of a darkened room settling the baby and it got him off the couch. We got to talk. I finally knew what was going on in his world again. He knew when I was nearing the end of my tether or if I was coasting long well.
  •  Also keep communicating if your parenting styles don’t seem to match up. We all come from different backgrounds with different temperaments at play. Listen to each other and share your reasons for wanting to try or not try certain parenting choices with your kids. We have to work at this constantly. It’s not always easy to agree but at least by talking openly we know where we are both coming from.

TIP 6- Venting

  •  Oh yes, venting is essential. A good cry in the shower, to your partner, your mum or a friend can be all that you need to get going again. I would never ever do Cry It Out with my babies but sometimes for me, this is exactly what I need (although a cuddle and a bit of understanding from someone else helps too).
  •  Big part of this tip though is to pick your target or else you are bound to get inundated with bad advice or made to feel as though it is what you have been doing that is the reason you have a wakeful baby. From very early on, put your feelers out and find those you can trust to support, encourage and listen to you. They are your venting buddies. For the rest, I suggest if your baby’s sleep comes up, change the topic after saying he/ she is sleeping like a baby 😉. If no one in your real life can offer a safe space to vent, look for like minded groups online for support.

TIP 7-Bed sharing

  •  Bedsharing actually changed my whole mothering experience. After 6 months of getting up multiple times a night for ridiculous amounts of time I was so bone tired I’d often have to call to my husband to lift the baby to the cot because my arms simply wouldn’t lift, simply carrying my baby to the spare bed, popping out a boob and settling back while he did his thing with very little else needed from me, I was sooooo much more rested. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t always comfortable and some nights he was still awfully hard to settle but I could stay drowsy. I didn’t need to wake right up. I just went through the motions.
  •  Bedsharing for us isn’t always pretty. Some nights, my husband and I cop feet to the head and get pushed to the very edge or a toddler lying on our chest. It is not always peaceful but for us it is by far the best option for meeting our needs and our motto, ‘whatever gets the most people in our house the most sleep tonight’ (Sweet Sleep, La Leche League)
  •  A King sized mattress on the floor is great for space and peace of mind knowing that no one can fall and hurt themselves
  •  And of course please, investigate safe bedsharing arrangements if you intend to start. The Safe Sleep 7 is a great place to begin.

  
TIP 8- Get out and about during the day.

  •  Do not let sleep rule your life during the day everyday.
  •  Get out at least once a day for yours and your baby’s sake. It will make a huge difference to your frame of mind.

TIP 9- Appreciate the tiny human you’ve created

  •  By far and away the top tip. Your perfectly imperfect little person is here to be loved fully and their rapidly developing brain thrives under the tender, loving care of someone who ‘gets’ them just as they are. Sleep is not who they are. It is one thing in their life but they have so much more value and uniqueness that deserves to be in the spotlight as opposed to some thing they find so hard.
  •  Empathise with your baby about their sleep. It’s not a nice feeling for anyone at any age to find the sleep they need to be so difficult to get and sustain. They honestly would sleep easier if they could. This is where they are at and they need their mum and dad to meet them at their point of need instead of berating them for something they simply cannot do.

  
TIP 10- Know your limits and call in help when you need it

  •  There will be days and sometimes even weeks when despite all your best efforts to keep your head positive and in the game you will be simply done. This is totally normal and understandable. It’s important to recognise when you are hitting the wall and organise a way to get some relief. Whether you just need the chance to shower alone for 15 mins to regroup or if you need to fly your mum in to take on some of your load for the week for a proper break, get the help you need to get back on deck.
  •  If you feel like you are not coping more often than not, then please speak to your GP. Post Natal Depression is very common regardless of your sleep deprived state, add it into the mix and it can be very hard to keep it at bay. Seeking help is so important because you matter. You deserve to enjoy your baby and your time as a mother. You deserve your happiness.

So with these tips in mind, I’m hoping you can see that this incredibly long, strenuous marathon you are on can be a once in a lifetime character building, relationship building, friendship bonding experience. You CAN survive this whether or not your baby starts sleeping longer. Stop waiting for the day and start living today by finding acceptance, appreciation, love and a whole load of venting to get you through.

You can do this mama. You really can. Stay strong x


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