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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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My thanks to Attachment Parenting

Attachment Parenting can get a pretty bad rap.  

This is hardly surprising in a society that places little to no value on the natural, biological development of our infants and toddlers in favour of behaviourist interventions that force babies to conform to an ideal that allows adults to get back on with the more ‘important’ business of life with as little disruption to their productivity as possible.

Interestingly though, it also gets a negative review from many a mother who while initially drawn to the basic attachment parenting tenants, then found/ decided they were unable to follow them in their setting.

Plenty of mothers explain that while all of it sounded great in theory, they simply could not or would not be able to make it work for them or they felt they ‘outgrew’ this style of parenting or felt stifled and restricted by it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading another account of how a mother felt ‘let down’ by Attachment Parenting as her children grew older and when a subsequent child didn’t respond well to the techniques recommended.

This got me thinking about my own experience with Attachment Parenting and how it has shaped me as the mother I am and the mother I continue to strive to be.

I can say that I am eternally grateful to the Attachment Parenting movement for all of the ideas, guidance, confidence boosts and belief it has provided me with in the early phase of this mothering gig. I am grateful for all of this being done without ever feeling like I had been told what I HAD to do to mother my unique children.

I am grateful because they spoke of a norm I would otherwise not have known existed.

They offered me an explanation and coping strategies and mothering techniques that no one else told me were okay let alone what might be exactly what my baby and I needed.

They helped me see why my baby only slept calmly in my arms or on my chest and offered up babywearing and co-napping as normal and natural ways for me to meet my baby at his point of need.

They encouraged me to feel confident that my baby who breastfed SO frequently did so because this was not only his source of nutrition but also his preferred method for comfort, soothing and reconnection. They also didn’t place arbitrary limits on when my baby should stop needing me so and instead encouraged me to trust that I could follow his lead with no notion of it being ‘bad’ or that I may be stifling his development.

The work done by Attachment Parenting advocates to normalise and educate about safe bedsharing is perhaps their greatest gift to me and my family. It is, to date the single best thing I have done as a parent. It saved me, my husband and my baby. It is no exaggeration to say, my life did a complete 360 turn when I finally felt like I could make this arrangement work. I finally had a way to survive my High Need baby’s non stop extreme frequent waking. I had tried EVERYTHING to ‘fix’ him. Nothing worked. But, Attachment Parenting didn’t disown me the way mainstream advocates did. They threw me a lifeline. I could still be a ‘good’ mother even if my baby woke 59 billion times a night and on top of this, my husband and I could get the best quality sleep we could get while still meeting our baby’s needs at night.

Our night time parenting schedule remained gruelling. There was no miracle that occurred or peaceful, perfect family bed image to paint here but we could live again. We could survive and most important of all, we finally felt we could accept our baby for who he was and that included being extremely wakeful.

For me, I didn’t ever feel like I HAD to do XYZ to ‘be’ an Attachment Parent. But then again, I wasn’t striving to ‘be’ anything in particular other than the best mum I could be to my babies.

I didn’t feel constrained or judged if I needed to do things in another way as I followed my baby’s lead and my own heart.

With my second baby, my parenting repertoire was a source of great comfort to me. I had no idea who this little person would be, but I felt comfortable knowing the norms of human infant behaviour and I felt confident knowing that I had the range of skills and techniques to help me meet him at his point of need wherever that may be.

I didn’t feel bound to bedshare but I knew I would keep him close to make night time parenting manageable for me. If he needed my closeness, then into our bed he’d come. If he relished his space, I happily prepared a safe sleep space next to me in case.

I experimented continually as he grew to work out how he felt most comfortable finding and maintaining sleep by and day and night and I rolled with it. Sometimes we babywore, sometimes he slept in the pram. Other times we co-napped with a boob in his mouth or he snoozed alone on our floor bed.

I didn’t HAVE to do anything other than respond to my baby in the way that worked best for us.

As my babies grow, I thank Attachment Parenting for ensuring I continue to actively question commonly accepted mainstream practices. I have found gentle parenting, respectful parenting and peaceful parenting as well and I continue to read, grow and learn with my babies.

The single best thing Attachment Parenting has gifted me is to ensure that while I pick and choose and grow and evolve, at the heart of my parenting decisions is my heart. Decisions are made with ALL of the humans in our family considered as valuable people worthy of respect. My children’s childish nature is not held against them, just as their babyish behaviour wasn’t while they were infants.

As a family, we work as a team, to meet each other right where we are at and see value in each other for who we are.

I will be forever grateful for the healthy questioning that Attachment Parenting stirred in me. To feel confident in questioning accepted parenting practices, to look more deeply at why they are popular, what outcomes they may have and what their impact may be, intentionally or unintentionally, is so important to me.

So thank you Attachment Parenting for opening my eyes to possibilities.  
Thank you for having my back when I couldn’t fit with the mainstream.  
Thanks for having my baby’s back when my faith in him was at its lowest.  
Your work in this world is so needed.  

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Accepting the Reality of Infant and Toddler Sleep

Imagine if we, as a society accepted normal infant and toddler sleep. 

I mean really accepted it, in all its glory. 

Every part of society, from every generation, every family, every profession, every community, every culture, every religion.

What if we knew and accepted it as expected and respected elements of a child’s development? 
What if everybody knew well before having their own children that their child would need night time parenting for the first few years of life? 
If everybody knew that waking frequently to nurse was the biologically normal way for an infant/ toddler human to sleep? 
If everybody knew that we are in fact ‘carry mammals’ and that our young require near constant contact with a caregiver for the first few months to continue their growth and development outside of the womb? 
If everybody knew that a baby’s and toddler’s sleep can fluctuate a lot  over the first couple of years as they grow and develop at a phenomenal rate? 
If everybody recognised that a baby’s and toddler’s need for comfort, closeness and nurturing at night is just as valid and important as their need for these things during the day? 
What if nobody doubted the value of night time parenting and wouldn’t even for a moment consider that they could trade it off so they could be a ‘better’ parent by day? 

We, as a society, would come at infant and toddler sleep from a whole other place than we do right now.

There’d be no sleep training and therefore no sleep training industry.

There would be less focus on the baby and their behaviour and more focus on the dyad as a dynamic pair and nurturing the nurturer.

There would be focus on all levels from family right through to the political sphere on the kinds of support families need to navigate this time in their lives.

Antenatal classes and Mums and Bubs groups would be all about helping mothers to build their support network and discovering options that will allow them to meet their baby’s needs while also meeting their own.

For mothers who are struggling with intense high needs babies, the support would recognise the extra level of challenge these mother face as they run the Ultra Marathon of her life and help put the supports in place that mother needs and deserves.

Mothers with mental health concerns would be nurtured and treated in ways that respect her child’s legitimate needs day and night.

Families making decisions about paid employment would do so with the full knowledge that their baby will still require night time parenting.

Wouldn’t the world look so different to the way it does right now.?


The stress, strain, struggle and sacrifices made all because so few people know and recognise what has always been and always will be the way our tiniest most vulnerable humans find sleep normally.

I was told that new and expecting mothers don’t want to know that babies continue waking for a couple of years. I was told I was scaring them unnecessarily and that it was the equivalent of telling horror birth stories to a pregnant mama as she prepared to birth.

I strongly disagree.

Knowing and accepting what IS likely to happen as your baby grows and develops is not a horror story. No one knows how your baby will find sleep in this world but one thing is for sure, they will need you and that is not something you need to fear. Instead of fear, it gives room to mentally, physically and practically prepare. It takes away the element of surprise. It removes the angst of ‘shouldn’t they be sleeping better yet?’, ‘why does my baby still wake?’

A birthing mother doesn’t need to hear every horrific tale of every horrific thing that may or may not happen to her. That does nothing to help her towards her own journey. But it equally does not help to tell her that it will be easy, straight forward and you practically just sneeze and the baby falls out without pain/ discomfort.

A pregnant or new mother does not need to hear every detail of every form of sleep torture she may or may not face in the years ahead with her child. But she equally doesn’t need to sprint to some arbitrary finish line that someone has told her and think that her child’s night-time needs will magically cease and her sleep will return to that of pre-baby.

Let’s be real. Let’s be honest and let’s give new parents the very best chance to set themselves up with realistic expectations for the early time in their child’s life where they will be needed just as much at night as they are by day.

I know this may seem like a pipe dream right now, but all it takes is for voices to rise. Mothers and babies of the future deserve better than what is offered up in mainstream society today.

When we know better, we can do better and so, for all of those in the know, it’s our turn to share our voice, speak our knowledge and share with all we can the truths of normal infant and toddler sleep.

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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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Sleep needs versus sleep wants

Our society and our infants are at odds with each other when it comes to sleep.  Society has a very fixed and adult centred view on sleep ‘needs’ and this is commonly projected onto our infants and has created a mismatch between what we as parents view as sleep ‘needs’ versus sleep ‘wants’.

We as adults are very quick to defend our sleep ‘needs’ and often put up an almighty battle to regain a sleep pattern that we would say we ‘need’ to be normal – long, uninterrupted sleep in a bed away from our baby.

We ‘need’ this in order to function, to avoid or overcome PPD or PPA, to be able to be a good mother, to be able to return to our paid work, to have energy for our toddlers and other children, to be able to enjoy life.

Not coincidentally, society has become all accepting of the belief and understanding that our preferred way of sleeping at night and our preferred way to be productive during the day are what is not only best for our infants and toddlers but also what we should expect.


The rise of extinction methods such as Cry It Out and modified techniques that fit under the Controlled Crying banner was rampant during the era most mothers today were being mothered. Since then, there has been a push to achieve the same results but by being ‘more present’ and ‘softened’ approaches have grown more popular, even if in actual reality they are only softer by name or seem softer for the adults but are still arduous and traumatic for the child. Responsive settling or comfort settling are two such examples. Sleep training can and does vary greatly and the impact it has both in the immediate, short and long term on the child is heavily dependent on that individual child but the risks, well they are becoming more and more documented.

Despite this, many mothers feel that sleep training is something she MUST do. This is even more true if she has a baby who is far from the sleepy ideal of a ‘good’ baby. She believes her baby needs to learn to sleep and in order to do that, they need to self settle and learn to sleep away from her in chunks that will see them develop and grow the way they should.

 

It is a common misconception that a child needs a certain quota of sleep and in big, long chunks to grow and develop. Babies and toddlers DO need sleep and overall, they need quite a lot, BUT it has been shown many times over that there is no golden rule for how much sleep any one baby needs at any one time in their life. It is also normal for a human infant to sleep in short chunks, rouse and nurse before drifting back to sleep many times at night. During the day, a baby may sometimes have short naps versus sleeps and other times a nap may be extended with help through the cycle. This is NORMAL.

As for self settling, this is perhaps the saddest misconception of all. It is physiological fact that babies and young toddlers are incapable of being taught to self soothe. If you’d like to read more on this, I highly recommend this article and if you are shouting, ‘but my baby CAN self soothe!’ then check this one out.

It is also untrue that a baby needs to cry and that allowing them to cry is in any way ‘good’ for a baby either physically or mentally.

A baby or toddler NEEDS a caregiver to help them to sleep through contact, nursing and soothing when they are tired (not when some random book dictates). Some babies take a hell of a lot of energy to soothe off to sleep and may fight and struggle, but they are not alone in this if you are fully supporting them in your arms. You should never be made to feel your baby would be better off crying out of your loving arms. Pick up your baby every time. They don’t just want you, they need you and your calm.

A baby or toddler also NEEDS you within close proximity to sleep calmly and soundly. To begin with, only your chest may do (a carrier can help with this), then it may be right next to you in bed or in their side carred cot, or little mattress next to yours.

Your baby and toddler NEEDS your help when they wake at night. It is normal for a human infant to wake and nurse frequently at night for the first 12 months AND BEYOND.


Their body NEEDS to wake, refuel, feel comfort and connection, make sense of new learnings and feel any discomfort or worry is soothed.

Some baby’s NEED for night time comfort is far more intense than others just as some baby’s are more intense by day. Their needs are just as legitimate as their less intense peers.

There will be times where you will wonder what the hell has gone wrong, as a baby who had been sleeping relatively well will begin waking more and NEEDING more help at night.

All of this is normal infant sleep behaviour.

No, it looks nothing like the adult sleep we prefer.

No, it’s not how most people describe infant sleep but in a society who sleep train most babies, there is little hope that mothers will be able to garner a genuine picture of what is normal and what to expect when most babies in her world have been trained to override their biological sleep pattern.

Sadly, a baby seeking comfort to sleep is interpreted as something they want not a need.

A baby past a certain age who is seeking to nurse, is said to want to nurse when really they need to nurse.

A baby who sleeps best on or very near their caregiver is interpreted as wanting this contact but they truly need it.

A baby asking for help in the night only wants assistance because they are accustomed to it, but nope, they legitimately need it.

While these biologically normal behaviours are so quickly dismissed as wants, it is easy to see why sleep training seems like such a viable and necessary option to families.

Loving mothers everywhere want to meet their baby’s needs but while society believes that what a baby needs is – solitary sleep, to learn to self settle, to stop nursing at night as quickly as possible and to become as independent at night as possible then we’ll continue on this skewed path.

These beliefs go hand in hand with the belief that adults are only well rested if their sleep is long and uninterrupted.

This is not true.

This is a WANT not a need.

Yes, we need sleep.

No, we don’t need perfect, uninterrupted sleep to be okay.

We can and should adjust our lives and habits to be able to meet the night time parenting needs of our babies and toddlers.

Quality sleep is what parents should strive for. Forget the quantity.

Instead of all the energy we pour into ‘fixing’ and overanalysing the sleep behaviour of our babies, let’s pour our effort in to working out what we can do maximise the quality of our broken sleep.

What are we doing that could be exacerbating our weariness?

What choices are we making that fight against this time in our lives?

Maybe it’s staying up long after babies are in bed and losing sleep. Maybe it’s forcing yourself to keep getting up and staying awake to tend to your baby. Maybe it’s looking at screens in the night and waking right up. Maybe you have trouble winding back down. Maybe you are awake longer because you are trying hard to resettle when you could all be back to sleep if you simply nursed or cuddled. Maybe you are laying awake predicting the next wake up.

There is so much to consider and no one answer.

What is key here is recognising the true needs versus the wants in your unique situation.

Babies are exhausting. Being sleep deprived is no joke but as a society we have it so skewed that we have this big wall up that serves to protect the societal view of what sleep should look like and overemphasises how important it is to attain this even while we are raising our very dependent, very trusting little humans who need us intensely both day and night.

If you sit back and think, I sincerely hope we can shift this conversation and belief a little.

How much sleep you want is vastly different to what you need to be okay.

How you want to get that sleep will also be different to how you need to get it with a baby or toddler in the house.

It’s of mutual benefit to the mother and child to think on this a little.

The only way to change an entrenched view is to keep offering up the alternative.

Please, take some time to review your own beliefs about your own sleep needs and that of your baby or toddlers.




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