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

Dear Clem,

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

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

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

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

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

There are expectations, shoulds and shouldn’ts

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

I know I did.

And my goodness, was I out of my depth.

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

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

I trusted.

I trusted these people above my own feelings on matters.

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

They had to be right? Right?

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

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

Or did they?

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

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

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

The system washed their hands of me.

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

No further support.

No further avenues for help.

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

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

What could they offer?

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

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

I must not have done it right.

I mustn’t have been consistent enough.

It’s because you still breastfeed him.

Etc etc Infinitum

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe he actually needed everything he asked of me.

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

She got me thinking of an alternative.

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

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

And it continues to blossom today.

I refuse to buy into the mummy wars.

I refuse to pit mother against mother.

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

I own that.

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

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

This understanding, I believe is key.

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

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

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

Something had to give.

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

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

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

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

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

Through all of this, my baby continued to wake.

In an extreme fashion.

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

Every. Single. Night.

I’m still not a martyr.

He was my baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was alone while surrounded by friends.

Life has changed a lot since then.

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

But, I am still not mainstream.

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

Most people still sleep train.

They do.

It’s why the industry continues to thrive.

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

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

It is unquestioned and unrivalled.

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

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

At her weak maternal feet.

She must be stronger.

She must persist.

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

There is just so much more to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Carly

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Should we expect sympathy and support from everyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But where was my sympathy?

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

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

That is most certainly true.

It’s true in every facet of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We as mothers often bear incredible burdens.

This mothering game can be hideously lonely and isolating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Honesty versus Caution… The Mummy Blogger conundrum

Honesty versus Caution… The Mummy Blogger conundrum

Becoming a mum is a mind blowing experience. Being a mum is a minefield. Every which way you turn there are ‘experts’ claiming to know what is best for the care of babies. Every technique has its proponents and opponents. You are bombarded with advice from friends, family, even strangers and that’s without even setting foot in the social media world full of parenting pages from sleep ‘experts’ to mummy bloggers all filling your head with words, advice, images, more words, more advice, more images. Some make your heart swell and build you up but then just one click later BANG the self doubt, guilt and questions about what you and your baby are doing are back again.  

What’s a mum to do?

The answer is, follow YOUR baby and you can’t go wrong. Follow what feels right in YOUR heart and you can’t go wrong.

If some stupid article has you tied up in knots, ask yourself why. If you are happy, your baby is happy, your family is happy and your choices are safe … F#%^ that article right off out of your headspace! It clearly wasn’t written for you or yours.

If it stirs up residual guilt, then there is every chance your happiness is suffering and you’d benefit from processing your experience more fully so you can get to a place of acceptance and happiness. This MAY involve changing your path but it also may not.


So what’s a blogger to do?

I challenge anyone to write an article that is truly in support of ALL mothers about any specific topic and still sound like they are genuine.

I’ve written many articles feeling like they are as ‘inclusive’ and ‘judgement’ free as possible and STILL some one will call me on it. I’ve since kind of given up on the idea and now choose to write from my point of view but am mindful of those who take a differing path and make sure I am still respectful of their choices no matter that I disagree. This does not mean I will promote or advocate these choices and I certainly won’t be sitting in the sidelines cheering them on as that wouldn’t me being true to me and my heart.

Does this make me the perfect mum and those who do it differently bad or uncaring? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I am far from perfect, nobody is nor need to be. We all do what we decide is best in our unique circumstances and it’s important that we can own that. I own my choices and you should own yours. If your choices fill you with guilt, then maybe some processing is required on your part. Getting all up in arms at some random blogger who stirred it up is not going to help you move on to a happy place in life. If your choices fill you with happiness then I’m sure you will brush off the bullshit you think I’m spinning and move on.

Blogging feels good for me. I love writing and right now my favourite topics are all things gentle mum. I advocate for breastfeeding, bedsharing and babywearing. That’s where my heart’s at and passions lie. I have a distinct distaste for all thing sleep training and sleep trainers in particular. I won’t shy away from that. Sleep training is actually mainstream practice (shiver down my spine). Those of us who don’t believe in it are actually in the minority right now so for all those people who are looking for positive support and articles on the pro sleep training side, you will have ZERO trouble finding support (just talk to your local CHN). Voices such as mine and other gentler parenting bloggers may seem loud and persistent but this is small fry compared to the bombardment of pro sleep training bullshit your average new parent will encounter on their journey especially if they have a wakeful child.

So I speak from my experience. I tell raw truths even if they are only my truths. I throw caution to the wind in the vain hope I can reach some likeminded souls needing a fresh perspective or reassurance that there is a way to do this incredibly tough job while still following a gentle style of parenting. Without conforming to the mainstream.

As a blogger, I may just reach just one mama and make her feel okay and that to me is worth it.

So, honesty needs to win in my book. If you want caution and you want Team Mummy to come out to play with no ifs and buts, then keep on looking, but even if you do find it, you may just miss the realness and connection you find with bloggers who just tell it like it is, even if their ‘like it is’ is nothing like yours.

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Holding the mirror up to ourselves on our parenting journey

Holding the mirror up to ourselves on our parenting journey

 
It caught me by surprise the other day just how upset I feel when one of those memes about ‘fed is best’ or something against the ‘mummy wars’ comes up. I’m upset, not because I am anti- formula or anti any particular parenting decisions, but more because these campaigns often encourage a blind acceptance that whatever people choose to do with their children is not up for discussion. This upsets me because as a mother, I talk, I read, I observe, I research, I listen every single day to keep myself on a path that sees me making informed parenting decisions for my babies and my family. I am not the perfect mother, not that anyone is or nor do we need to be but I am a huge believer in self reflection and striving to do better in all parts of my life but most of all in my relationships I hold dear.

  
It offends me that the importance and profound impact a mother has on her children’s lives is brushed off as whatever happens happens. You see, things don’t just happen. Choices are made. Some hastily, some painstakingly, some desperately, some based on information/ advice (good or bad), some half heartedly, some without feeling like we even had a choice at all. These choices can have a long term impact on our small, vulnerable, quickly developing babies and children.

  
Not all mother/ child relationships are ideal. You yourself may look none to fondly on your own relationship with your mother. In my role as a teacher, I found it very difficult sometimes to not jump to conclusions about a family or judge a mother of a child in my class. It sometimes felt so bleedingly obvious what the problem/ root cause of an issue was in fact a child’s family. But, luckily for me, in my very first year teaching, I came across a wonderful Guidance Officer who was able to put things in perspective for me and open up my empathy for these women in some very difficult circumstances. She told me that the way she survives her job each day is to remind herself that ‘we all mother to the best of our ability with the resources we have available.’ So whilst we may not agree with what a mother is doing or can see that her choices are not having a positive impact on her child we can always rest assured that she IS doing her very best at that moment. Does this mean that support personnel should just leave this mother to carry on or is it their role to intervene with support, modelling, information and guidance for this mother? I think in cases of abuse and neglect, most people would quite confidently agree that intervention is required. But this is the extreme end of the spectrum. What irks me, is that more day to day parenting decisions are so taboo in these days of the ‘the mommy wars’ that discussion and research are often ignored and shouted down as ‘judgey’ without any thought.

I know for me, becoming a parent has been a rocky road. With all the bends, twists, jumps, free falls, blown tyres and occasional car wreck of a Hollywood car chase. Would I make all the decisions I made two years ago again today? No. Would I stick by some of them? Yes. I have lived, learned and grown an enormous amount in the past two years and I will continue to grow and evolve as a mother throughout my children’s lives.

Saying that I wouldn’t make all the same decisions I made as a new mum does not mean that my decisions back then were ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. I was simply being the best mother I could be with the resources available at the time. For some of those decisions, particularly around infant sleep, I make very different choices for my second baby. I know better so I do better.

I do not take information, discussion and sharing as an affront if it goes against how I mother. I can separate myself enough to appreciate another perspective whether it sits well with me personally or not.

Does this mean there is a right way to mother? Absolutely not. Individual mothers mothering their own unique babies … How on earth could there be a ‘right’ way? So equally, there is also no wrong way.

I love Pinky McKay’s filter for making parenting decisions,

o Is it safe?

o Is it respectful?

o Does it feel right?

Its also important to acknowledge that it can be hard to parent in a way that we were not parented. A large part of how we parent is built into us like a default setting by the way we ourselves were parented. If we had a very, strict, dictatorial upbringing or a very relaxed, ambivalent childhood of few boundaries this is what we will revert to as parents in times of stress or uncertainty. It is what we know even if it is not necessarily what we feel is ideal.

The parent we are today does not have to be the parent we are tomorrow. We can take the good and build on it and reflect on the bad and grow from it.

  

This is what I wish for mothers. Our work is important. We are growing our future population. World leaders, peace makers, ground breakers were all parented by someone. Equally, tyrants, murderers, corrupt business people were also parented by someone.

Growing our little people with safety, respect and feeling will see their heart and heads full of love and resilience. Ready to embrace the world and those around them with the empathy and enthusiasm for what is good because they know it exists.

As L. R Knost says, ‘ it is not our job to toughen our children to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.

  

So next time you see one of those generic memes that while making us feel all loved up and included also try to dampen our desire to talk, discuss and learn, take a moment to reflect and remind yourself that you are important, you can make a difference and your choices do matter and then carry on being that amazing mother you are to your little people.