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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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When self-care just becomes another ‘thing’ you have to do

I’m getting on my ranty pants here because after reading yet another article on ‘self -care essentials’ doing the rounds, I realised that for me, back in the early days of mothering both of my babies, all of these lists of ‘essentials’ essentially gave me one more thing on my very long list of ‘things you have to do if you want to succeed at this mothering business’ and in all honesty, I didn’t need one more f#%^ing thing I was SUPPOSED to do as I already had more than my fill of shit to do with my time.

Does that mean I didn’t care for myself?

Hell, no!!

I f#%^ing cared. But sometimes, my self care was to just say, ‘you know what, I give myself permission to just do whatever the hell feels like the path of least resistance today’ and that sure as shit didn’t involve me scheduling in ANOTHER thing I had to do for myself that day (unless that thing was simply to make sure I ate something other than toddler leftovers or didn’t give a shit that the washing was wet and stale in the basket).

So many self care essentials focus on you needing to be ‘solo’ to care for yourself but despite me leading an extremely privileged life this was not always possible and was often impossible in the early days with my babies (so if it was hard for me, I’ve no doubt it is downright impossible for most).

I didn’t need to be told to block out time for ‘me’ when the only time I got to myself each day was the 15 minute shower I had once both kids were in bed each night … that WAS my ‘me’ time and heck yes, I savoured it but anything more took logistics, planning and forethought and quite frankly, I wasn’t capable of that when my mental lode was already at capacity.

That’s right, my mental lode.

I know for a fact, my first time experience would have been better had I been better able to filter out the bullshit, but as a chronic over-thinker and perfectionist, it’s no great surprise that I let in more than deserved to get in and I had more than enough shit to work out in there already, so when someone would casually suggest I have pamper day because I deserved a break, my reaction was genuinely perplexed! Of course I deserved a break but I’ll be f#%^ed if I could work out how the hell this would all work and the brain power I would require to make it work was too busy being exerted in other areas.

Even second time round, all of these self care options that required any kind of logistical planning were swiftly cast aside in favour of shit I could do for myself without having to work out the how, what, when, where and why.

My self care is often child free now and I relish it but self care back in the day was rarely so and you know what, I was taking very good care of myself.

Here are the ways I practice self-care without ever really needing to practice self-care-

#1. I found and applied an effective bullshit shield

That’s right, a bullshit shield. Until you get one, you are going to live in a perpetual state of confusion as conflicting advice comes from every angle. Once you can apply a bullshit filter, you will feel more comfortable with simply doing what feels right for your unique family based on the information and support that you have in that moment. If something feels wrong, it probably means it is.

#2. I followed the path of least resistance

In the land of ‘you need to do XYZ to be a successful parent’ the hoops you must jump and boxes you must tick often fly contrary to your baby’s natural behaviour and development. If you feel like you are pushing shit uphill or fighting against the tide, I give you permission to surrender entirely. Parenting and life in general go so much more smoothly when you embrace the natural flow and follow the path of least resistance.

#3. I learned to treat myself as gently as my children

I am human and I am really bloody trying to be a good one but, I am not perfect and I will slip up and I will need to put myself in timeout and I will have days where my parenting just plain sucks and I will take shortcuts and I will throw my hands up and just say ‘whatever!’ And I will not spend the rest of my time beating myself up and feeling guilty.

I no longer strive for perfection.

I will apologise where apologies are needed and I will move on.

#4. I surrounded myself with people I enjoy

We go out A LOT. And mostly that is to surround myself and my babies with people who help us all feel good. I am incredibly lucky to have found and nurtured friendships with some of the greatest people on earth and their presence in my daily life IS my favourite kind of self- care. We all love each other and our babies so much and there is nothing like the company of other mothers who ‘just get it’ to keep you sane on the toughest of days. They have seen me in all my glory they aren’t under any illusions and guess what, they still hang out with me even when my house is a tip, I smell and I’m crying or ranting the second I see them.

#5. We spend A LOT of time outside

The outdoors are plain good for the soul and when all is going to pot … out the door we go. Sometimes we go for a walk, collect rocks, jump on the tramp, make mud pies, play with water, draw with chalk, ride bikes and other times they stand there still whining or crying at me but somehow the earth in between my toes, the sun on my face seems to help me find my calm again when it seems to have left the building and many an ‘unsettled’ / ‘I have no idea what the f%^*ing problem is’ moment have been calmed with some cuddles in the great outdoors.

Being cooped up has never been good for my soul and being outside IS a helpful way for me to care for myself while I care for my babies.

#6. If I really want/ need to do something then I ask for help and do it

That’s right, I ask for and accept help. My hand goes up and I say to my family and support crew, this little duck NEEDS to do XYZ and they/ we make it happen. Getting more comfortable with being specific about what I need has been a journey of growth but it has helped me immensely and also allowed my relationships to grow as the favours I have been bestowed have been returned in kind.

And that’s it, that’s how I care for myself without specifically practicing ‘self care’.

So, if you, like me are feeling as though ‘self care essentials’ are nothing but another pain in your arse or signal that you haven’t got this parenting shit together, rest easy my friend.

Caring for yourself doesn’t have to be complicated or pigeon holed as another task for the day. It’s the many little windows of opportunities in your day where you can take the easier option to care for yourself. It’s the options you choose because they make your heart sing or keep the family calm which keeps you calm. It’s recognising the incredible lode you carry and patting yourself on the back while also cutting yourself some slack.

Self care is not a ‘thing’ you have to do, it is a way of being, living and feeling okay within yourself while the little people in your life seem to take up so much space.

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For me, a Happy Baby meant a Happy Mum

You will often hear the saying, ‘Happy Mum = Happy Baby’.  

I think the intention of the saying is good, and it may well be true for many others, but it certainly did not ring true for me when I was a struggling new mum with an intense high needs baby who took more from me than I ever thought I had. So many ‘choices’ and ‘options’ were put to me that would supposedly solve all our woes and they all pretty much boiled down to the fact that I needed to start putting myself first so that I could get back to ‘happy’ and stop being such a ‘martyr’ who was sacrificing her sanity in order to bend over backwards 24/7 for a ridiculously demanding child.

Even after I found my surrender and my mothering groove, the suggestions kept coming.

The people who suggested it were genuinely concerned for me. They could see no good coming from this situation I lived in with my extremely frequent waker who nursed all night and wanted to be held all day. I looked dishevelled and unkempt. I looked exhausted and washed out. I looked to have been consumed so wholly by this mothering gig that there was no semblance of the person I was before. I was someone to be worried about, pitied and in need of advice and a push in the ‘right’ direction.

From the outside looking in, I made this mothering business look ridiculously hard and not at all appealing to those around me.

BUT, on the inside I was growing. On the inside I was glowing. On the inside, I was developing a new strength.

I was becoming a new and fuller version of myself.

Maybe for some the path to a happy mum is to focus her self-care on doing things for herself. This kind of self-care has slowly appeared into my world, too and as my babies have grown, it fits more and more frequently and comfortably into our lives. But, I am not ashamed to say that for the longest time with my first baby, there was simply no way I could feel ‘happy’ unless I knew my baby was happy, too.

I am an empath and as such, I keenly feel and take on board other people’s emotions. This is both a strength and a weakness in my life but I have learned to accept it as an essential part of ME, and because I like me and care for me, I know that I need to be mindful and care for my Empath tendencies for me to feel well within myself. Does this mean I need to fix the ills of the world as well as my children’s every discomfort to find happiness? No, it does not, but it does mean that while I have a highly dependent and attached infant relying on me as their primary source of comfort and nutrition, they WILL require my care first and I will need to know they are happy before I can embark on any form of self-care without them.

I remember trying on many occasions to seek to make the more traditional types of self-care happen. More often than not, the stress and anxiety of even having to contemplate doing these things were enough to make me unhappy. Then on the occasions where I did ‘just go, they’ll be fine, you are just stressing. They always do better than you think.’ … I’d be called back home within the hour to a hysterical child who would not calm for dad and needed boob or I’d get home to them looking wrecked as my husband ‘toughed’ it out to give me a break. Interestingly, on none of these occasions was I out having the time of my life or even feeling particularly happy, despite the fact that I was getting ‘me’ time that was meant to make me a happier mum. I wasn’t enjoying it because despite what other people told me, that my baby would be just fine, he wasn’t, and I knew he wouldn’t be. He is now the cruisiest dude in town and can easily be left with daddy, babysitters, daycare, his grandparents, friends and family, but while he was an infant, he wanted his mum. That was it. 

Once I accepted this, as where he was at and what he needed, I was so much happier within myself. He needed me, all of me and more. He was happy when he had me, and unhappy when he didn’t. My self-care simply had to fit within these bounds and to work that out saved both of us so much heartache.

This doesn’t mean that at times I didn’t dream of running away. I didn’t wish for some time to be alone and untouched. It didn’t mean that my dreams and desires ceased to exist.

I still needed and wanted time just to be, but for me to be happy, I didn’t need to have everything I wanted and needed right then and there. To be happy, I had to be right where I was needed.

I needed to have a happy baby and to have a happy baby made me the happiest mum I could be.

I do not need perfect to be happy. I can be a mess of contradiction, raw and exhausted and still be okay.

What was key for me was getting to a place where I could talk about my worries, frustrations and struggles without feeling like I needed to filter them out of my life completely to be happy.

We all come as we are as people to motherhood. For some mothers, truly, the happy mum =happy baby path may well be the best and most appropriate course to chart, but I feel it is necessary to express why this may not indeed be the route to happiness for ALL mothers and should therefore not be held over mother’s heads as yet another pressure she has to do this mothering thing ‘right’.

If you only feel happy when your baby is happy, there is nothing wrong with that.

Mothering does not need to look pretty, perfect or easy for it to be ‘right’.

Sometimes, it may be ugly, raw, unfiltered and undeniably taxing on a mother’s heart, mind and soul and still be all kinds of ‘right’ for her.

A massive shout out to all the mothers out there who are simply doing what feels right for their family without a succumbing to pressure to conform.

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