I remember very vividly the day I denied access to my intuition. The day I told myself that my thoughts and feelings didn't matter - because the words of that midwife or the woman who wrote a book with zero qualifications mattered more.
The day I left my daughter cry.
I was 6 months into parenting and totally consumed by motherhood. My sanity was escaping me and I placed a lot of blame on myself for the way things were going.
When I was pregnant, I had an idea of how I wanted this parenting gig to go. But even then - I was constantly told - by professionals, peers, family, friends and society - that what I wanted wasn't achievable - or even to be desired.
I wanted a natural, hypnobirth. "We'll just see what happens, shall we?"
I wanted to breastfeed for two years. "Why would you want to do that? You'll want your body back straight after the birth... There's no way you'll last two years".
I wanted to parent naturally. I threw out the Sudocream, Panadol and Banana Boat sunscreen.
I was interested in attachment parenting. "Isn't that for hippies?"
Yet when Cadence was born, all of this seemed so far from my reach. I was told in hospital that I needed to log everything. Poos, wees, breastfeeds, sleep. Sometimes, I'd be holding my crying baby with one arm, cannula stretched and stinging, so that I could log the start of the breastfeed on the clipboard. I was already going against my instincts. To put that bloody clipboard down and cuddle my baby. But I felt like everyone else knew better. And when you're in a hospital bed with a gaping wound in your abdomen, it's kind of hard to feel strong and important. You feel weak.
I continued to log when I got home because the midwives were concerned about my milk supply. I was one week postpartum and my baby hadn't gained enough weight. I was told to strictly feed every two hours but not before. My baby screamed. And I watched the clock - only to soothe her instantly with a breastfeed. No one told me about the fourth trimester, cluster feeding and how normal it all was. How frequent feeding would build my supply. How my baby had only been earth-side for one week and didn't know any different to my body warmth and constant closeness. The tongue-tie that went undiagnosed for four months also didn't help.
I started to lose touch with myself completely. My tiny baby would only be soothed with a feed and a cuddle. I couldn't put her down awake and leave the room. But I was "making a rod for my own back", I was "spoiling her", I was doing it all wrong. I remember sitting on a fitball, bouncing my tiny newborn to sleep in the dark - breast in her mouth - and feeling like the only woman in the world to be doing this. I feel so stupid and so defeated. "Why couldn't I just do it right? Why can't I just put her down, walk away and sleep all bloody night like a normal person?"
I succumbed to the promise of rest and an "easy" baby after reading a book that advocated for controlled crying. Although, it insisted that it wasn't really "controlled crying" - these were dirty words - and that it was "timed comforting". I cried on the couch as I listened to her scream. I did 5 minute intervals for 45 minutes (but who is counting?!). She didn't go to sleep. The book said I needed to stay strong and that I couldn't give in. If I did, I'd ruin any progress and she'd never sleep on her own. But it all felt so wrong. I went in, grabbed her and apologised profusely to this little six month old baby. At the time, I felt so guilty. But I also felt so pathetic, weak and like a failure. "Other mums can do this". It was even harder to get her to sleep after that. I felt like our mutual trust was broken slightly - cracked just enough to let the light of uncertainty creep in.
I then felt resentful. Why couldn't my baby just conform to the mould that society wants her to? Why didn't she read all these books in the womb? Why did she need me so much? Everyone was telling me that she should be sleeping through the night by now. And even at 8 months old in a mother and baby unit of all places - I was pushed to sleep train. I even had a referral to sleep school - which I absolutely hated. All the things I wasn't allowed to do - no feeding before solids, no breastfeeding whilst laying down, no picking up, no feeding to sleep - everything so mechanical, shameful and unnatural.
After a bit of soul searching (and Googling - you become an expert as a mother!), I found articles on cluster feeding, full-term breastfeeding, gentle parenting, NORMAL infant sleep, the fourth trimester. Oh my, I was in a heaven of relief from the loneliness, isolation and sense of failure that I felt. I felt like I'd found myself again - and I felt like I'd found home.
Another level of self-doubt appeared though when I was met again with the opinions of others - including health care professionals:
"There's no nutritional benefit to breastfeeding".
"Babies don't need night feeds after 6 weeks of age".
"You need to follow a feed, play, sleep routine - she cannot fall asleep on the breast".
"Crying is good for their character".
"You're stupid if you don't sleep train. And you have brought postnatal depression on yourself". - Yes, they actually said that.
What I actually learnt:
Breastfeeding for two years is the minimum as per the World Health Organisation guidelines.
Crying to sleep doesn't teach babies to be calm - it teaches them that no one is coming.
Cortisol levels often remain the same in an infant who isn't crying but wakes in the night.
Breastfed babies are designed to fall asleep on the breast. And breastfeeding helps sleepy hormones for the mother too.
You can read more here:
[resources I now avoid are usually very mainstream, government funded, potentially sponsored by formula companies (sad, but true in some cases), advocates of sleeping through the night at the expense of the mother/child/breastfeeding relationship and maternal and infant mental health]
I could go on forever about the disappointment, sense of loss and grief that I feel from the early days - where I was so very unsupported and very broken by the condescending conversations about myself as a parent. Do you know what? This causes a lot of disharmony between the mother and her baby. This also causes a distrust in the health system and can result in families feeling very unsupported and alone at a time where they need everything they can get.
I have felt this. I have taken my daughter to the doctor multiple times for various reasons only to be told that breastfeeding was to blame - or that the way I parent is the culprit. I have been to the doctor myself only to be told that the solution to everything was to stop breastfeeding and sleep train.
It is a shame that parents cannot simply be supported in the way they need because they don't fit the mould. It's like: "oh, you have values different to mine. I cannot help you". Why normal infant feeding, sleep and attachment isn't publicised so readily concerns me deeply. We are told from day one that mother's intuition is always right. However, we also live in a society where there isn't room for mother's intuition.
Finding myself again as a mother and a soulful human through gentle parenting has absolutely saved me. I was able to come off anti-depressants, stop therapy and follow my heart. The bond between myself and my daughter is strong. She is a courageous, generous, creative, loving and spirited little being.
She's almost two and we are still feeding - with much difficulty - but because this is important to both of us. She's not ready to wean. I respond to her cries in the night. I aim to remain calm, compassionate and child-focused through every tantrum and challenge. I don't always do it all perfectly - and I definitely don't always feel at peace - but the love we feel for each other is perfect in every way. And I will never look back on this time with a sense of regret for the sleep and body autonomy that I've lost. I will look back and be forever thankful for my internal strength to continue my gentle parenting journey through every bump - and everything I have gained through this experience. I used to think there was nothing worse than being a mum of a tiny human. "It's too hard, I'm not cut out for this". But now, I think it's the best - because I am true to myself and my daughter. I already watch my daughter blossom, feel safe and secure and thrive with our approach. I already know that she needed this from us. I only wish I was educated and this strong from day one.
To my darling daughter - I was, and still am, doing the best I can. It is enough for me and I hope it is enough for you. I love you.
Are there any other links you'd add for other parents who are struggling to parent gently in a society that often doesn't support this? Comment below!