Apologies for the big rant but this is a topic very close to my heart because I’m a sports playing mom who works in a male dominated industry. As such I’m very aware of gender stereotyping in my everyday life and try to ensure my daughter gets gender neutral clothes and toys whenever I can. Unfortunately pink is no longer just a colour and princesses are no longer just a game, it’s a statement from a very early that girls are different (and less capable) than boys. This subliminal message is ingrained so early that as girls get older they opt out of doing science, engineering and technology because being intelligent is not girlie. My family and friends roll their eyes at me when i say this as if I’m some crazy feminist and pink is just a colour and she is just a child but there’s so much more to this innocent colour choice. Pink is basically just one big marketing ploy to sell more toys (I.e. get the girl a pink bike instead of playing on her brothers red one). I always knew it was bad, but I read this book and my worst fears were confirmed. http://peggyorenstein.com/books/cinderella.html My daughter has pink toys (her balance bike was half the price of the gender neutral one) and a pink dolls house (got it second hand so no colour choice), but also has dinosaurs, neutral “just blocks” lego, toy cars, and loves playing with her cousins drill set as much as her own toys. He loves playing with her pram, pink balance bike and dolls house just as much as she does. I cringe when people buy her the pink version of toys despite me asking them not to – what kind of message does it send to her? will her brother refuse to do art on her pink easel, play with her pink mega blocks, have tea parties with her pink teapot? It would make me just as sad that he’d miss out on important creative games because “that’s for girls” as it would to see her learning about building things and animals because she’s a girl. Is it too much to ask that kids can just be kids and play games, not “girl games” and “boy games” “Pink stinks” is also a great FB group. They’ve lobbied major retailers not to have girl toy aisles and boy toy aisles and they highlight gender typing in toys (ever notice how boys are always doctors and girls are nurses in toy world? Are girls not intelligent enough to be doctors? Are boys not caring enough to be nurses?)
Before having my baby girl I never realised how much guilt comes with being a mother. I had a bit of a mad week with alcohol just after conceiving her – but I didn’t know I was pregnant with her. Guilt. I hadn’t lost as much weight before conception as I’d hoped – guilt – as I wasn’t in as good a shape as I could have been. I travelled abroad, was up until all hours, hill walking, dancing, etc. Guilt – what if all the jumping around wasn’t good for the baby? I had cravings for cornflakes, peanut butter and orange juice – yep, guilt again, not exactly very nutritious!
Then came the birth, oh dear. The mother of all guilt loads. I stayed at home a lot longer than an Irish hospital would have you believe is safe after waters breaking, because I wanted to be at home, preparing for the birth of my baby. (I danced around the kitchen singing ‘I’m going to meet my baby today’ in very optimistic fashion – 44 hours later I finally did….) When baba moved into posterior position and I suddenly had contractions both in front and my back, I well and truly lost it. I screamed, I stopped breathing and I shouted at my poor husband. I, the woman who didn’t want any drugs, begged for the epidural. I cried, I roared, I genuinely thought I’d die and take my poor baby with me. I never thought we’d make it. But we did, unfortunately with every intervention going. But when she was placed on my chest none of it mattered, and it truly was the very best moment of my entire life. Pure love.
And then it started. The breastfeeding. I was, and am, an avid advocator of breastfeeding. I don’t like judging anybody, but I admit I do judge women who won’t even try (for any of the following reasons: it’s icky, he’ll turn out gay if I do, my breasts are for me/ my husband only, my body is my temple, etc etc), obviously if there is a genuine reason why you can’t, you can’t, but I do believe every woman should at least try. My poor little baby girl tried and tried to latch on, we had skin to skin time, and plenty of it. Nope. When I finally got to the ward, a very busy, bossy, young midwife tried to shove her on to the boob and gave up – telling me she was too busy but she’d make sure the lactation consultant would be there first thing. I was exhausted, the baby was exhausted, so we slept (hurrah) for an hour or two. The lactation consultant did come first thing, and really did help – we had a tongue tie, hence she couldn’t latch on the right at all, I was hand expressing (midwives came from all over to see the woman who expressed 50mls of colostrum, I kid you not) – so the milk was there. Here started a chain of events, of expressed milk in bottle, double industrial strength pump, top up with formula etc etc. Osteopathy helped release her so she could actually move her head to latch on the right, but it still didn’t work. The tongue tie was released, I got mastitis, we went to a lactation consultant, we tried nipple shields (all the while still pumping every 3 hours) and offering her both boobs, my public health nurse came daily to help. It got better. I stopped screaming crying at every feed, we dropped the pumping, and the nipple shields. A second tongue tie was released. Then came the blocked ducts. Block feeding, constant massaging, etc etc. 6 trips to a physio with massage, acupuncture, laser and ultrasound, finally sorted them out. I was back to crying at every feed, baby was roaring, all the while my poor husband used to sit outside in the car after work and psyche himself up to the face the crying and screaming and mayhem. I’m sure many reading this will say – why did you keep breastfeeding you crazy woman? GUILT. Guilt that I’d already failed my baby by not having a natural birth, by panicking when she came into the world. And then failing at the most basic, most natural and most important function a mother has – feeding her baby.
Yes, I know to some this will sound crazy, but I lived with this guilt every day, and every night, and every time my baby was hungry. I finally gave in. After everybody who knew me said give her formula, she’s had 8 weeks of breast feeding and you’ve done your best. It took 1 hour in the shop, staring at formula, sterilisers, etc to finally purchase. It took my husband and my best friend to make up the bottle, and I cried when I gave it to her. What did she do? Oh, she emptied the bottle and then she smiled. Like proper smiled. And fell asleep on my shoulder. I know, in my heart of hearts, that if my darling little girl develops asthma, or eczema or any other atopic condition – I will feel the guilt again, I’ll wonder if only I had persevered, dealt with the pain, and the blocked ducts, and the misery of being a mother (I really did not enjoy the first 8 weeks of her life), would she still have got this illness?
But I will face that when the time comes. What I’ve done since is go to a Kinesiologist. Because my baby stirs and cries 10, 20, sometimes 30 times a night. Because I feel guilt, yet again – that I must, surely, be doing something wrong, otherwise why won’t she sleep? And into my head popped kinesiology. So I went. And thought it was a load of hocus pocus. I laid on a table, with my baby girl playing on the floor, and described where in my body there was a blockage, (all the while thinking I was a bit mad). However as the session progressed I got into it, and found the focus shifting towards known trouble spots in my body. There was a hole, and it got more and more closed up. A pain I had been feeling in my shoulder went away, the week long headache I’d had, also went away. Right at the end the practitioner asked me: what is your body saying now? And screaming inside my head came the answer: It’s not your fault. It is not your fault. It is NOT your fault. I opened my eyes, and cried. And ever since then, I realise that my labour experience, my baby’s birth, all that was traumatic for me, well it was not my fault. It is what it is. And the guilt? Well, it’s gone. I am suddenly not petrified at the idea of having another baby. And that, is wonderful.
I know I still have guilt about the breastfeeding, and I will go back for another session to deal with it, because I owe it to myself, and my baby, to forgive myself. I want her to grow up knowing that trying and doing your best is what’s important, not failing (or perceived failure), so it’s time I practice what I preach.
Love and forgive yourselves mamas.
With Mini-Ninja’s first birthday having just rolled by far too quickly, I’ve found myself reflecting on the last year of various degrees of sleep deprivation more and more. Starting her life with a healthy dose of silent reflux, the Ninja’s first 6 weeks were spent sleeping upright on my chest. Then there was the stage with the help of a clevamama sleep positioner when she was able to begin sleeping next to me and eventually in the side-carred cot that found its way into our night time parenting decisions. She always liked to have some part of herself touching me, and at some stage of the night she’d usually end up in beside me, as snug as a bug and happy as a clam, with the cot doing nothing other than storing blankets. Around the 6 months mark, Ninja’s crawling ability and her newly discovered ability to pull herself up to standing using the edge of the cot meant naptime and bedtime required a new solution. A combination of her unwillingness to have anything to do with the cot with all 4 sides on, and our unwillingness to partake in any crying it out plus a bit of lateral thinking resulted in her adopting a single mattress on her bedroom floor, while we figured out a more permanent option. Lets just say that was the best decision we could have made for her. She now has her naps there, and starts her night there, before joining us at some stage after a night feed. The nights she sleeps longer in that first stretch I find myself missing her toasty little body beside me in bed and often don’t sleep well til she comes in with us. This is where we are now, at 372 long days of resisted naps and nights of broken sleep.
There’s been the completely sleepless reflux nights featuring restless sleep broken up with what felt like almost constant pained crying. There’s been the nights where she’s only lightly stirred and woken for a brief feed here and there while sleeping peacefully through to a semi-civilised hour of the morning. The patch where we were up at 6am every morning, and back for the first nap by 8:30am, and the current patch where she is consolidating 2 naps into one and is making up for it by sleeping for one extra stretch in the morning giving me a lovely lay in til 8:30 or 9am! Luxurious! It feels like we’ve been through every possible variation of normal infant sleep, besides perhaps the elusive ‘sleeping through the night’. We’ve had the ups, and the downs, the progress and the regressions, the encouragement and the criticism (advice??). At the end of just over a year of this journey, I realise just how fortunate I am to have lucked out and gotten a baby who has always, no matter what phase of the process we have been in, needed that bit of extra help when it comes to sleep.
The almost 24/7 newborn cuddles. The feel of a body so vulnerable and so reliant on my own for her very existence. The smell of her skin and milky breath. Any thoughts of ‘getting back to normal” were quelled by the constant oxytocin hits, creating a bond so strong I could almost cry at the thought of not having her in my arms. Maybe not ‘almost’!
The discovery of slings as a way to be vaguely functional around the house during the 4th trimester, while still providing all the warmth and comfort this little creature knew so instinctively that she needed. The acceptance that there really was nothing more important that needed doing while I sat/walked/bounced on a gym ball with her held close to my chest so she could sleep. The housework really could, and did, wait.
The stage when she began voluntarily rolling away into her own space before reaching out with a leg to push the sole of her foot into my arm before drifting off to sleep. The realisation that this is her developing her independence in just the right way and at just the right pace for her.
The surrendering to the fact that her bedroom would never involve a picture perfect cot, with a soundly slumbering baby. The subsequent confidence boost gained from dismissing all the best meant advice and figuring out a solution that suited those of us who actually live in this house. This moment alone of owning the decision that our 6 month old needed a totally different naptime/bedtime solution, and no, it didn’t look like the stereotype, was quite possibly one of the most liberating and empowering sleep related moments in our journey so far. It set the foundation for realising that whatever the books say, the best thing a parent can do for their baby is to find a solution that works for them. Not rigidly insisting on the solution that works for others.
The acceptance that ‘going to sleep’ takes almost precisely as long as it takes. Currently that is 4 Coldplay lullabies, or 20 minutes, but it’s been known to take up all of Coldplay, all of Pearl Jam and a bit of the Foo Fighters (90+ minutes) in the height of sleep regressions. When she is 18 and i’m reminiscing, I’ll always remember the privilege of seeing the process of her winding down from the day of learning. Seeing the extra efforts she has to make in times when she’s going through a big developmental leap. Watching her put in place the baby steps of truly learning to self-settle, as she’s neurologically ready. Knowing that being right there, to receive and return the sniper hugs that she breaks up the process with, is exactly what she individually needs to develop healthy sleep habits. Instinctively knowing that to ignore those needs would only prolong her process. And finally getting to see and feel the moment her ever busy brain and body gives into sleep, with a little sigh and mumble, and knowing that each stress free bedtime is placing one more brick in the wall of healthy sleep for her future.
This girl has been a gift. Her refusal to read the ‘rule books’ and sleep through the night from an early age has forced me to find groups of other mothers who are committed to parenting at all hours. She has forced me to learn huge amounts about normal infant sleep and development in general. I have found so many amazing sources of sensible evidence based parenting advice. She has compelled me most importantly to trust my instincts and trust that she is doing everything in exactly the way which will promote her own best development over time. She has led me to baby-led parenting practices which in turn has made me question all the notions I had pre-parenthood about how to be an effective parent.
For all of those realisations and changes, she has brought out in me a confidence I could only have imagined. On good days and bad, I know that if I trust both my instincts and her often inconvenient requests, that we can’t go too far wrong. I also know instinctively how soon that day when she doesn’t need me any more will be… and it’s not that far away in the grand scheme of things.
I don’t know if you saw the Prime Time report last night exposing horrific behaviour of staff in Aras Attracta Care Home? It’s not been far from my mind since seeing a small part of it last night. I just can’t get my head around how the world has gotten to a point where it’s in any way acceptable to treat other human beings with such callous disregard. Pure bullying and a total lack of compassion for some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Of course it isn’t acceptable, but the manner in which other staff members stood around chatting, playing with their mobile phones or just watching passively while residents were physically and verbally bullied and abused would have you believe that some part of these “carers” has closed off to the amazing lack of respect, compassion and general humanity that was going on in front of them… never mind what’s going on with those actually dishing out the abuse.
As a mother who is dragging her toes about leaving her child with anyone who hasn’t got a vested interest in treating my child well, it made me shudder at the thought that this lack of humanity is out there in the community. In professional “carers” no less. How has this kind of emotionless mistreatment of other human beings become something we apparently genuinely have cause to worry about?
I can’t help but wonder if this kind of ‘exposé’ is proving itself a real life demonstration of the kinds of risks mentioned in the science warning against many of the parenting ‘techniques’ that have become so prevalent in today’s society. Just look at any parenting shelf in any bookstore. You’l be overrun with self-professed experts like Gina Ford or Tizzy Hall. Confrontational guides to getting that child of yours in line. Sure, you can get on any mainstream parenting forum and see claim after claim from the average mother that “Cry It Out” never did their child any harm, that intentionally ignoring their child’s cries for affection in the quest of teaching their child ‘independence’ did no harm, that heavy handed discipline is of no harm and in fact necessary if you don’t want a child that ‘thinks they’re the boss’. Parents who obviously have a complete disregard for the science of human behaviour and development, both physical and neurological. Parents who feel their anecdotal tales of apparently happy, well adjusted children are more convincing than the science of why these kids may really be displaying ‘obedient’ behaviour, sleeping through the night and generally letting their parents get on with getting back to their normal life.
Never mind the ever increasing rates of bullying in schools and online, depression, youth suicide, adult suicide and mental health problems of all kinds. Signs of people feeling so alone with their emotions, feeling entirely unable to function in a life which is, at least to their minds at that moment in time, so devoid of meaning and human connection? Is it such a far reach to think that on that spectrum of trained shut down of emotions is the person who is capable of dishing out bullying to the degree seen on Prime Time? People who are able to stop seeing that they are dealing with another human being who has the right to compassion, caring and basic respect??
Maybe it really is a huge coincidence that we keep seeing signs that humanity is losing its, well, humanity… but i’m personally seeing it as a massive sign that the way we treat our babies and children isn’t completely devoid of consequences. That that perhaps we don’t really see those consequences until they’re fully grown adults who are in a position of caring for other humans, whether young, old, able, disabled or somewhere in between.
I see it as a huge call to me personally to always remember that this often highly frustrating, excessively ‘needy’, hugely vulnerable baby of mine is one day going to pass on the quality of care I show her at this very influential time of her life.
Some interesting reading on these issues:
Over and out,
I came across this article today, and thought it was very good. My daughter is only 8 months old, but I’m hopeful that by the time she’s old enough to understand what Christmas is all about, I will focusing on good behaviour and not anything that might be construed as ‘bad’ behaviour. So I love the idea that this author puts forward! After all, Christmas should be a magical, family time, and not one where our children are afraid of the very thing that makes it magical!
As someone who tends to believe science over anecdote, and find myself face palming at some of the ‘debates’ on various topics online particularly, this piece really hits the spot for me!