Motherhood – it comes with so many rules. How to be gentle, firm, consistent, flexible, endlessly patient and loving. How to avoid helicoptering, or smothering, or crying or criticising. How to wean, organic, cook, no sugar, no salt, nothing processed (which amounts to how to hide vegetables so well that a mass spectrometer couldn’t identify them).
How to provide adequate stimulation, books, games, sensory, attend classes (all helpfully arranged during naptime). How to make friends, keep old friends, look after my marriage, spend time with family. How to field all those opinions and ‘suggestions’ from forums, books, friends, family, health professionals, frantic Google searches performed in the dead of night, and somehow carve the right way through this myriad of information. How to avoid the dreaded, and seemingly unending, crying. How to somehow still be ‘me’ in the middle of all this.
All too much
Looking back, it is easy to see now how I ended up pounding the streets bawling my eyes out with my 6 month old refusing to sleep in a sling. At this time I was spending around 4-5 hours per day with my beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, demanding, sleep avoiding daughter strapped to me trying to get her to nap. And then at bedtime, 1 or 2 hours feeding, patting, soothing. And every hour after that… all… night… long.
I was absolutely broken. I was exhausted – physically, mentally and emotionally. I couldn’t even shush without it hurting, so worn out were my shushing muscles. Me and my life were a shell of what they had been pre-baby. I resented my husband and his worthless nipples. It was nigh on impossible to see any old friends. I couldn’t leave the house after bedtime due to the hourly requirement for feeding. I couldn’t do anything in the day because she would only sleep in the sling, and only on me, and only if I walked without stopping or talking, and she wouldn’t take a bottle. If I put her down or left the room, she would cry. And I couldn’t let her cry, because that would somehow be a complete failure of my mothering duties. I had to keep going, to stay in control, or my whole fragile world with the endless rules I had created for myself would come tumbling down.
Time to break the rules
This continued, until… so exhausted, and now with another baby imminently arriving, I realised something had to give, and soon. How was I possibly going to do all this and care for a newborn? I would have to give up my rules and loosen my total control over the situation. I let my husband get involved, and more importantly, take control (not too much mind you!). I went out and left them to it, so I could enjoy a whole adult conversation with my friends. I let her cry, provided me or my husband was with her. She couldn’t have boob, but we were there, cuddling and soothing her. At about 11 months, I stopped the night feeding… and it worked! Within about 10 days she went from waking 8 times a night to sleeping through. I stopped the bedtime feed and the 2-hour patting marathon. Always kindly, slowly and gently, but firmly.
And you know what, she was fine. And while she lost our feeding time, she gained a Mum who was much more patient and loving and able to interact with her. Because I had actually slept for more than 45 minutes at a time or 4 hours a night. And I was finally able to leave the house in the evening, and see some friends and start to find a bit of myself again. So she gained a Mum with a spring in her step and a smile on her face.
While it is difficult for a child to move on from being baby and the centre of your world, there is also so much to be gained from the wider world. I can see now that looking after my children is so much more than just being there for them physically. It is also about looking after myself so that I can be there to look after them. It is about modelling self-worth and self-care so that they grow up to be women who know their own worth and value in a world where that is so often questioned. They will grow up to see the importance and value of investing in marriage, in friendship, in the family. Because that means we are all part work of a network which looks after one another. And I am loving watching my daughters interact and laugh with friends whom I could have easily lost if I had continued to beat myself up for leaving them. I am loving watching the hugely close and loving bond they have with their Dad who is an incredible Father, and who was sidelined and excluded under my earlier regime.
Motherhood/parenthood. It is individual and personal. And as such is an entirely personal choice. And I in no way write this to be negative about people’s choices with regards to extending feeding, bottle feeding, co-sleeping, controlled crying or any other choice that they might make which is different to my own. I write because there might be someone else who is also feeling broken and lost in this process. And who so desperately wants, needs, to make a change, but is also desperate to be there for their children, and feels unable to break their own rules. But there is a way forward, your path will be different to mine. But it is there to be found.
Whatever the rules, and whoever made them, it is okay to break them and forge a new way forward. And I hope that my story helps give you the strength needed (and it is quite a bit of strength!) to find it.