Wednesday, 14 April 2010

My secret life

Since I became a Mum I have been slowly working through the fundamental struggles which most Mums have. Sleep and food. Both for me and for Ella. They are such controversial areas among parents and apparent 'experts'. I have asked so many people for advice and wrestled with what works for Ella, for me, for our family and strangely often the opinions I have given the most attention are other people. Why when these people probably don't care and certainly don't look after Ella, would I care what other people think? But I am painfully aware of the way some parenting practices are viewed and never wanted to be prejudged from a distance as 'kooky' or strange.

So as a result I feel like my life is divided into "acceptable in public" and "needs to be secret". So this brings me back to food and sleep. Ella has been breastfed since birth and though I was so ill at the beginning I am proud that she has never had formula. I truly believe that breastfeeding is normal and all a baby needs till at least 6 months. I believe that formula is inferior and is associated with babies becoming ill and interfering with supply. I am really aware that everyone has to make their own choices and do what they feel is right but there are certain facts about the negatives of supplementing that cannot be argued away. I enjoy breastfeeding and though there are hard times I believe it has helped me to recover from post natal depression and continues to be wonderful for Ella and me. At this point I think I will breastfeed until Ella no longer wants it. I demand feed and do not watch a clock, follow a routine or count feeds. Ella can have a feed whenever she likes and it is not about just food.

(Okay so I feel totally exposed and vulnerable. In every sentence I just typed I can hear the arguments, hurrumphs as people are offended and I fear hurting my friends by being so adament about my views. My secret life is being revealed.)

Food then leads me onto sleep. Many people believe that after the newborn weeks babies should not be fed to sleep and should be put down to sleep awake. Ella did that for about a month, maybe two and I thought I had the perfect textbook baby. But once she started rolling it was all over. And I had to face the fact that Ella needed more than being put down in a quiet room and the door closed to be able to sleep. So I fed her to sleep. This sometimes works but when she was little it also resulted in lots of big spills. As she has got older she sometimes naps in a wrap, sometimes in the buggy, sometimes in the car and sometimes in bed with me. And this is where it gets awkward.

There is such strong feeling in New Zealand against sharing a bed with your baby due to the fear of SIDs. I think there is also a feeling that mums need space away from their baby and that the evening is for the parents. I used to feel this way but in all the reading I have done nothing actually supports those views. We brought Ella into our bed at night at first as a way to cope with how often she wakes. But now it is our preferred way of sleeping at night. Ella feeds many times in the night but I can stay asleep or only wake for a moment. I am so much more rested and Ella goes to sleep peacefully. Many books say that it is normal for babies to cry. I really don't think it is. There is always a reason and crying to sleep is not normal. It is something that developed countries think is normal because our lives have become so controlled and individualistic that we are disconnected from the natural and instinctive ways babies behave.

But sleep has been my biggest secret because it is so different from the way most other people I know parent. When people come to our house and see that we have sold our cot and that our bed is on the floor it becomes very obvious that something different is going on. And it is hard to be different and not come across as extreme or judgmental towards other people's choices.

So I guess I struggle with having two lives. The one that is easily digestable, middle class and predictable. And my 'real life' which is feeling more and more like a story on a current affairs show about wierd parenting practices. I have never lived my life in secret before or been so careful about what to say and do around people. And I think it is sad that as parents we struggle alone in our homes instead of sharing our experiences to help each other along. Hopefully telling the truth about my life will help others to see me as I am and feel they can be honest about their's, no matter how they choose to live it.


  1. This parenting stuff is hard.

    It seems clear to me from reading this that you are trying to find a way that works for you, and fits with your values and beliefs, without insisting that anyone else has to do it that way too. That sounds like a pretty healthy attitude to me!

    I struggle with this stuff sometimes as a feminist, and a mum, that I have thoughts about the best ways to do things but I want to communicate them in ways that advocate for X, but don't make people feel judged for not doing X. Does that make sense? It's tricky.

    Like those breastfeeding posters that are up in bus shelters at the moment. I thought they were really positive about both breastfeeding itself and doing it in public, and that that was good. But talking to other women who were unable to breastfeed they found the posters difficult and didn't like them at all because they felt they were very judgemental. I think probably the judgeyness was not so much in the posters but in other people that these women were encountering and the posters were just something they could react negatively to with ease, as opposed to having to say to a friend or a relative "actually I find what you are saying about the fact I'm not breastfeeding really mean and I don't like it, please stop."

    Anyway that's my thoughts, thank you for writing this.

  2. Anonymous4:00 pm

    Hi Marion

    As someone with no baby to feed or get to sleep, I do find myself reacting to what you say, in a "I could never have patience for that!" kind of way. But I didn't want to be a secret reader, so I thought I'd put my selfish reaction out there too :) and also say I think it's great that you have formed your own ideas about what works!

    I've enjoyed checking in on your blog over the last while, especially your posts about miscarriage - thanks for sharing.

    Jody Kilpatrick

  3. *Hug*! Wait till you're still demand-breastfeeding Ella at 20 months :) Why are we so shy about something which for so long was totally the norm eh?

    We had E in our bed lots when he was a really little baby and it worked so well in terms of me getting the sleep I needed and him getting milk whenever he needed. If he wasn't such a good sleeper, I'd still be open to him being in our bed. When he does wander into our bed in the night, eventually he wriggles so much it's either me on the floor or him put back in bed!

    The other big secret is the decision to vaccinate or not. I had found that harder than breast feeding/co-sleeping. People get just as worked up (if not more) about that issue.

    Glad you are totally up front in your post; even if I didn't agree with you, why should that matter? :)

    Love you!

  4. carrie9:21 pm

    Love what you say Marion. I have done it the same way with my little boy, and now my little girl. I am please to tell you that my boy is now nearly 4 and he is such a sweet boy not clingy like some people think if you co sleep, he has been in his own bed since he was 2 and even in his own room since he was 2 and a half. Love Carrie,your wedding photographer