I have recently come across an interview with the psychologist on the subject of maternity, which made me think about many things.
The article was talking about ‘cry out’ method (controlled crying method) and its negative impact on childhood psychological development. One particular sentence was of great interest to me. ‘Only a heartless parent can let a child cry out’, stated there in black and white. If I do not take into account the fact that some psychologists support or recommend this method, I was astonished by the boldness of this statement.
I see similar attitude in many other things. It’s as though people forget sometimes that there are two sides to everything. Let’s take breastfeeding. ‘The right mother breastfeeds her baby’, ‘Do everything for you to breastfeed’, ‘Do not give up, your baby needs breastfeeding the most’ and so on. From each direction we are cluttered by the phenomenon of breastfeeding and its magical effect on our child’s life. Every new mother therefore feels she has to breastfeed and if she does not, she is not a good mother.
Theory is a nice thing
We could continue like this on other motherhood topics that people analyse and consequently create their theories.
Yes, theory is a nice thing. Now, let’s take a look at what impact these opinions and claims have in practice.
I personally spent the first few weeks with my twins on the edge of a mental breakdown. Every day was accompanied by constant crying in stereo, which only stopped when the children fell asleep for a few minutes. Very soon the boys started to suffer from colic that lasted around six months. They cried and screamed basically all the time. It did not change markedly even when the colic retreated, as the boys still had trouble sleeping. It took them several hours to fall asleep in the evening and they were waking up almost every hour. Nights turned into nightmares for us. With Yaw, we split the boys for some time, because dealing with both at once was impossible for one person.
Both of us were constantly sleep deprived. Our family came to help as often as they could, however, we did not have someone anywhere near to help us on a daily basis. Yaw went to work during the week and I spent twelve hours a day alone with the kids.
On top of that, I suffered from postpartum depression through this whole time. I say about depression more in the post Are you feeling depressed? Talk!.
Approximately seven months later we realised that if the boys’ sleep patterns would not settle, then we’ll go insane. Especially as I was balancing on very thin ice.
One day I therefore sat on the Internet and searched for information on how to teach children to sleep. I went through many methods and one of them was the “cry it out” method. When I read about how this method is put across it seemed too cruel to me. Therefore I decided to try out other methods first. However, none of them worked and I understood that we would either try controlled crying or we’d go crazy.
We decided to try it, although I have to say that it was one of the most painful experiences in my life. The ‘cry it out’ method has several variations. We had decided for 5, 10 and 15 minute intervals and I tell you that these were the longest minutes in my life. I could not hold on to the first day and it wasn’t for Yaw, I would have given up. For mother, this method is extremely difficult to execute. During the practice the children cried in one room and I cried in the other. However, the result arrived. In approximately one or two weeks the boys managed to fall sleep without any difficulty and slept through the night.
So when after experiencing something like this you read an expert’s view that the method by which your heart had almost broken into pieces can only be made by a heartless parent, it certainly will not leave you calm. As though these parents practiced this method for egoistic reasons and with their feet up. Sure, some might do. However, it is certainly not right to generalize this matter. I wonder what the author of this statement would say if he tried and spent as much as one day in my skin.
Many mothers out there are so mentally exhausted that they consider this method only to avoid to harm to themselves or to their child. How can such a mother feel when she comes across such an article? She won’t let her child cry, but due to the constant crying will eventually reach a mental breakdown (at best). Is such a scenario better for her child?
There is no person who would not carry any trauma from their childhood
Sure, there is a risk that leaving a baby cry will impact his psyche to some extent, but as another expert said, ‘there is no person in the world who would not carry any trauma from their childhood’. There is no such thing as the perfect way to raise a child. For someone, one thing causes a lifetime problem, whereas for another the same thing leaves no consequences at all. Big or little traumas simply cannot be avoided, and if a few nights of crying was the worst thing that happens to your child, you can be considered the best parent in the world. I would never condone just leaving the child for the sake of leaving the child to cry, this method is very controlled and slowly weans the child from only being able to relax when someone is there. If a parent is ever worried for the health of their child never be worried or embarrassed to seek help from a GP or midwife. I honestly would not care if I thought my child was suffering or needed some kind of help. In sleep deprived state it is easy to feel like that but there is never any harm in checking if you are worried. Checking can put your mind at ease even if the body would love a bit more sleep. Sorry, probably a lot more sleep.
Now, let’s move on to breastfeeding.
The breastfeeding phenomenon has been recently specially promoted and supported. To me, to practice how to learn about the baby latching onto a breast was a pure hell. I spent many days and nights crying until it finally worked.
However, the boys always cried of hunger after I breastfed them and after a couple of days the nurse mentioned that I probably had a lack of milk. At first I tried to support lactation by putting the babies onto a breast more often, but in the end I spent about 20 hours a day and there wasn’t enough milk coming even after a few weeks after birth. Eventually, I decided to combine breastfeeding with a bottle.
I was totally fine with this decision, but only until I mentioned it to one experienced mum. She said that there is no such thing as a lack of milk. She said that I have to keep placing the children more and more to a breast for the lactation to work better so I could give my children the best of what they needed for life. Such a statement made me feel guilty, of course it would. Again, this stereotype of a good mother plays over and over again in your mind in whatever you do for your children. So I kept torturing myself with putting the kids to the breasts more and more often, which apart from my disturbed psyche did not really go anywhere. There was still not enough milk, babies cried of hunger regardless of whether I fed them for ten minutes or two hours.
Thanks to Yaw and his sanity I stopped doing this after some time. However, because of this outwardly harmless advice from a friend I was not too far from falling apart.
I breastfed for 8 months with the twins and which also included a combination of my mental issues. This was not easy at all. If anyone had asked me back then why I had tried so hard to breastfeed despite all these difficulties, I would have automatically answered that I did it for the good of the children. The belief that breastfeeding is the most important thing for children had been shaped in me for years by media and by impact of the environment. Without even realising it. I believed that breastfeeding is the most important and best thing a baby can get from their mother.
However, is that really so? If breastfeeding causes you torture, is maternal milk really the most important thing to focus on? From my point of view, for a child the most important is a peaceful and satisfied mother. If the mother reaches a mental breakdown, what benefit is she for her child?
People present their opinions as facts and are not even aware of their impact on their recipient. For example, how can a mother feel despite countless attempts that she simply failed to breastfeed? A mother who hears from everywhere that “only a bad mother does not breastfeed”? In the best case scenario with these unnecessary added pressures, she will “only” go through postpartum depression, in the worst case she will live with believe she has failed her children for the rest of her life.
Of course, it’s great if a mother can breastfeed, but if for some reason she doesn’t, it is definitely not a tragedy. And it definitely does not say anything about her maternal abilities. If a woman decides to stop breastfeeding prematurely, she has got a reason to do so. It certainly does not feel good for her to see other mums competing to see which one of them breastfeeds for a longer time, with the longer time representing the prize as the best mother.
Mums try to do their best every single day, but at the same time they hear from each direction what they should do as good mothers. It is surely difficult to remain self-confident and not doubting oneself in such situation.
But it does not apply on breastfeeding only, of course.
An average mother hears on a daily basis when and how her baby should eat, how they should sleep, how she should hold and carry them, how she should put them to sleep, what kind of wipes she should use, what milk should they drink, when she should start with potty training, how she should feed them, when she should be weaning them off their dummy,… Opinions and “advice” like this affect a mother to a greater extent than it may seem and over time it starts to drown out and shout down even her own instinct.
Only you know your child and your options
No one in this world can afford to criticise, let alone judge another mother unless they happened to live in her skin. You never know what is behind the actions and decisions of a particular woman. Like every child is different, every mother is different too and so are her circumstances. If you for example decided to put your baby to sleep in your arms because you believe it is right and it works for you, it does not mean that it is right for every mother.
On the other hand, mothers also should not take many things too seriously. Often, under the influence of the environment, they focus more on theory and external pressure than on their own instinct. They prefer to do what they think they have to do, rather than what they feel is for them and their child really important. Please remember, that there is no universal recipe for anything. And no one has the right to say whether you are a good or bad mother based on what methods you choose to raise your children. Only you know your child and your options. What is a walk through a park for someone, can be an extremely challenging thing for someone else and vice versa.
Also remember that if someone judges you, it says more about them than it does about you. Moreover, that they probably have no clue about the problem they are talking about. 😉
If you love your children and do the best you know for them, it makes you the most amazing mum your children can wish for. And think about it whenever you come across an opinion or advice of a so-called specialist who does not have any idea what it’s like to walk in your well-trodden boots.