Gee whiz. Thank you, folks. Thank you for your overwhelming response regarding my previous post. I have received the loveliest, most encouraging, fist-pumping comments on the blog, on Instagram and through emails. I also received some comments from those offering different viewpoints and have engaged in thoughtful discussions. And that’s great! I am thrilled to get the dialogue going on this topic of sleep and support. I hope that new parents who struggled with these questions, as I did, will find some comfort and reassurance. It took me some time before I realised that all these people asking me whether my baby slept through the night were not necessarily expecting her to, rather they were inquiring as to how we were holding up. And I want to note that I am not offended by this question alone, when asked with love and sincere curiosity. Some readers felt bad that they had asked this question to new parents, and while I do hope we can choose our words carefully and not ask if babies are “good” or put such emphasis on how they’re sleeping (just to help the new parents’ sanity, because chances are no-one is sleeping much in the early weeks/months), this question itself is not what I find offensive, and I should have perhaps highlighted that a bit clearer. If you’d never imagine reacting with anything other than empathy to parents when they describe the lack of sleep they are getting, rest assured you are great and we are lucky to have your love. It is the “tut-tutting” many of us receive afterwards that makes me angry and sparked this post.
I have a wakeful baby who prefers to sleep next to me, and when I am honest about this, many (not all, but many!) people asking the question are surprised, critical and sometimes even call me naughty. Instead of empathy and encouragement, I am told ways to fix the “problem” that are usually harsh and entirely not in line with the way I want to parent. If someone gave me gentle encouragement and suggested I read Pinky McKay’s book for reference when I was at the point of wanting to change, then great! But that doesn’t happen, and you’d be surprised how often we receive negative comments from people of all ages. One woman who empathised commented that her baby was once called “naughty” for waking…at 8 weeks! Really, my point is that I want us to ease up on babies and not call them “bad”, “naughty” or feel like if they wake a few times overnight they are not normal, which is what the questions + subsequent negative reactions implies. For sensitive parents who are perhaps not as well-supported as they should be (and that’s the truth, I am very blessed with supportive parents and in-laws and friends, and that is not necessarily common these days), this can lead them to feel like their situation is bad and needs fixing, often before the baby is ready to be independent. I know this because I have received countless emails since having Joan from readers who are so relieved to hear from someone who hasn’t put their baby in sleep school. Sleep training and the use of cry-it-out methods are contentious topics, so I am trying to dance delicately here… as I said in my previous post, I am aware some babies are severely wakeful and some parents have truly hard and demanding work and home situations…I myself do not, and so I cannot judge. You have to do what works best for your family and trust your gut on that, and I am explicitly not referring to those difficult cases. I am speaking to parents who are receiving unwelcome pressure from health professionals or perhaps family and friends to train their babies and move on from gentle, respectful, responsive methods just because their baby doesn’t sleep entirely independently. I am offering support and solidarity to those parents, and reassurance that our babies WILL get there…it might happen easily on its own when you feel it’s time or it may involve a bit of work, and that’s ok. Even though you may receive some negative comments from people who cannot relate, even though you may be told you’re creating bad habits, that’s ok. You might be tired, and that’s also ok. Many days I am too, especially when Joan is going through a leap. If you’re really struggling and excessively sleep-deprived, absolutely seek help, but if you know if your heart that you want to keep parenting in the way you are, then don’t let the sleep questions and “is she a good baby” comments hurt your admittedly sensitive heart, you’re doing great! If these two posts have done anything to help us accept our babies as they are and to not feel like we need to fix situations that are not bad, just temporary seasons of sleepiness while our babies learn and grow, then that’s wonderful. I also hope we can bring back “our villages”, for unconditional support and extra hands, because without them this parenting gig is so much harder. To simply hear “Yep, I rock my baby to sleep too”, or “Oh I remember when my baby would wake often, those days are hard, it gets easier!”, or “That sounds rough, is there anything I can do to help you? Shall I pop the kettle on or play with bubba while you take a nap?”, instead of “Your baby doesn’t sleep through yet?!”, or “Oooooh you’re naughty”…golly it makes the world of difference to our days and helps us cherish these precious moments when our babies want to snuggle, instead of questioning that we’re doing anything wrong. You feel me? Thank you for caring, truly. What we need is empathy for our situation without pressure or judgement, encouragement that it will get easier and won’t always be this way, and support when we ask for it, including when we decide to gently change habits if we need to when we feel our babies are ready. And coffee. We probably need coffee, too.
Ok, enough sensitive sleep talk. I honestly just wanted to say thank you for the gorgeous response, that I am chuffed I was able to provide support for some new parents by sharing my words and perhaps help us all ease up on our babies a little and give them the chance to get there on their own schedule. Though remember, to do that last part, we need the support of our village, whatever that looks like – whether the family you’re born into or the family you create with friends. We need our people around us.
One of my people is my friend Lucy. Lucy has a keen interested in Ayurveda, having studied the principles over the past few years and now being a student of Dr Vasant Lad. She is also a high school art teacher, prenatal yoga instructor, doula and all-round gem of a human being. You know those people who make you feel at once warm + fuzzy + loved AND inspired + buzzed + raring to go? Lucy is one of them. We share a passion for slow living, for being present and enjoying the now. When Luce was in town a few weeks ago she suggested we have an Ayurvedic cook-up, to which I replied “YES”. While I don’t follow Ayurvedic principles in my daily life, I appreciate the practice of listening to your body and nourishing it with wholesome foods that help you thrive. And I cannot wait to follow along as Lucy studies Ayurveda via her Instagram account, @amarAearth. Ayurveda encourages warm, cooked, oily, spiced food and beverages in the winter months to help balance and fuel the body. Similarly in the post-partum period, it is suggested that the mother eats a diet with warm, oily, soft, nourishing foods. And so I suggested we try an Ayurvedic-style porridge, because I happened to have all the ingredients on hand in addition to a pretty solid porridge craving. I have most certainly taken liberties with this recipe and do not proclaim it to be authentic, but it was really tasty, so there’s that… Joan adored it, she devoured her bowl then rubbed the remainder over her face and hair. Whatever floats your boat, hey?
2 cups steel cut oats
5 cups water
2 cups whole milk
knob of butter
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
Toppings: extra milk, toasted seeds + walnuts, honey + cinnamon
1. Bring the water and milk to a gentle boil in a large, heavy-based saucepan (I use my dutch oven, pictured above).
2. Meanwhile, heat the butter over medium heat in another saucepan. Add the spices and stir, then the oats and stir to coat until toasty (a couple of minutes). Remove from the heat and once the water/milk mix is ready, add the oats to the boiling mixture. Turn the heat down and add the dates. Allow the oats to simmer for around 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, while allowing the oats to absorb the liquid and get all good and plump. Add more liquid if required. It’ll be done when the oats are not too toothsome. Add a little sea salt here if you want.
3. Serve the porridge with extra milk, if desired, plus lots of crunchy toasted seeds/walnuts and honey + cinnamon to taste, depending on how sweet you like it.