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The vast majority of parenting choices my husband and I make come from our gut. They feel natural to us. Indeed, this is what the name Family Nature means to me; when it comes to our family and our parenting style we do what comes naturally to us. I think of this as our family nature.
Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world. It wasn’t easy initially with my first, but we eventually figured it out and never looked back. In the past (almost) nine years I have been either pregnant, breastfeeding (sometimes tandem breastfeeding) or both. There were times when it wasn’t fun but I never regretted breastfeeding. In fact, when I look back to my eldest’s first eight weeks it is a complete blur; I honestly and truly do not know how we all managed but I know one thing for sure: I am so unbelievably glad that I didn’t quit. I know for certain that it was the right, and most natural thing to do. Even without all the research and statistics about breastfeeding I knew that it was the best for both me and the babes.
The next thing that fell into place was co-sleeping. As an anthropology student I had heard of Dr. James McKenna long before I had kids. My husband also knew all about co-sleeping before any of our kids were born. So sure enough, when the first babe came along, it just seemed natural to have him sleep with us. I couldn’t even imagine the thought of him in another room; it just seemed so backwards and wrong. My instincts and my gut told me that he should be with us and they were right. I think co-sleeping is one of those secrets of parenthood – lots of people do it, not everybody admits it, but those who do it love it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up to gurgley coos and lopsided smiles. There is an absolute comfort that comes with a sleeping babe beside me; the sound of his breath like a lullaby to put me to sleep, the warmth of his body like a little furnace keeping us warm and the baby smell of him making me feel high. I know in my heart and in my my soul that my babies belong beside me at night.
I didn’t get the hang of babywearing for a few months but I think that it’s just another one of those things that naturally fell into place. My babies (and toddlers) were all so easily comforted in a carrier. They could be close as I did chores around the house, walked the older kids to school or picked up groceries. They nursed contently and had all of their need met so easily and naturally right there attached to me.
Other things also fell into place. I have done my fair share of reading but in the end it usually just confirmed the things that we were already doing. I learned pretty quickly that although there are some really awesome parenting experts and resources out there, there are also a lot of people with opinions and ‘advice’ that seemed so outrageous to me; just because you have a parenting book with your name on the cover that does not make you a parenting ‘expert’. I read something recently on The Happiest Mom blog that summed it up nicely. In her post the mother you need to be Meagan Francis writes, “I no longer even look at books or websites that seem completely at odds with what I believe in my heart to be true about myself and my children.” I read this nodding furiously. Yes! I think we rely too heavily on the advice of paediatricians, parenting ‘experts’, books and such for things that our own hearts and minds will tell us if we just listen.
Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing –some say these are the hallmarks of attachment parenting. To me these are the simple, normal ways of parenting. These things come naturally to me and I’ve never second-guessed myself about these things. I just wish all aspects of parenting were this simple.
My baby will be 2 next month. I was thinking recently how the end is in sight to diapers, breastfeeding and co-sleeping (although, given the chance our almost-eight-year old would still *love* to sleep with us, and sneaks in when he can; so I don’t really expect co-sleeping to come to an end soon, but it will change when the baby starts going to sleep with one of her brothers).
With my fourth and last c-section, I had a tubal ligation. I have been pondering the fact that I can’t have any more children for the last two years. Mr. Family Nature and I thought that we’d have more than four kids (ahem, that was before we had kids, but anyway). After our third was born, while I was still lying on the operating table being sewn up, the OB leaned over the curtain and said to me, “I strongly advise against future pregnancies”. I was heartbroken. We decided to have one more baby anyway.
I have found myself wondering from time to time, if we would have had another baby if circumstances had been different; if I’d had the natural births that I had wanted so badly to have. I’m not sure of the answer. We are quite content with our family of six; to us it seems perfect, but still….
When the baby was around a year old I started thinking about another baby because that was the age the other kids were when I started thinking about the next baby. I asked my husband if he would have another if we could and he said, “Woman! Are you crazy? We can barely handle the four we have now!” This in a loving, joking (but not quite joking) kind of way. Yes, yes, of course; our lives are pretty busy with four but I guess I was mourning a little the fact that there would not be any more babies in our house. Still, I told my husband that if we could, I’d have another in a second – and I absolutely would have at the time. The next day my husband said to me, “You know what? I’d do it in a second too.” I guess we’re both suckers for babies.
At the end of last week I was thinking that I was late. You know, late. Truth be told, I don’t really keep track of my cycle like I used to now that we don’t have to worry about birth control anymore. So I just figured that I had my dates wrong and tried to push it to the back of my mind. It kept nagging me though. And then I was thinking about how I hadn’t been feeling quite right for a couple of days. I told myself that I was being ridiculous! I had a tubal ligation, for crying out loud! So I searched the internet for tubal ligation effectiveness, looking for reassurance. Depending on what you read, the failure rate is as high as 2%. What‽ TWO percent‽ (I realize that even 2% is very low, but I was feeling very irrational at the time). And then I started feeling sicker … and sicker. OMG, what if I’m pregnant‽
Then I basically started freaking out. OMG, I don’t want to be pregnant! I cannot have another c-section! I cannot have another baby! I’ve given away all my baby stuff! How in the world will we manage‽
Then came the guilt. OMG, what if I am pregnant? Of course I would want the baby! Of course I would love the baby! Of course the baby would be the biggest, best, surprise I’ve ever had! *sigh* Have I mentioned before that motherhood makes you crazy?
Sooo anyway … I’m not pregnant.
My husband and I sat down with friends, I had a nice big glass of wine and we laughed over how silly I was.
And I thought about how four is perfect. I wouldn’t change things, even if I could.
There’s been some talk recently about CIO or cry-it-out on some blogs that I read; Phd in Parenting and Metropolitan Mama are just two of many. I’ve been sitting here biting my tongue. I never meant for this blog to be provocative or controversial. I’m not writing to start some great debate. But there is something nagging me about this issue.
As much as I love comments on my blog, I don’t really want to read comment about why people choose CIO. Seriously. I don’t. I don’t use CIO and I never will. No amount of “well, I wasn’t crazy about it at first, but it worked!” comments are going to change the way I feel about it. Of course it worked. Beating my kids to make them sleep through the night would probably work too but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Now people, don’t get your knickers in a knot, I’m NOT saying that CIO is the same as beating your kids. I’m not. I’m simply making the point that there are probably tonnes of ways to get someone to do something they don’t want to do; but just because it works doesn’t mean that we should do it and it certainly doesn’t make it right.
I’ve been tired. I am tired. I have four kids that are pretty close in age; when the youngest was born my oldest wasn’t quite 6 yet. I’ve dealt with sick kids, sleepless nights and marathon nursers. There have been many, many times when I was home alone putting four young kids to bed. I get it. I know people are tired. I know what sleep deprivation is. I’ve been frustrated about sleep. I’d still never use CIO.
But the thing nagging me the most is this: why do we (as in, our society) think that babies should sleep through the night? That sleeping through the night is the norm? It’s really, really great if you have a baby that sleeps through the night on their own without CIO but babies like this are the exception, not the rule. Our standards are way too high.
With four young kids people ask me all the time, “How do you do it?” I often answer, “I’ve lowered my standards.” People usually laugh but it’s true! My expectations are much lower than they used to be. I know that my kids are going to do things even after I’ve told them a hundred times not to. I know that my kids haven’t quite mastered impulse control. I know that my kids – all of them, even my seven year old – are still going to need me at night sometimes. As they get older, they need less and less attention at night but they all need it sometimes. I know this and I expect it. Somehow knowing that it is normal makes it easier to manage, even from the groggy depths of sleep deprivation.
There are lots of resources out there that explain why babies don’t sleep through the night and why they need us at night. Dr. James McKenna, Dr Sears and Kelly Mom are just a few. These links will lead you to more.
Instead of fretting, arguing and debating night waking – something that is normal and should be expected – I choose to focus on coping. All parents probably need more sleep and at some point or another will have to cope with sleep deprivation. I’ll leave you with some of the things that have helped me get through:
- Eat right and take vitamins (if you think you need them). When I’m giving my body what it needs it just makes it easier to cope with anything!
- Fresh air and sunshine. We all need this, but it’s often overlooked. Even on the coldest of days, bundle up and get out, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
- Caffeine. I know, I know, probably not the best way to deal with it but it helps me. Even a nice hot cup of herbal tea can do the trick.
- Talk to like-minded parents. Commiserating and knowing that it’s normal for babies to wake in the night can be comforting.
- Exercise. For you and for the kids! It helps all of us sleep better and gives us more energy.
- A catnap or quiet time. On days when I’m feeling totally desperate, when the babies are sleeping I’ll put on a movie for the older kids and cuddle up with them on the couch. Even if I don’t actually get to sleep, putting my feet up and relaxing for even ten minutes has saved the day for me many times.
- Ask for help. Something most of us don’t do often enough. Ask family or friends to help. Swap kids with another mum: they take your kids one afternoon and you take theirs another. Ask Grandpa to come over and take the kids to the park. Hire a mother’s helper or babysitter to come over for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Tap into your resources – whatever they are.
- Go to bed early. Go to bed with the kids.
What are your secrets for coping with sleep deprivation? Comment below and share them!
How sweet is this? I snapped this picture last night, and I have others like it. This to me is the beauty of co-sleeping.
From day one our babies have slept with us. Co-sleeping has seen us through breastfeeding troubles, sickness, loneliness, nightmares and cold nights. There are no single beds in our house, only doubles or bigger. Even as the kids have gotten older they’ve had their siblings to sleep with. Sometimes the kids want to fall asleep in our bed. Later, when it’s time for my husband and me to go to bed we move them to their beds (it’s a bit like musical beds around here!).
So last night my two oldest fell asleep in our bed and then when the baby fell asleep later I put her with them. When I went to go to bed, this is what I saw.
Usually when the baby goes to sleep she is in our bed by herself for a few hours before my husband and I go to bed. It’s normal for her to wake up once or even twice before I come to bed; I go in and nurse her back to sleep. If one or more of her brothers are there to cuddle with, she doesn’t need me as much. Sometimes I can hear her moving around and when I go and check on her, she’s snuggled herself up against another little body, much like she did last night. I love that they comfort one another, even in their sleep.