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When Did Raising a Human Become so Dehumanizing?

From the prenatal visits to the birth itself. From sleep training and technology, must-have gadgets and the beeps, lights and ding of stupid plastic toys, it seems our society is controlling and clinical-ing what was once as simple as human nature.

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I am a new mom. I have a ten month old who teaches me something new each and every day. Sometimes it is a small lesson like “wow, who knew poop could be that colour,” and others it is more profound like the capacity to somehow, instinctually know that he is awake before he has even started to make noise. One of the biggest lessons I have learned recently, however, is that all the noise around babies, birth, sleep, food, what should or should not happen, what is or isn’t appropriate, all of it, every last bit, is bullshit. And saying it out loud, makes the pressure dissipate. B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T. ahhhhhh. I feel so much better already.

I was blessed with an amazing OBGYN who made our birth experience less clinical and more natural than others I have spoken with. It was, all in all, a beautiful experience as long as you don’t count the barfing, sciatica, heartburn, hormones, inability to sleep, back pain, etc. I was still poked and prodded as we must be to ensure the health of the baby, but I felt good, supported and even like a natural, blooming granola preggo as I pranced around our home in the nude. All. The. Time.

The birth I planned was controlled and manipulated by hospital policies and some sassy-ass nurses. Mind you, I had our baby in Panama so things are a tad different than my home country (Canada) and their hospital birth experiences. Thankfully my doctors did everything they possibly could to meet my wishes and my doula kicked ass at ensuring that I had an as natural experience as possible (Thanks Niki). I had to fight to get out of the bed in the labor room and battle to make sure that our baby was never away from our side. We had to pay extra to make sure that he was in the room overnight and sign forms to refuse any formula, sugar water or other item being fed to him. We needed special permission to leave the hospital early. When he was first born, the doctors had to essentially distract to make sure that we had adequate skin to skin time before the head nurse booted us from the delivery room. I hear more and more stories like this from across the world and it sickens me.

But it goes beyond the delivery room where in places like Panama, cesarian births make up nearly 50 per cent of all deliveries. And in Canada, where the numbers continue to rise well above the World Health Organization’s standards.

Before you have the baby everyone has advice, their favorite products or must-haves. When the baby is born, that advice and avalanche of information becomes overwhelming. I won’t lie, we have our own short list of items that I honestly believe helped us keep our shit together. Things that, while we could have lived without, were vital to my sanity. There were even things that I outright refused pre-baby and then realized were so totally key to making our chaotic, avid-travelling life possible. Two spectacular friends even gave me a beeping, light up plastic cell phone that they assured me was a necessity… they were 100 per cent right.

I know that there are things that make our lives easier and by choosing a few key items to help you feel calm and somewhat in control, thereby improving baby’s caregiving, I say go for it. But once we immerse ourselves in the must-haves PLUS all the senseless advice and expectations, our instincts begin to shut down. It seems as if we have de-humanized the baby experience so severely that we refuse to acknowledge that rational thinking is NOT the same as instinct and there is a time and place for both.

Babies are little humans. They have needs, wants even, but are not calculating little creatures who are plotting to make you a sleepless haggard zombie. They don’t require a ton of crap and despite what a lot of baby books may have you believe, there is no secret recipe/scheduling/planning/cry-it-out magic that makes them act better than your typical grown up. I am no baby-oligist but I am like every other new mom who has delved into the world of google when seeking advice and guidance for everything from sleep to poop. And, like every other desperate googling mom, I am slapped in the face by the amount of totally contradictory information out there. I am also, like every other googling mom, suddenly finding myself researching instead of going with the flow and spending that precious online moment with my baby instead. But that is a whole other story.

Somehow, we have come to expect a great deal from babies. More so than even adults. If you woke in the middle of the night frightened and thirsty, you have the capacity to get up and sort yourself out. But what if you didn’t? Would you expect everyone around you to ignore you, turn up the automated, light up sound machine and shut the door until you shut up? Babies are expected to be quiet, mild mannered, happy little creatures who eat, poop and sleep on demand and yet grown adults who have been on this planet for 30, 40, 50+ years still haven’t figured it out for themselves. The research around the concept of “self-soothing” and crying it out is available. It is scientific and it is incredibly heart breaking, but I am not even going to go there.

The fact is, over the past few hundred years we have come to expect so much from babies. As our society has become increasingly “civilized” it seems we have become less and less humane and have started to genuinely believe that, in our control obsessed minds, controlling the sleep, needs and desires of our baby will somehow make things better, easier, more simple. It doesn’t.

We started like any new parents, reading too much and relying on advice wherever we could get it, while intermittently reminding ourselves to go with our guts. We had an amazing sleep consultant whose words of wisdom were helpful and made us feel supported and on the right track. However, a baby’s natural tendency to change, grow, evolve and drive you to tears with their sleep issues can set any sleep training up for failure. We tried it all. Sleep scheduling, sleep methods, sleep training. Rules and schedules, expectations and failures. I don’t even want to tell you how my version of cry-it-out went. A “supported gentle approach” that left both of us sobbing, feeling 110 per cent wrong and not even working.  

We have moved closer and closer to our simple, instinctual humane approach but have been so jaded by rules and expectations that it has not been an easy path. It wasn’t until I spoke with a whole new sort of sleep consultant, Lauren Heffernan, that I actually began to feel normal. She made me feel at ease about the ways in which Hawksley was leading the show. In fact, Lauren is the closest thing you might get to a baby-oligist. She knows babies, education, sleep, lactation and development and genuinely believes that babies have the capacity to lead their own sleep, that they are meant to be breastfed, nurtured and cared for the way that our instincts tell us. So, finally the bullshit that I have been consumed by is being thrown out the window and lovingly replaced by keen guidance and knowledge to ensure that Hawksley is sleeping the best he CAN. That I am staying true to myself and that we are all a little happier, healthier and well rested.

It doesn’t mean things are about to be smooth sailing. Every mama knows that the moment you get things into a particular rhythm, baby likes to throw something new at you. But it does mean that I am feeling supported by someone with a humane approach to babies. With the knowledge and understanding of scientific evidence that helps us to use instinct and soothing over control and tears. So while, for a lot of us, this mama journey began with a lot of clinical measures it is time to let ourselves be human. Allow your baby to be a baby. Dissolve the desire for perfection or control (it is fruitless).

To learn more about Lauren Heffernan and her services, visit www.islagrace.ca