Note: After a very detailed comment on this post, it has come to my attention that what I have written could be seen as insensitive. Since then I have been worrying about whether to edit this post, as it would never be my wish to offend anyone and I feel awful that this might happen. But at the same time, I don’t really want to edit my stream of consciousness, a train of thought that has been swilling around in my head for the past few months. I feel that to edit it would somehow betray my original thought on the subject. This is, after all, a mere blog and nothing more. It is only ever my opinion and should not be taken as anything more than a sleep deprived girl wittering on about how she feels being a mum. But do please note, as I have also said in my reply to the comment, that where I have used the term ‘mother’, ‘mum’ or ‘motherhood’, this can be replaced with the term ‘main carer’ or whichever term you would prefer to use. We all bear the same responsibility and I used the term ‘mother’ exclusively to prevent the piece from becoming too clunky with all the terms that can be used to describe a person who carries the main responsibility of caring for a child.

Someone recently told me that the best piece of parenting advice they had been given for life with a baby was to never make it so that you are the only person who can do something, ie, comfort your baby, get your baby to sleep, etc. ‘Yes!’, I thought, ‘This is great advice! Someone has managed to articulate the exact reason behind a lot of the frustration I feel on Arlo’s more difficult days’. But then I sat and thought some more about this piece of advice, my enthusiasm quickly waning as I pondered the practicalities of how this would actually work in practise for a breastfeeding mother.

If you were to ask my thoughts on breastfeeding before I became a mother, my response would most likely have been that I thought it was a nice way to feed your baby and that I hoped I would be able to breastfeed my baby. What I learned quickly after becoming a mother, is that for Arlo and I, breastfeeding is so much more than simply a method of feeding my baby. Without breastfeeding, I have no idea where I would even begin to comfort Arlo when he needed me. I would be at a complete loss as to how to get him to sleep. I’m not even sure why we bothered with a bed for him, he lived on my breasts for the first three months of his life. Whenever Sam tried to comfort him and he wouldn’t stop grizzling, the automatic solution was that he must be hungry, and back on the boob he went. I tried and tried and tried to get Arlo to drink from a bottle so that I could get some rest from the night feeds, or have an extra hour or two in bed in the morning, even just to have that peace of mind that it wasn’t all down to me day in day out, night after night, 24/7. But Arlo found no reason to be convinced that it was in any way better than his usual method of comfort, let alone a better solution for hunger. I remember all too well that feeling of dread as night time approached, because I never knew when I would be allowed to go to bed or how much sleep I might get. In terms of comforting Arlo, breastfeeding has felt like a lifesaver, one that can only be used by myself. So, for a breastfeeding mother, I automatically failed at not being the only person who could do something for Arlo.

Thinking about this advice some more, I wondered how it would work in practise for any mother, breastfeeding or not. I know that even if I wasn’t breastfeeding, I would have to find another effective way of soothing Arlo, and that job would still remain down to me.  Because the fact of motherhood is that the buck of responsibility stops firmly and unapologetically with the mother. The weight of this responsibility, usually pointed out to you very early on by your ever so helpful newborn who just WILL NOT STOP CRYING, takes some getting used to.

Realising this overwhelming responsibility is, by far, the most difficult part of my adjustment to motherhood. At 4am, when I’ve been trying to get Arlo back to sleep for two hours, I often lose patience and wake Sam so that he can step in. But when Sam fails, it is down to me again. I’ve spent many a night pacing the floors, baby in arms, cursing this fact as I hear Sam snoring away. It wasn’t Sam’s fault, and there was nothing he could do, but I used to feel positively resentful towards him at times. When Arlo went through two back to back sleep regressions that spanned two long and painful months, watching Sam sleep was almost unbearable. We still have nights like these, thankfully they seem to be happening with a little less regularity now, but at the end of the long night, it is always down to me.

This responsibility extends to the day time too. Everyone loves a smiley happy baby, but as soon as the crying begins, the baby is swiftly handed back to the mother. Because when a baby needs comfort, sometimes…most of the time, only mum cuts it. I don’t have the luxury of passing the baby down the line to the next person responsible, even if I am feeling just as hopeless at the task. I can’t give up in frustration when I can’t soothe Arlo, I have to keep going.

I am just at the start of this motherhood business. Further depths to this responsibility, beyond making sure he is well fed and well slept, will become apparent to me as Arlo grows older. It will be my responsibility to educate him, to deal with tantrums, to teach him good morals. It’s a daunting thought but every day I feel more and more prepared for my responsibilities as I get to know my son better.

I thought my main issue with this parenting tip is that, like a lot of  ‘helpful’ advice out there, it makes it sound possible to control the preferences of our babies. It wasn’t me that chose to be the only person who could effectively perform certain tasks, that decision was Arlo’s, and when he knows what he wants there is no changing his mind. But in reading this draft, I’ve realised just how redundant this advice is, because I am the only person who can be Arlo’s mother.

6 comments

  1. I couldnt agree more, that is the best and worst thing about breastfeeding. We have a 4 week old baby and despite our best efforts my wife only managed to breast feed for 3 weeks. But the one advantage of bottle feeding is that I can help, I do either the last feed at night or the first in the morning at the weekends so she can get a bit more sleep. I don’t do any more because she still really values that time with her baby and we don’t let anyone else do it.
    But I think you’re right, there is no ‘rule’ for these things. You have to listen to your baby and how you feel and then make the best decision for you. That’s the most annoying thing about news reports that make a sweeping statement based on one little fact.

  2. I think although there is some truth in what you have written, there are some strange generalisations being made.

    You seem to imply that ‘motherhood’ is a universal state of being. Whereas actually motherhood is just the relationship between a mother and their child and I would argue that no two people in the world share the same definition of motherhood and so comments like ‘the fact of motherhood is that the buck of responsibility stops firmly and unapologetically with the mother’ are misleading. Really what you are saying here should begin ‘the fact of MY relationship with MY son is that…’

    Further to this by using ‘motherhood’ you are suggesting that this is a burden that only women can bear. Of course aside from the physical reliance of breast feeding, is there any difference in a mother getting up 3 times in the night to feed her son than a father? Again you seem to suggest that there are certain aspects of parenting that mums are naturally superior at “Because when a baby needs comfort, sometimes…most of the time, only mum cuts it”

    I would argue that although there is a natural bond between mother and child just as there is between father and child behaviours involved in comforting can always be learned. Imagine a scenario where a birth mother does not see their child from birth till 6months after and during this time the child is under sole care of the father. Do you actually think that upon re-entering the babies life the mother would be intrinsically better at comforting it?

    Likewise the bonds of parenthood aren’t exclusive to actual birth parents and I would argue that a baby 5 months down the line raised not raised by its birth parents would have as strong a bond to its new parents than if it was raised by its birth parents. As babies are not born self sufficient there will always be a bond with whoever fills that gap in its life, this is just born of dependency.

    To summarise I think your article is actually disrespectful to the myriad of male or female parents and carers in the world who would also feel this burden of responsibility. Although it may seem like it is formed from powers out of your control, we all essentially create our own definitions of parenthood. This internal conflict between theory and practise may in itself be a result of becoming too heavily involved in other peoples advice and experiences, as again they imply a generic experience of parenthood. You may argue that your need to care for your child and bear this responsibility is innate and can’t be fought but the fact remains that this is still your need to care and how that materialises is as unique, flexible and adaptable as your children themselves.

    1. Very detailed deconstruction there, thank you for taking the time to comment. Will have to be brief as son will shortly be needing my attention. I was writing from my experience, which is why I used the terms ‘mother’ and ‘motherhood’ and the comment about responsibility was not meant as a generalisation but my opinion. Yes, you are right, where I’ve used the term ‘mother’, this could easily be replaced with ‘main carer’, whoever the person is that is last in the line of responsibility, and cannot ‘give up’ their duties to their child – that is the point I was pondering.

  3. This post should be required reading for anyone about to welcome a baby into their life! It perfectly sums up the frustrations I felt during the first 2-3 months of my daughter’s life. Now that she’s eating real foods, and I can see that she’s losing interest in my milk I no longer feel resentment against breastfeeding, but I really and honestly did restn being a breastfeeding mom in the early days simply because she relied on me 24/7 for everything and no one really could relieve me of that. And, that’s simply exhausting! I often envied other moms who, ironically, lamented not being able to breastfeed for various reasons, because their childing happily drank out of bottles. Yet, of course, they didn’t have the all-powerful boob at their disposal to calm a crying baby! In German the verb “to breastfeed” is the same verb as “to quiet” = “stillen”. Again, thank you for your honesty. I wish I had discovered your blog a year ago!

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