My daughter's failure to acquiesce to so-called expert advice heralded the beginning of a new way of living, for both of us. One that strives to work with her needs, rather than struggle against them.
My baby was crying, and I was too.
In the early days, it had all been so straightforward to me. Sure, my sweet newborn woke up every 45 minutes all night long, spit up constantly, and preferred the lilting (and exhausting) cadence of a giant blue yoga ball to the comparatively effortless glide of a rocking chair—but during those bleary first weeks, I never questioned my inborn desire to hold her and soothe her and give her whatever she needed from me, whenever she needed it.
But as my maternity leave neared its end, reality began to set in: my darling girl was about to be cared for—at least in part—by someone else.
According to a variety of websites whose authors seemed to be in the know, easing this transition would require putting her on a schedule: eat, then play, then sleep—on her own, in her bassinet, without the aid of 'bad habits' like nursing or bouncing or human touch.
I was a new mom. I was an anxious soon-to-be working mom. I thought others knew better than I did.
And so, despite my daughter's protests, I started to institute some rules. As the months passed, my confusion escalated. She became a serial catnapper who seemed incapable of falling asleep on her own, on a surface separate from my body. In fact, she wouldn't do anything the experts expected of her.
And I just knew: It was my fault. I wasn't going about things the right way. I wasn't being consistent. I was waffling. I was tired.
I became convinced that something was very wrong with my relatively gentle approach, and I purchased a customized guide that promised to help me teach my now 6-month-old to fall asleep on her own. It would be hard, they said, but it would be worth it.
After all, they said, I had no other choice.
From the very beginning, she cried fiercely. At bedtime and at nap time, I stayed with her—but I was not allowed to pick her up. Eventually, it was recommended that I leave the room while she "learned" to sleep. My presence was likely causing her more stress, they said. She cried harder. I cried too, perhaps even more than she did.
But I had to stay the course… didn't I?
Weeks went by. Some days were easy; some days weren't. And one evening, my daughter's desperate wails reached a fever pitch. I listened, trembling and sobbing, my own body curled in knots on the couch, racked with grief and shame. And something in me broke.
That night, I wish I had known that it was okay to hold my baby.
I wish I had known that my daughter's seemingly unique constitution was not only valid, but it was also healthy and biologically normal.
I wish I had known that my own instincts had always been more powerful—and more trustworthy—than any one-size-fits-all "solution."
I wish I had known that when it came to mothering my specific child, I was wiser than Google could ever be.
I didn't know then. But I know now. And, bless her, my daughter's failure to acquiesce to so-called expert advice heralded the beginning of a new way of living, for both of us.
One that strives to work with her needs, rather than struggle against them.
One that expects those that care for her to respect her individuality, rather than demand obedience.
One that parents from a place of love for my daughter's temperament, rather than fear over what challenges lie ahead.
And one that champions mothers navigating a culture that is, all too often, unkind not only to them but also to their young children—tiny beings who are not yet capable of behaving like miniature adults.
This is not a bid for parents to abandon the hope that they can help their young children to sleep better, or a call for all families to ditch their cribs and embrace the family bed.
It's a rallying cry to stop giving our power away to a virtual space that, for many of us, has been our main source of answers since we were children ourselves.
Don't get me wrong—the Internet can be an invaluable resource when you are a brand new parent, especially if you lack a strong support network or have little to no experience caring for babies. But no matter what you read about infant development, feeding, bonding, sleeping, or diapering: if something feels wrong, you don't have to do it.
You aren't spoiling your baby, and you aren't fostering bad habits. You know more than you think you do, mama. You are stronger than you realize, and your instincts matter—no smartphone required.
No matter what the experts say.