I’m Sorry, We Failed

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I’m sorry.

To the mother who felt like a bystander during the birth of her child, I’m sorry.  We failed to make sure you knew that this was your birth, not theirs, and that no one should force you into procedures you don’t want.

To the parents who placed their newborn in a room apart from theirs because they believed it’s what they had to do, I’m sorry.  We failed to make you aware of the basic fact that babies should be close to their parents and that being in another room doubled their risk of SIDS.

To the parents who brought out the baby training books and treated them as gospel, I’m sorry.  We failed to make sure you felt confident enough in your own abilities as a parent that you had to turn to someone who has never met your child and never will, all while ignoring your own thoughts and beliefs.

To the mother whose baby was taken away after birth and kept in a hospital nursery, I’m sorry.  We failed to make sure all hospitals have in-room boarding which is best for mother, baby, and family.

To the parents who left their child alone often because they believed it would teach them independence, I’m sorry.  We failed to give you the information you needed about child development and how a child really learns independence – the kind of independence you want for them.

To the mother who wanted to breastfeed, but ended up on formula because others told her she wasn’t producing enough milk, I’m sorry.  We failed to provide you with the support you needed.

To the parents who wanted to bedshare but didn’t because they thought it wasn’t safe, but snuck in naps on the sofa with their babe when they were so tired from having to actually get up to deal with wakings, I’m sorry.  We failed to give you the right information so that you could safely bedshare and not put your baby at higher risk by taking quick naps on the sofa.

To the mother who suffered post-partum depression because of events in her birth but was told she didn’t matter because her child was safe and that was all that mattered, I’m sorry.  We failed to make you aware that you do matter and you matter a ton because it is you who will be caring for your child after he or she is born and you need to be healthy to do that as well.

To the parents who left their baby to cry to sleep because they were so tired they felt that something, anything, needed to be done, I’m sorry.  We failed to give you support and help when needed so that you could parent your child with love all while feeling taken care of yourself.

To the mother who knew she wouldn’t breastfeed and went straight to formula under the assumption there was no other option or that it was the best alternative, I’m sorry.  We failed to make it know that there are women all over the world sharing the gift of breastmilk with babies all over the world who can’t get it for any number of reasons.

To the parents who left their baby to cry to sleep because they wanted to teach their child to self-soothe, I’m sorry.  We failed to make it better known doing this actually disrupts the process by which your baby learns to regulate emotions and that your little one is still highly stressed even when he or she is no longer crying.

I’m sorry.

As a society we have failed so many families and if we want to build a sense of community around us, we can no longer look at these failures as someone else’s problem.  We have to acknowledge our own individual roles and our own ability to respond.  We can sit back and be angry at “the system” for failing so many families, but anger alone does nothing.  We must start taking responsibility (not blame), and take whatever small or large an action we can to help.  Our children and their families deserve the best start they can have and that means we must arm parents with what they need to feel confident and secure as parents.  This doesn’t mean more people telling them what to do, but more people providing them with information and support.

As Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.  I would go one step further though and say to fight for it too.

Update:  I have written a follow-up due to some of the comments received on this one that suggests a bit of misunderstanding.  You can read it here.

[Image Credit: Nicole Forrester Blog]

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  1. Lisa says

    Thank you.

    Especially about the breastfeeding. I have 5 children and I’ve tried to breast feed each of them but only managed it for a few weeks. I was told by my husband and my mother that I was not producing enough milk and that the baby was just using me as a dummy. So I gave up. I gave up 5 times. And I feel such a failure for doing so. I wish I could turn back the clock.

    • says

      No – you are not the failure. We all failed you. Mothering is hard and when you lack the support you need, then it becomes even harder. Some will persevere and some won’t and the biggest difference seems to be the support and acceptance of those around us. But regardless, laying blame is silly – but taking responsibility? That we can ALL do and work to make sure others don’t feel as you do!

  2. Elizabeth Carroll says

    “To the mother who suffered post-partum depression because of events in her birth but was told she didn’t matter because her child was safe and that was all that mattered, I’m sorry. ”

    PPD can occur in any mother. She can have an intervention free birth. She can have everything go the way she wants and still have PPD. It’s caused by the tremendous shift in hormones during pregnancy and birth. Good grief, get some education on brain chemistry and PPD.

    • says

      Actually Elizabeth, it seems that PPD isn’t all chemistry with rates varying depending on the level of support mothers have post partum. So while there is a chemical suggestion, it’s by no means definitive with the environment arguably playing a larger role. However, this hardly suggests that PPD ONLY comes about because of this situation!! I’m not sure how you read that, but rather these are simply examples used of the myriad ways we’ve failed families. I could have written pages of this, to be honest, but felt being shorter was probably better.

      • Jespren says

        Totally anacdotally from being tied into several peer-to-peer support situations/groups, it seems like women whose PPD (PTSD) is stemming from a horrible experience as opposed to ‘just’ because of hormones is when they have the worst luck finding support by the medical community. A woman who is ‘just’ having a hormone flux that leads to PPD is any woman, doctors by and large know this and, while there certainly exists times when these women seek help and are told to just ‘get over it’, there seems to largely be screening tools and ready help availible. But if you had a traumatic birth then it’s the doctor’s/hospital’s *fault* that the PPD exists and they get defensive and dismissive of the woman and just want her to go away.

  3. hannah says

    I cannot TELL you how many times I fell asleep on the recliner, in the glider, or on the couch with my little man during our all-night nursing sessions because I thought it was dangerous to bring him into bed with me. I didn’t know I was putting him at much higher risk falling asleep with him in those other places, than if I had just safely brought him into bed with me.

  4. Elena says

    To anyone who buys these dogmatic blatherings and is made to feel guilty or like a failure for accepting pain relief, the ease of formula, or actually having a life and health saving Csection, I’M sorry.

    • says

      But when people choose it for themselves, there is nothing to apologize for or feel like we failed. They were choices made by mothers. What I’m speaking of are the cases that too many others ignore because they’re set in thinking it’s all choice when indeed many women will tell you it’s not. Those are who we – as a society – have failed, miserably. This isn’t about mothers failing, but about the rest of us.

  5. Helen says

    Where on earth is the evidence that CIO or similar sleep training methods disrupt your babies ability to regulate emotions or make them stressed? Way to go making women feel guilty for making different parenting decisions from you. And passing it off as “it wasn’t your fault you did the wrong thing” is actually no better than saying what you really mean which is ” you did the wrong thing”.

    • says

      You see those things at the bottom? They’re citations and there’s your evidence. There’s also an entire piece on self-soothing and the process by which infants learn emotion regulation (i.e., not being left alone). Another great piece discussing more research evidence is here:

      Sometimes parents do the wrong thing. And yes, I believe the evidence is pretty clear that CIO is not the “right” thing – especially when there are many gentle methods that parents can use to help their children. But more than that, we are failing families if we aren’t providing them with the information they need.

      Edit: Well, I have to eat my hat (sort of) – my program told me this post was on a different piece – the one on CIO – when it apparently is not. My apologies. Here is the piece I believed this to be on:

      • Sarah says

        Tracy, I followed the link you provided and did not see any research evidence supporting the assertion that using sleep training causes any sort of psychological damage to children. I just saw a post that was basically an opinion piece saying that Weintraub’s article and the related philosophy is “a crock” and a long explanation about early childhood neurophysiology and “low vagal tone.” I also do not see studies on your site that support this assertion – just a lot of theories, correlative studies about cortisol levels and studies of the effects of PPD or more severe neglect on early childhood development.

        Can you point me to a study that actually shows that parents who use sleep training methods such as CIO or Ferber have children w/ increased psychological disorders, social adjustment problems, or problems handling life stressors? Honestly, I won’t claim omniscience here; maybe I just haven’t seen them yet. But at this point I cannot agree with you that “the evidence is clear” – because right now, I see a lot of hand-waving and very little fact.

        • says

          I didn’t say Weinraub’s piece was a crock at all, but rather the interpretation the media has taken is!

          But no, no one has done any long-term studies looking at outcomes. So if that’s what you want, then no we don’t have it. However, the people involved in the research all feel it’s pretty clear that we’re raising the risk of these things (nothing is definite – not even cancer from smoking). The cortisol research is highly respected, so I don’t know how you’re saying it’s just correlational (which studies, the Middlemiss or the various ones from Megan Gunnar?).

          Edit: You would probably be interested in this: http://evolutionaryparenting.com/crying-it-out-an-addendum/

          • Sarah says

            The Middlemiss study has been criticized for several methodological flaws, many of which were outlined by other commenters on your blog. What I mean by correlative is that even if we look beyond the flaws of this study, all we know is that salivary cortisol levels are higher on day 3 of an infant sleep training session, even after crying initially ceases. And we know that chronically high cortisol is correlated with a maladaptive stress response and eventually other health/developmental concerns. There is no indication that these elevations from sleep training are lasting beyond the very brief scope of this study program, that cortisol is chronically elevated, that cortisol levels are abnormal for these infants in any other situations, or that there are any sort of maladaptive responses to stress or any damage to the mother-infant relationship as a result. Like, I said, it’s still hand-waving.

            I respect your willingness to discuss the science (and delve into it!) and entertain disagreement in your blog space. As I’m sure you know this topic is a minefield for many parents, so I apologize if my tone is a bit harsh. But I have always found it infuriatingly ironic that people on blogs and message boards will chide parents who use CIO for losing connection to their “instincts” or “intuition” and conclude that the way to follow those instincts is to do some OTHER certain prescribed practice. Guess what? I did follow my instincts with my daughter. She was a phenomenal sleeper from early on, who hit a bump in the road due to travel, routine changes, developmental changes etc, and began to wake herself from sleep excessively for weeks, making us all miserable. MY INSTINCTS told me we were reinforcing this pattern by constantly picking her up and fussing with her, and that she could use a little help to re-establish her routine. And I believe my instincts were right. After 2-3 hours total of Ferber method spread over 2 nights, she was sleeping well again – we have had car rides more traumatizing than that.

            I know you think this is a “shitty” message to send a baby, but I find it so transient in the grand scheme of things, I don’t find that perspective compelling. Of all the things I did with my daughter – staying at home as long as I could, extended breastfeeding, tons of sling time, daily massages, mommy-baby yoga, singing, reading, lots of exploring together – to claim that our attachment or her sense of security in this world is forever altered because I let her cry for 5-10 minutes at a time for three hours over two nights is an extraordinary claim, and as such, it requires extraordinary evidence. I have yet to see this. So I don’t require an apology from you or anyone for having “failed” me by not letting me see the light of just how wrong I was. I hope you can appreciate how, from the perspective of someone like me, this apologize sounds less genuine and more like sanctimony.

          • says


            I appreciate the comments. Yes, the Middlemiss study needs to go further – of course! – but remember the view prior to this was that as soon as the crying stopped, the distress stopped. That infants were learning actual soothing techniques. Now I would say this alone shows the idea of soothing is total crap. And when you look at the development of the term “self-soothing”, it has nothing to do with actual soothing at all. It’s a misnomer simply developed to classify infants who didn’t signal for parents. There was never the belief (from researchers) that these infants were actually regulating emotions better or that this could be forced upon them.

            As to the idea of prescribing actions to parents that aren’t CIO. I’m sure people do it, that’s not my thing. There are loads of ways to help infant’s sleep that don’t require it to be a stressful experience – even briefly. And as such, I see no need to tell parents leaving their children to cry – even controlled crying – is at all appropriate. Some families will do it, yes, and their children will come out just dandy. Like everything, this is about an increased risk for problems, which is clearly looking to be an interaction with certain biological factors and temperament. Many adults can attest to some of the problems they have that they directly attribute to CIO. The problem, as I see it, isn’t that there isn’t a problem, it’s that we simply haven’t done the research. However, I also question whether we need research to tell us this (apparently we do though).

            Now, will attachment be “forever altered”? For some children, yes. For others, no. Children are resilient, but why promote a practice that requires them to be resilient?

            As to the apology herein, did you sleep train to teach your child to “self-soothe”? Was that the explicit goal? And did you know that disruption in sleep patterns is incredibly normal, especially between 6 months and a year, with absolutely nothing being wrong for your child? If you knew that the research on emotion regulation tells us that infants actually seek out contact to learn about regulation, would you think that CIO or CC helps promote that? If you knew that yes, infants in CIO and CC are still stressed, would you have thought differently? Frankly, I don’t see anything here that contradicts what we know. I never said it was irrevocable or anything like that.

            Final thought, I can’t help but wonder why people say we should assume no harm. Isn’t it safer to assume higher risk of harm and say, prove to me it’s safe??

  6. Cecile says

    It is exactly how i feel whenever i hear a woman/mothers storey.
    The turmoil she has had to suffer to save face in our society, we need to change as a whole and really make a difference to support each other and do what is right and best for our babies/children and our future generations. Your words hit it on the head exactly so thank you for making me feel like to that i am not alone in our i feel when i “in the system” also can not provide the care and support that new mothers need and deserve :)

  7. says


    I think you are courageous for writing this post! Nothing stirs people up like posts about birth, breastfeeding, and cosleeping. Whew. You didn’t mention immunizations…didn’t want to venture down that path? :) When women feel truly secure and comfortable with the choices we make (to accept pain relief, to immunize, to bottle feed, etc.) there is no need to attack someone who writes about those who didn’t have a choice (or didn’t KNOW they had a choice). So continue boldly writing about this stuff. I’m going to share this with my doula/birth educator sister!

  8. says

    With this, you described my first birth expierence and postpartum expierence to a T. My son is now 3.5 years old, but I do know 100 things I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve done differently with him; he is happy and healthy yes but did he deserve better? I think so. No need to dwell on the choices I made then, I did what I thought I was best and what I was told was right. All I can do is learn to be a better mom, and evolve. Thankfully, I was able to make better and more informed choices when it came to my second son, who is nearly 6 months old. Both my boys, and my family are happier because I educated myself over the past 3 years, listened to other moms stories and I found a method of parenting that works for our family. Now my boys are truly happy and healthy and I couldn’t be happier myself. You must evolve as a parent, in order to be better one. There’s no one way to be a perfect parent, but a million ways to be a good one.

  9. says

    Wow. I’d forgotten this post until you linked back to it again on Facebook. Thank you for reminding me that I meant to comment on it at the time.

    I think you had a flaming nerve writing this:

    ‘To the parents who brought out the baby training books and treated them as gospel, I’m sorry.  We failed to make sure you felt confident enough in your own abilities as a parent that you had to turn to someone who has never met your child and never will’

    less than a month after writing this:


    which was your response to a woman’s account of her own regrets about treating a baby book as gospel, and which consisted of you accusing her of ‘blaming attachment parenting for your failures’ telling her her problems were her own fault not being responsible or educated enough about parenthood, questioning whether people who feel that way should even be having children in the first place, and generally blasting her to hell and gone for daring to have felt pressured.

    Now that particular piece of bitchery actually *would* have been something worth apologising for, but, as far as I can see, you didn’t. So this whole ‘I’m sorry, I’m blaming myself for your experience with the baby books because clearly it was my fault’ message in this post is pretty damn unconvincing. You clearly *weren’t* sincere about the supposed apology in this post (or, if you were, that’s some major cognitive dissonance there), and trying to act as if you were, after making that other post, was hypocritical.

    • says

      First, I don’t know when that was shared on FB again – I haven’t shared that in ages so it wasn’t on the EP site (unless one of the other admins did in a thread). However, I see no problem with the two pieces. The first one written was in response to someone who wrote a piece decrying AP because the checklist didn’t work for her (and not once did she acknowledge the problem was treating it as gospel but rather following any of it at all; the distinction is critical to my response). She spoke of how AP will ruin your life if you try it and so I replied to that. The second one is a generalized statement for parents who are suffering and not understanding what on earth is happening because they are doing everything “right” (according to some book). I know many parents who treated books as gospel and were simply lost and confused – not attacking others for it. That said, even in the first, I do NOT suggest things like the mother shouldn’t have kids!!! My goodness – I suggest education and looking inward (something I also recommend to any parent who is treating anything as gospel without looking to their child). Is it a little snarky? Absolutely – I’m replying to something I read that angered me. It’s why it’s under an “opinion” piece.

      So no, no cognitive dissonance. Different situations and different thoughts in response to them. And the second never said it was MY fault – it’s about taking ownership as a society for various failures we have. Have you heard the therapeutic idea that nothing can change until people start taking responsibility (not fault) for the ills they see in the world or in their own lives? It was a piece written on that premise. It’s not my fault any of these things happened, but I can take responsibility (comes from response-ability; I have the ability to respond) and do what I can to change what I see are the problems facing many families today. If we continue to wait for others to change things, nothing much ever changes.

      But thank you for your thoughts on that, it’s always good to revisit old pieces as sometimes they do need updates, etc. And perhaps an addendum to the I’m Sorry piece to clarify the intent re responsibility versus blame would be in order. I’ll consider it!

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