Books We Love: The Unicorn Baby by Roxanne Atkinson
Ladies and gents, moms and dads, this is a book which should be required reading for every expecting couple. I think if this book had been around when J was born, it would have saved me years of anxiety (and possibly therapy!). This book speaks to me on a very fundamental level, and it will probably will to you too. Let me tell you why.
The Unicorn Baby
First of all, what is a Unicorn Baby?
A Unicorn Baby is a baby who sleeps through the night, naps well, communicates clearly, feeds well, burps on demand, self-soothes, sleeps in their own bed – basically everything you wish your baby would do. Sadly, many of us believe that Unicorn Babies are the norm when, in fact, the majority of us are not lucky enough to give birth to them.
This was the realisation Roxanne Atkinson came to when she had her own child. A self-confessed “difficult” baby herself, Roxanne found that her daughter was also a “difficult” baby. Through her parenting and her occupational therapy practice she noticed that a lot of the stress and pressure of parenthood and motherhood stems from a number of myths which have been perpetuated through the generations. These are beliefs and ideas about how our babies should be developing and growing and how we can “help” them do this the “best” way possible.
In other words, what we can do to grow our babies which, when we think of it like that, is a ridiculous notion.
As Roxanne notes, “the more Western the parenting expectations, the higher the level of parental anxiety…There [is] a strong focus on independence and mastery, rather than interdependence and learning”. These parents struggle with the idea that they could not, in fact, control their baby’s behaviour and make them sleep more/ eat more/ fuss less.
As a mom and an OT, Roxanne identified ten major myths which are prevalent, and she set out to debunk these myths using biology, evidence and her experience in hospitals, clinics and her practice.
The ten myths
Here are the ten myths. If you’re a parent or move in parenting circles, you’ll recognise these statements from baby conversations, mommy meet-ups and baby showers. You probably believe a few of them. I must admit, I definitely subscribed to a few of them before I had my first child.
(When J arrived with a shock of decidedly non-Unicorn Baby-like behaviour, I was left in a helpless puddle when J didn’t follow any rules and nothing I did could convince him to behave otherwise.)
This is why I think this book is so important for expecting and new mothers. So we break down the expectations of Unicorn Babies and allow mothers (and parents) to acknowledge that it’s not easy and that their baby has a mind of their own and they (the moms, not the babies) might need a little help. And that’s ok.
Anyway, back to the myths:
1. Babies are all the same.
This myth that babies are all the same is the foundation on which much bad advice is offered to parents. It’s the reason many parents feel drawn to compare their baby to other babies who are very close in age…we are not raising clones.
2. A baby does not have to change your life.
‘Getting back to normal’ is a dirty lie. It is an empty promise that is going to rob you of the joy of having a baby. Unless you discover the trick of turning the clock back, you are never getting back to normal. Ever. Having a baby is not an acquisition , it is actually a loss, a bereavement of your pre-baby self.
3. You need to get your baby into the perfect routine.
In reality…you do not actually get to choose what your baby does, when. They do.
4. Breastfeeding comes naturally.
[Breastfeeding] is not natural and it’s not lovely, for most people…Whichever obstacles you may encounter, please remember the best way to feed your baby is to feed your baby.
5. You should only feed your baby every four hours.
…Babies land up in a feeding routine not because we design and implement a great feeding routine from day one but because we learn from our babies what they need…You could say they train us into implementing a routine that helps meet their needs.
6. You must teach your baby to sleep through the night.
…It is important to note that there is no miracle cure….How your baby is sleeping has more to do with their brain development and less to do with what you are or are not doing as a parent...If we are going to parent smart and hard, the focus should be on helping your baby grow into a child who is a healthy sleeper – a lover of sleep and someone whose sleep integrates with your family’s sleep culture.
7. Your baby grows and develops every day.
Development follows a similar pattern to growth: there are short periods of no apparent learning or skill acquisition followed by sudden periods of immense learning and change…Viewing development as a ladder where one skill is gained before moving on to gain another can actually be a barrier to normal development.
8. Your baby needs specialised stimulation classes and educational toys to thrive.
Parents are outsourcing to ‘experts’ what used to be left to Mom and Dad…Yes, information is power. But no, you need to be careful what you choose to outsource and who you choose to outsource to when it comes to parenting.
9. Your baby must do tummy time for 20 minutes every day.
The goal is not to race through skill acquisition and be walking by one, but rather to allow your child to discover and enjoy a wonderfully rich world of movement.
10. Technology gives you and your baby an advantage.
We are the first generation of parents in history to be co-parenting with technology…The reality is that, as new parents, you will need to learn to trust what you experience in the real world with your baby more than what technology might tell you.
These are just a few extracts from this book because you really need to read it for yourself – there are so many truths on each page that I can’t possible put them all here. Besides looking at each myth in depth from an individual or societal perspective, Roxanne looks at each issue from a biological and developmental issue. She illustrates each myth with real-life examples, as well as her own experience. And, most importantly I think, she gives advice regarding these myths.
This book is so real. I’ve never felt as conflicted in my life as these last few years of being a mother, and this book has helped me regain some faith in my natural abilities, and some (much-needed) reassurance that the un-Unicorn Babyness of my two children does not make me a bad mother. It makes me a mother, and my babies, babies.
What can I say? If it’s not obvious yet, I highly highly recommend this book. It’s honest, it’s helpful, it’s readable. It would the perfect baby shower gift for new parents or for a new mom; even for a new grandparent who probably doesn’t remember much about parenting in the early years. Even if your children are a little older, reading this book can go a long way to understand our thought patterns and expectations when it comes to parenting. Which is never a bad thing.
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me to review but the opinions are my own.