Motherhood, babies and their sleep – Episode 1 with Jan Harrison from The Night Owls

Motherhood. The hardest and the greatest job in the world.

Did you know that scientists have proven that once a woman becomes a mother, she becomes a different person?
You, your partner and loved ones know you as one person, and suddenly you become someone else. Because by giving birth to a child, you give birth to yourself; to a mother. Even by taking all the necessary steps to prepare, we are inevitably faced with the hardest change in our personal life. We are isolated, we are anxious, we are sad, we are exhausted, we are in pain. And we feel utterly alone. Looking to our partners for support that they were never educated to give us… And so the emotional and physical pain, the loneliness, the sleep deprivation, the anxiety take over, and we try so hard to still “play the part”, of that woman that existed before she turned into a mother.

“Because by giving birth to a child, you give birth to yourself; to a mother.”

Watch the first episode of my candid conversation with the internationally famous maternity night-nurse Jan Harrison, as we unravel the truth about becoming a mother. It is a topic that’s been severely neglected and simplified to an animal-like level, leaving women turned new moms in pieces. The failure of this topic being a mainstream one, results in damaged connections to our partners, ourselves and, the entire society. It is time to uncover the lies and take off all that make-up that we are raised to maintain and strive under.

MARTINA:  Hello, it is Martina and today we will be talking about a very important topic: motherhood, babies and their sleep. I am here with Jan Harrison, from Jan and the Night Owls.

I met Jan by random luck. I was in Notting Hill with my baby, a happy mum, but very sleep deprived. And there was a very nice lady with her bubbly daughter, who said to me, “There is a person who can save you, you can survive this”. And then she mentioned Jan and her amazing company that deals with helping mums and little teeny tiny babies who refuse to sleep and have trouble getting their night’s sleep. So Jan,How did this develop, the science about baby sleep? 

JAN: Well, I’ve been working for quite some time with little babies, and had noticed that, maybe 20, 25, 30 years ago, there was a big extended family around the mum, and there was lots of support. But my generation of women, we raised your generation of women to believe that you didn’t have to be just one thing, you didn’t have a defined role. So you could go out to work, and you could be an equal partner in this relationship. But we forgot, most of us forgot to raise our boys in the same way. So that the boys would expect that they would take a share of the emotional load at home. And I found that what was happening was, these women were becoming isolated with families that had moved away, and were bearing the load of having to go back to work much earlier than they would have used to because they were financially contributing to that home. And they were sleep deprived. And they were really tired. And they were doing things that were a quick fix. So that was how this whole business that we now have developed really, with looking at mums in individual situations, looking at the support networks that they had around them or didn’t have around them, and finding ways that we could help their babies to sleep better at night, so the mum was not sleep deprived, so she could enjoy her children, and so she could also go out and be the functioning person she needed to be in the workplace. 

MARTINA: It’s always also about the partnership within the house, and the support that most of the time nowadays is lacking. When I said why is this so hard, I remember you said because you don’t have the village around you. I’m so glad I met you, now I have that support system that you bring about, and also the awareness and the intellect behind the patterns and the science of baby sleep. 

JAN: It’s my job to look after you right so that you can look after your baby. So I guess in some respects what we’re trying to do is to bridge that gap that’s there now and be your village. 

MARTINA: Why in schools are we not educated that we need to have support systems? Why are we almost shaming mums to think that you are a bad mum, if you know if you need any sort of help? Why is this still such a big part of our culture? 

JAN: I think that’s like the most enormous question. I think there’s a lot of history involved with it. And you know, when we’re saying right at the beginning, about how my generation has raised your generation to be different, and a lot of us forgot to raise the boys to be different. What we actually taught you was that there was a big wide world out there, and we showed you that the world is your oyster. And you can be and you can do whatever you want to do. And like I say, we forgot to raise the boys, a lot of the boys in the same way. And as a result of that, we turned you into these competitive women that have got to excel at everything, to prove what we wanted to prove, that a woman could do whatever a man could do with one hand tied behind her back, and more. And that has resulted, I think, in this competition, that you feel like you’ve got to do absolutely everything perfectly and really well. You’ve got to perform in the workplace, and you’ve got to be the best mum on the block. And I think there’s been a downfall with social media, I think it’s a great thing. And I think it’s a curse. Because it’s turned motherhood into a competition, where women sadly, are not building each other up, they’re tearing each other down, in order to build themselves up. And this is resulting in lots and lots of women who no longer trust their instincts, and their ability to be a good mum. There’s no such thing as the perfect mum, you’re all out there aiming to be the best possible mum that you can. And we forget to tell you that that is enough.

MARTINA: Thank you, such an important emotional topic for anybody and everybody who is a mum.

JAN: I think you know, the thing is that you say you’re thrown into it. And I went to school and studied this stuff for years and I’ve been working with children for the last 40 odd years. You go to the hospital, and 24 hours later you come out with a baby. You’re expected to know what you need to do. A number of years ago, the real value of motherhood struck me when I worked for a lovely gentleman who lost his wife when his daughter was three, and had replaced that woman with a gardener, a housekeeper and me and had to pay us so you know, so when the actual role of motherhood is devalued? And how many times do we hear, “Oh, she’s just a stay at home mom”. You know, if somebody was doing what you’re doing, it would cost them 1000s of pounds. 

MARTINA: I become furious when I hear this, even though I’m very happy having a career and I see having a career as being privileged enough to have a career next to taking care of my family. I also think that I come from a mum who has been so dedicated to her career, she’s a dentist. For my mum, it was more of a necessity, although she adored it. My parents both had to work 24/7. She says it was a survival instinct, “I had to go out there, I had to really work hard to earn that salary in postwar Croatia where there was so little really.” We’re so polarised, right? There is a community for stay-at-home mums. And then there’s a community of women that are so dedicated to their careers. We need our partners to acknowledge “Oh my goodness, this is, all of these things are motherhood”. And here I am thinking that you know, you were on a walk in the park, you know, and you say you don’t know. Exactly. And “Do you know, oh, I had this meeting” and this and you’re thinking that the baby didn’t eat anything for the last eight hours? I mean, I didn’t get the chance to wash my hair. Please don’t touch me. I’m stinky. You know, the baby doesn’t sleep. And they just think you didn’t do much. You know, you’re lounging around the sofa. 

JAN: And I had one mum that used to get that a lot from her husband. And she used to phone me. She said “he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t understand he comes home at the end of the day. I’ve been working all day, the place is a mess, what have you been doing?” And she was a teacher. And when the baby was still quite small on a Saturday, she had to go into school one day, for a Parent’s Day. And when she got home that evening, she phoned me and she said, “the dad is sitting in the car crying”. So I said, “Well, what happened?” and she said, “the baby hasn’t had a nap today, he is tearing his hair out and the baby cried all day.” And my response was “Good. Because now he will know what you do all day.” 

MARTINA: We had a very candid conversation. When you asked me, “How was your birth? How was your pregnancy?” And I was so stunned by your questions, because nobody really cares to ask. 

JAN: It was one of the worst best stories I’ve ever heard. And I don’t think anybody had ever validated that to you. 

MARTINA: And I think that’s where my problems definitely started circling around, that I’m such a high level performer, you know, I work hard, I’m a great attentive partner, I am a great step mum, delivering results on all the levels. But it was a very difficult time for me being this performer. And everybody expects me to continue doing that. Whereas I was “Wait, hold on a minute, what the F* just happened to me?” And this feeling of having lost control, and having no say is still what is being done to me. And always being such a responsible person to say, you know, you have the responsibility over your actions whereas in the birth process, this is not so.

JAN: It was all taken away from you. 

MARTINA: Exactly. And then the first time that my partner really heard this truth that should never ever ever be questioned was from you. So for months, I was saying to him, “But I feel this way. Don’t you understand that this is my reality.” So the moment where you as an expert, you come in and you and I are conversing, and he’s around passively kind of hearing what you’re saying. And then you just looked at him with your beautiful deep eyes and you said, “She needs help. This is not okay.” This was the first time that he really heard it. And then we were after meeting you. He took my hand and he said “I’m so sorry. You’ve been through this. And I guess I wasn’t aware of how bad this experience really is. And it felt that it was because it’s a part of your story.” And then we started working through it. And then you connected me with an amazing postpartum therapist. Really, really specialised in helping women bridge this mostly very unfortunate, you know, change of roles, or I don’t know, a deepening of your role as a woman.

And many, many couples over and over and over again, there are moments when I see that they’re looking at me, like staring at me, and then “Your baby is so happy. Your baby’s not grumpy, like my baby, you seem so happy.” I always tell them the truth. And I say, “You know, it took time. I never had relationship issues up until the moment when the baby arrived.” And as soon as I say that, “Oh my god, the same for me. My husband doesn’t understand, I’m so sleep deprived. He is expecting me to excel in so many ways. And I just, you know, can’t, I’m so exhausted.”  You’re constantly checking if the baby’s okay, is the baby moving, your sleep is not the same quality as it used to be, and everything is about the baby, nothing is about you anymore. So when mums say this to me, I always want to be truthful.

JAN: so cute, sweet.

MARTINA:  I met a couple in the park when I was with my baby and my baby noticed the other baby and started making noises, I said, “How was your birth? How are you feeling? Are you okay?” And immediately, she became very emotional. And she looked at her husband. And she said, “Well, it didn’t quite go as planned. You know, I had to get induced,” and I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I know the pain. I was induced.” And she said, “Yes. I was over-induced, they gave me too much.” And I said, “Oh my goodness, this thing happened to me.” She said,”Unfortunately, I didn’t react well to the drugs. And I ended up with a C section.” And her husband was so awkward. He couldn’t look at me, he couldn’t look at her.  She kept on with her very sad expression, tried to capture his attention and really, indirectly said, “Please, can you help me?” And then you know, I did share with her a couple of the things that helped me, of course, trying to be sensitive because every story is different. But what does work is empathy. And what lacks is empathy, understanding and really, the overall most basic level of education as to what the woman is going through and what she needs. So the mood swings and anxiety and unhappy moments and really sad baby blues. Those are all normal parts of becoming a mum and growing into motherhood and these things are real, let’s validate them.

JAN: And what are the chances of you meeting that woman in the park? With such a similar story? It’s almost like this great sisterhood of women is bringing you together, so that you can support this? 

MARTINA: Also the feeling of guilt that we feel towards our partners, “Oh my goodness”, you know, “am I still attractive?” Everything down there is working, you know? And you never want to neglect them. You also know that they get moody because there’s some sort of jealousy or adjustment for them when they’re like that when in the process of them realising Oh, there’s another baby, another baby.

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