To Gina or not to Gina, that is the question for new mums, says Ellen Widdup

Ellen's daughter

Ellen's daughter - Credit: Archant

You can forget breastfeeding, vaccinations and bed sharing.

There is a much hotter topic of debate that rages in parental circles when you are about to give birth - to Gina or not to Gina, says Ellen Widdup as she awaits the arrival of baby number three.

Of course, if you have children you will know exactly what I’m talking about.

And if not, I’m referring to adopting the methods of Gina Ford, author of a series of controversial books which aim to guide new mums and dads through the pitfalls of parenting.

It tells you a lot about a person’s agenda to hear them describe her in précis.

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Standard form is “parenting expert”.

Those who like her may use “guru”, “miracle worker”, “baby whisperer” or “queen of routine”.

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Those who do not tend to compare her to a certain German dictator.

The truth is that whether you see her as Satan or the Patron Saint of Sane Mothers, it’s almost impossible to be neutral about her.

I say “almost” because I have both Gina’d and not Gina’d and I’m probably the only mum I know who remains rather ambivalent to which technique is best.

Pregnant with my first child, I was desperate for an instruction manual and The Contented Little Baby Book fitted the bill.

Its premise is that babies only get upset when they’re tired or hungry, and if you were to feed and put them down at precise and predictable times, they would never get tired, and they would never get hungry.

Hence the fabled contentment.

There is an unscientific swarm of maternal opinion that says just the opposite of course.

And I can remember thinking “sod this, I would rather give her a cuddle” on many a controlled crying session.

But I’ve got to admit the regular snoozes and the set meals produced a result bordering on the miraculous.

My kid was the only one in my baby group who slept through the night from six weeks old.

All I had to do was wrap her up, give her a muslin to cuddle and place her in bed at the appointed time, and bam, she was asleep.

It was a bit like having a Tamagotchi.

Was it Gina who made her so content? Perhaps.

Although I admit I still don’t know whether she was genuinely happy with her lot or felt beaten into submission.

When my son was born almost three years later, naturally I turned to G for a little pep talk.

I had let things slide.

My firstborn was now sleeping in my bed and beaten down by exhaustion I couldn’t be bothered with the regime of returning her to her own bed six times a night.

It’s just one of the great injustices of pregnancy – and there are many – that the little human inside you has a serious impact on your ability to rest even before they’re waking you up for night feedings.

Some women just find themselves wide awake as soon as they hit the pillow, others feel compelled to nap during the day and toss and turn at night.

Most, however, are kept up by the physical discomforts of pregnancy: heartburn, back pain and trying to find a position that doesn’t feel like you’ve got a bowling ball strapped to your front.

Which is pretty much how I feel with two weeks to go until number three arrives.

Anyway, whether its nature’s cruel way of preparing you for sleep deprivation or not, doesn’t mean you won’t do anything – anything at all – for a little extra shut eye.

And back then I was more than willing to give in to the whims of my three-year-old.

Naturally when I re-read my Gina manuals, I discovered it was going to take all my mental strength to undo my big mistakes.

And you know what? I couldn’t face it.

So as a result my son was not Gina’d at all.

Instead I became what is known as a “hugger mother” - what psychologists call people who don’t go Gina (those who do are “scheduler mothers”).

I also embraced the idea of “attachment parenting” and which some critics refer to as “being soft as muck”.

Of course this meant baby number two didn’t sleep as well. He required rocking, snuggling, stories, dummy, mummy.

He was also unpredictable, napping here, there and everywhere.

But he was a calm little thing that – even when awake at 3am – was never crying or screaming but pleasingly satisfied with life.

I wasn’t entirely done with Gina at this point however.

While I enjoyed the baby days of my boy a little more than the rigidity of the routine with my daughter, I have to admit to missing the prescriptive nature of Gina’s doctrine as an antidote to the chaos of motherhood.

So when she brought out a new book just in time for the next major battle in early parenthood I was all over it.

This one was called Potty Training in One Week which, at the time, seemed as plausible as World Peace in One Week.

But as with any instruction manual, if you follow it to the letter it pays off.

So like I said, I remain torn on the big Gina debate and I’m not sure if, when number three arrives, I will call on her again or feel confident in my own abilities to muddle through.

Because this is the thing about Gina.

If you’re knackered, irrational, bombarded with conflicting advice and looking for someone with a semblance of authority to tell you what to do, she’s it.

But if you can ride the rollercoaster and remember that, in time, things get easier, the whole parenting experience is a lot more pleasurable.

After all, there are easy babies and difficult babies but before you know it, they are no longer babies.

So either we should savour the moments we have where they are cute and cuddly – awake all night or not - or Gina needs to bring out a subsequent guide to tackling teenagers.

I’m happy either way.


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