Mom Guilt (Part 1): Breastfeeding
The next few posts are essentially going to be a series. I am going to discuss my experience with breastfeeding today and the guilt I felt because of my failure. The posts will be a little long. But stick with me. I want to preface with this post by first telling each of you reading this if you're a mom, pregnant, thinking about being a mom one day, or simply have a mom yourself, if you carried a baby to delivery or have a baby in heaven, mama, you are everything. You are a warrior. I have the upmost respect for you and I love you unconditionally, no matter what your choices are on the topics I am going to cover in this post and in the ones going forward. These are just my experiences and my opinions. I am sharing my experience with you in hopes to maybe free some of you reading this who are struggling with the same things I did of the guilt you may feel. Being a mama is a tough job sometimes, but oh so worth it. And YOU are doing GREAT. You are not alone.
"You better hope no body calls DHR on you." I received that text message one week after my son was born. I'd posted a photo on Facebook that said, "I'm not a regular mom, I'm a cool mom." I was holding my son outside in the sunlight, trying to get his bilirubin levels down and drinking a beer at the same time. At this point, I was breast-feeding. My milk had barely come in. I was battling a mild case of mastitis in my left boob, yes, one week after my son was born. And I'd already spoken to our pediatrician and the lactation consultant about having a beer and breast-feeding (not at the same time, crazies) because sometimes, the hops in a beer help milk production and loosen things up a bit if you have a clogged duct. But the person that sent me that message didn't know any of these things. This person saw my post and immediately assumed I would do something to put my newborn son at risk.
It was meant to be funny. As a person who loves craft beer, I felt #blessed I was able to drink a beer again! And honestly, I saw Cam Wimberly from Southern Charm post a similar photo, and I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever seen. It brought me joy to know another mama understood me! I cried about that for days (baby blues are so real - more on that later). This person was someone close to me. "How could someone think so little of me as a mother? I know that I am brand new at this job, but I have a little more common sense than they think." That was the first time I experienced real Mom Guilt. Sometimes the people closest to us are also our biggest critics. It's a hard pill to swallow.
In the hospital, they bring in all the Lactation Consultants to show you how to hook yourself up to the breast pump. The first few times you try to breastfeed, there's an army of people watching you try (and fail) if you're me. Immediately, I felt defeated. "My body isn't doing what it was made to do. Why wont my baby latch? My milk hasn't even come in yet. I suck at this." Luckily for me, I never had the feeling that I needed to breastfeed my son. I went into it with the mindset if it works, then it works. I had a small pity party for myself and then got over it. I had to feed Ro with a syringe full of pumped colostrum all while holding him on to my boob just to see if he would latch. He was born 5 weeks early. His sucking reflex was not fully developed yet, and the LC told me I might have a harder time breastfeeding than a mom whose baby was born full term.
My boobs are fake. Un-filtered is the best filter, right? I'm not ashamed of it. So, surprise to those of you who didn't know. I knew going into my breast feeding journey I might have a harder time than those who's boobs are the beautiful real deal. I wasn't planning on having the other issues that I did going into it. But, like I said, my attitude on it was neutral. I'd only planned to breastfeed for 12 weeks until I went back to work. My reasons to continue beyond that if I decided too were selfish. I wanted to lose the weight I'd gained during pregnancy and I didn't want to pay for formula. I exclusively pumped until he was about 4 weeks old. He was a little stronger and was showing more interest. So, we tried and I couldn't believe it, but he latched, and we were really doing it. I have to tell you though in raw and pure honesty, I didn't feel the beautiful connection you hear mothers who breastfeed talking about. I didn't feel like I was this beautiful milk goddess, frolicking in a field of sunflowers and daisies with the wind blowing in my hair and sun glistening on my skin. I just felt, blah.
My son was diagnosed with Pediatric GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease) at 6 weeks. For two nights straight, he screamed. Was up every hour. Inconsolable. Wouldn't eat. Wouldn't sleep. Choked, constantly. Choking to the point where he could no longer breathe and was gasping for air. It was horrifying. I was exhausted. I was lucky my husband was home the second night it happened because he was up with me and was able to help. By help I mean sit up and be awake with me, because I was so past exhausted at this point that I would put Ro on my boob and sit in bed, crying, just to try and calm him down. I do not say this lightly. I resented my husband and his worthless nipples.
After a visit to the pediatrician, we learned that a) He is having a reaction to something I am eating; b) He will have to be fed sitting straight up now in order to prevent the choking; c) He will now be medicated. TALK ABOUT A SLAP IN THE FACE! I couldn't even feed my kid correctly. I was causing his pain. I was the source of his belly aching. It is my fault he is screaming all night and not sleeping. My heart was broken. Even though I didn't have the need to physically breastfeed Rohen, the fact that my milk, the milk created specifically for my baby, was hurting him more than helping him.
We started feeding half formula and half breast milk to see if that would help at all. At 8 weeks, I called the pediatricians office to ask a question about constipation. Rohen hadn't pooped in almost 3 days. Would you go 3 days without pooping? Neither would I. I wasn't going to accept the Facebook Mom Group advice I'd be given that babies can go a week without pooping. NO WAY. "Is he breastfed or bottle fed?" the nurse asked me. "Well both, but we're doing half formula and half breast milk." "You are feeding him formula already?" Girlies, I. Saw. Red. I could feel the fire rising from the tip of my toes to through my chest, exiting out of my mouth like the fire breathing dragon that Donkey falls in love with on Shrek. My response was something like this, and I am not exaggerating. "Well, Susan (no idea if that was her name), do you want my baby to starve? Do you want to come breastfeed my baby yourself? Because actually, he is allergic to something in my milk so excuse me for not wanting to feed my baby something that is hurting him." She was silent. I felt awful about it later, but in the moment I went into a full blown Mama Bear rage. Mom guilt will make you say and do crazy things. Did the nurse on the other line intend to make me feel guilty? Probably not. But I sure allowed her to make me feel like the worst mom ever.
After that conversation I had with the nurse, I wrapped the girls up in tight sports bras, and cabbage leaves, and started popping Zyrtec like candy, and stopped taking hot showers. I. Was. DONE. Breastfeeding. I truly believe that my breastfeeding journey played a huge part in my post-partum depression. Once I allowed myself to stop feeling guilty for quitting, I was thankful to have my body back! I was thankful my boobs weren't the size of basketballs anymore and I could wear some of my pre-pregnancy shirts again. I was grateful to not have to be hooked up to a pump for 15-30 minutes every. two. hours. even in the middle of the night. Even though I still wear nursing bras (ladies, if you don't have one, GET ONE because the girls will thank you!) I was thrilled my boobs had stopped leaking every time I took my bra off. OH! I could actually go braless AGAIN! I was so glad I could stop drinking Mother's Milk Tea and taking Fenugreek (GROSS). I wasn't worried about eating or drinking what I wanted anymore. I felt free for the first time in about 11 months. I felt like my body was my own again.
Truthfully, every single day I hooked up to that pump, or put my boob in my sons mouth and he wouldn't latch, I felt guilty. Or the days that he would latch but wouldn't drink, so then I had to feed him a bottle anyway... guilty. Or when someone, anyone, asked me if I was breastfeeding and I had to say, "no, we started formula." I wanted to rip my hair out, and punch them in the face for simply asking me that dumb question. Does it REALLY matter if I am breastfeeding or not if my kid is getting fed? Something I cannot wrap my head around today with breastfeeding vs. formula feeding... Why does everyone have to have an opinion on it? Don't you agree that you know what's best for your baby? Why do we allow other peoples opinion's or comments on the way we choose to feed our baby matter? Did you feed your baby today (breast milk or formula)? Did you snuggle him and change his diaper when it was dirty? Did you manage to get a little bit of rest yourself? CONGRATULATIONS MAMA! YOU SURVIVED TODAY AND YOUR BABY IS THRIVING.
I read a meme the other day that said "Breastfed, bottle-fed, stay at home, or work. We've all knocked our kids head on the car trying to get them in the car seat." If that ain't the truth!
Mama, don't you worry about how you feed that baby. Don't you feel guilty that you couldn't breastfeed at all or for as long as you dreamed of doing it or on the flip side of that, if you breastfed for 2 years! Don't feel bad for comfort nursing your baby in the middle of the night when he wakes up and just wants to be close to you or letting him cry it out so you can get some rest. Don't you dare beat yourself up if you look forward to the day where you're no longer a food truck and can have your body back. Don't even think about getting upset when you go buy that first can of formula or even feel the need to defend your decision if someone asks why you stopped breastfeeding, or why you still are still breastfeeding a 23 month old baby. Do not feel bad about it! Because I guarantee, you know what is best for your baby. Rachel Hollis, whom I love and adore, said it best in her book Girl Wash Your Face. "The Creator of the mountains, and moon, and stars, created you and your baby to be a pair." There is absolutely no one else in this world who knows how to be a better mama to your baby other than you. Not your mama, not your mother in law, not your grandmother, not your best friend, not your baby's pediatrician, not your baby's father. Only YOU know how to mama that baby the way he should be mama'd.
So mama's, today lets choose to appreciate the way we mother. Lets look ourselves in the eye and know we are good mama's regardless of if we have/had milk flowing perfect boobies attached to our chest or not. Lets love on our babies a little more rather than beating ourselves up over a thing that wont matter when they're 5 years old and screaming for McDonald's chicken nuggets in the back seat of the car. You did a great and beautiful thing for that baby by carrying him and bringing him into this world, whether you were able to breastfeed him or not. Appreciate that.
Next week, we're talking all about the Baby Blues!