Hi, old friends!
Sorry it’s been awhile. Believe it or not, I’ve actually written two posts since Anders was born (besides his birth story), but decided not to publish them. Just like you shouldn’t push send on a text or email while you’re angry, you shouldn’t press publish on a blog post while you’re emotional.
You see, I wrote about the pressures and guilt that accompany motherhood…while feeling pressured and guilty during my first few weeks of motherhood. Although part of me thinks that the raw writing encapsulating how I felt might benefit other moms in the same boat, a larger part of me thinks it’s best to not add to the pile of negativity by spewing frustration and defensiveness. This is not to say we should gloss over difficulties or pretend like everything is okay when it’s not, but when it comes to writing something for the world to see, I want to approach things from a rational angle. And it’s really hard to be rational when you haven’t slept in a month, your body hurts in all the wrong places, and you haven’t enjoyed a glass of wine in nearly a year.
Quick shout out to single moms, because my husband was gone for 5 weeks (Coast Guard, for new readers!), and even with my parents’ help, I nearly died.
Anyway, here I go with round 3 of writing a blog post about the guilt and pressure of motherhood. This time, I got 7 hours of sleep (IN A FREAKIN’ ROW) last night, already showered and brushed my teeth, and am high off of an incredible weekend with my college a cappella group (Pitch Perfect anyone?), where yes, we drank wine. My husband even got to join the fun as the first man allowed at our annual reunion in order to help watch Anders while I spent time with friends, so that was the cherry on top!
If I’m not in a good enough headspace to write rationally right now, then I don’t know when I’ll ever be.
When people warn you that everyone will give you their opinion about how to raise your child, I don’t think I was adequately prepared for what that meant. I imagined an uptight lady at Starbucks telling me that I shouldn’t let my child watch TV on school nights. Instead, every opinion is presented as a life or death fact that has been proven by some random study that may or may not have a true scientific foundation.
If you don’t exclusively breastfeed, your child’s gut will be unhealthy for the rest of time.
If you breastfeed on command, your child will become addicted to getting what he wants all the time.
If you use a bottle, your baby will feel less loved and less attached to his mother.
If you use a pacifier, your baby will get #nippleconfusion and refuse to breastfeed.
If you don’t use a pacifier, your baby is more likely to succumb to SIDS.
If you let your child cry in an effort to train him to self-soothe under 4 months old, he’ll be psychologically damaged for the rest of his life.
If you don’t train your child to self-soothe in the early months, he will be a slow problem-solver by the age of one.
If you go back to work, you’ll miss out on important bonding moments.
If you don’t go back to work, you’ll become a mombie with no identity of your own.
The list of contradicting “advice” goes on and on. When everyone is so passionate about their beliefs on childrearing– especially in the formative months of infancy– it’s hard to ever feel like you’re doing what’s best for your child, because every choice is guaranteed to be “wrong” in the eyes of someone. Everyone clings to whatever research study backs up however they’ve chosen to raise their baby, and therefore their opinions aren’t opinions. They’re “hard facts.” At least that’s what you’re made to believe.
Meanwhile, you haven’t slept in weeks, your hormones are running rampant, and you have to be reminded to eat regularly. So while you’re trying to make sense of all these intense end-all-be-all statements that make no sense when you add them all together, you barely have the mental capacity to know if it’s Friday or Tuesday.
It’s a lot.
The worst part is that some of these “decisions” are not decisions at all. They’re things you have no control over. For instance, I wanted to exclusively breastfeed, but I have to supplement with formula. We don’t know exactly why my supply dropped once I left the hospital, but it did. I’ve had to deal with the myriad of questions, both that I ask of myself and that others ask me: Did you try pumping more? Did you try not pumping and just bringing him to breast to stimulate as much as possible? Did you eat enough? Did you drink enough water? Did you try and relax and sleep as much as possible (lol)? Did you establish a good latch? Did you try lactation cookies?
Despite the fact that not all of the advice and questions were unsolicited (I was actively looking for answers, after all), they still added to the inferiority I felt when offering my baby formula and watching him down 3 ounces after he’d already been sucking on my boobs for 45 minutes. I practically lived at my lactation consultant’s office before even she said, “Shannon. You’ve done all you can. Your baby is beautiful and growing and happy now that you’ve been supplementing formula. He’s still getting the benefits of breastfeeding, and offering him more of what he needs after each breastfeeding session isn’t failing.”
It took about a week of self-hate and sobbing before I realized that she was right. Anders was like a new baby once he was finally satisfied after a meal. He started sleeping more, crying less, and I could actually enjoy being his mom.
Breastfeeding might not be important to everyone– and this post isn’t just about breastfeeding. It’s about the desire we feel as mothers to do what is best for our child, and the pressure we face to get it right. For me, breastfeeding was the aspect of motherhood that completely exemplifies how disastrous it can be when the desire to care for your baby mixes with societal pressure in a way that causes the mother’s emotional wellbeing to practically combust.
Should I care what other people think? Of course not!
But I’m not a robot. I care.
More so, I want my baby to be his happiest, healthiest self. So these pressures bring about not only extreme inferiority, but extreme guilt. Top it all off with a solid dose of extreme confusion when it comes to contradicting claims, and you’re ready to implode.
Perhaps I should’ve been Catholic or at least Italian, because my guilt doesn’t just end with whether or not I’m following the absolute best protocol for Anders. I actually feel guilt when I don’t feel guilt.
For instance, many moms tell me that they hate being away from their baby. They can’t handle it. Well, to be honest, I love me some adult time. Don’t get me wrong– I think of Anders all the time on the rare occasions that we’re apart– but I feel no guilt leaving him with Pop Pop and Gigi so I can enjoy church service, or to go out to eat with Aaron. I remember the first time I left him with my stepmom so I could run some errands, and I absolutely loved walking around TJ Maxx picking out a new dog bowl for Noma. And then the guilt set in– I felt guilty for not feeling guilty.
This whole motherhood thing does crazy things to your brain– and that’s even before you start comparisons and add in pressures. I’m so grateful to finally be at a point that I’m comfortable with the decisions I’ve made as a parent to Anders. I love him SO MUCH, and despite the fact that he combines boob and bottle, or that I let him cry for a few minutes in order to self-soothe, or that I enjoy adult-only time, he very clearly knows I love him. He smiles all the time, rarely fusses, and has even surpassed many developmental milestones.
In the end, loving your baby is what matters. My closest friends and family told me that from day one, but it took a solid 7-8 weeks before I let myself believe it. I am so proud of my adorable, thriving son, and I’m finally letting myself feel a sense of pride in being a big reason why he’s so happy. He eats well, puts himself to sleep in his crib 90% of the time* (which is how I’m able to write this post as he naps upstairs), and greets me with a huge smile when I wake him. He knows he is loved, and that is the biggest gift I can give him (besides prayer).
[* I know this could change at any moment]
So to my fellow mommies who might be in a dark place at the moment, remember that loving your baby is the most important thing. I wish I’d been able to digest those words in the beginning. Whether you breastfeed, bottle feed, sleep train, don’t sleep train, keep them on a schedule, let them lead the way, take them in public, or keep them in bubble wrap– as long as you’re doing your best out of love, your baby is one lucky duck.
[Quick note: I highly suggest the Babes & Babies Podcast, for any new moms out there looking for some solid entertainment. I listen to it when nursing, and it’s a really great (and funny) no-judgement zone that talks about the *real* parts of pregnancy and new-motherhood. Plus it’s hosted by Bachelor stars, so you know I’m all about that life.]