A seed of insecurity was planted the day I held my firstborn in my arms for the first time.
Don’t get me wrong, there was unexplainable joy and deep-seated love the moment our eyes met, but with it came dark feelings that I didn’t invite into my heart or home.
I watered and nurtured my seed of insecurity every time I compared myself to other moms. Their nursing successes, their rapid weight loss, their baby gadgets and the list goes on and on… With every unsolicited advice from family, friends, and complete strangers, the seed grew.
Then one day this seed of insecurity took flight and bloomed. It started as a routine check-up for my one-month-old.
The cold room was filled with tired moms with painted smiles who carefully held their babies. I walked in feeling optimistic not knowing what was waiting behind those double doors. Our pediatrician began examining our son. His facial expressions showed concern as he questioned me about my baby’s bowel movements, eating habits, etc…. He left the room.
Though this was my first visit with this pediatrician, I immediately knew something was wrong. He came back with a nurse and they both examined my son quietly and they left the room again.
He walked back in with a serious look on his face and he said, “You can’t go home with your son.”
His words and condescending voice just became one long sentence, spoken in slow motion.
At some point, I tuned back in and I heard him ask, “When was the last time you fed him?” He was now speaking to me as if I was a reckless, careless 15-year-old. It didn’t help that I looked young, even though I was 28 years old.
He said in his most professional, cold, and emotionless voice, “Mrs. Tuten, he is alarmingly underweight. He was born at 6.5 lbs and he has now lost more than a pound. I am afraid that he won’t make it through the weekend if I let you go home.” He continued with his shaming words as he pointed and prodded my baby, “How did you not notice that this was happening? These are all signs.” He walked out.
The words, “He won’t make it through the weekend. How did you not notice?”, kept ringing in my ear.
What does that mean? My precious baby is going to die. My mind was filled with the condemning voice, “You were careless. You don’t know how to be a mom. You can’t even nurse your baby. He’s dying under your care.”
The doctor walked out and I sat there in the cold, sterile room holding my precious little baby and weeping. Truly feeling like a helpless 15-year-old who is in need of her own mother.
My crying quickly turned into sobbing. The nurse walked back in to clean up the doctor’s lack of tact and she reassured me that this was not my fault and this could’ve happened to anyone . . . but the damage was done.
I didn’t need anyone else to help me feel guilty. The voice in my head was enough torture but now I had a professional confirm that I really didn’t know what I was doing. That everything I had done up to this point the sleepless nights, the bleeding nipples, the constant feeding was NOT good enough.
I felt shame, embarrassment, confusion, and frustration but all I could do was sob as I held my sweet boy.
Surely, this was just a dream. I must have slept through my appointment and having an awful nightmare.
Unfortunately, it was really happening.
I called my husband at work and in between the soul-shattering sobs I was able to tell him where we were at. He rushed over to be with us, we spent 2 nights in the hospital it felt like an eternity.
I watched my sweet baby boy scream in anguish as the nurses poked and bruised his little arms in an attempt to put an IV in his thin arms. I will forever have etched in my mind his tiny little 5 lb. body laying there with tubes running through him attached to a monitor.
His diagnosis: “failure to thrive” or, as I interpreted it, careless mom, who was unable to provide and feed her child.
What the doctor didn’t know was:
I nursed him every three hours.
I spent an hour each feeding trying to wake him, stimulate him, play with him in order to get him to nurse.
I had bleeding nipples because I cared about my baby.
I didn’t get much sleep because every little coo and sound he made woke me up in panic.
I may not have been the perfect new mom but our baby was cared and loved. There were no signs of his “failure to thrive” because he was a happy and content baby.
This doctor didn’t know me. He didn’t know that I wasn’t a careless 15-year-old mom. Those days in the hospital changed me. My spirit for mothering was crushed and I left the hospital with an insurmountable amount of baggage:
Guilt– I should have known he was near death?
Shame — I’m a woman, I should be able to feed my baby but I can’t even nurse him properly. What kind of mother am I?
Jealously– I couldn’t watch, much less hear, another mom gloat about their amazing nursing experiences.
All of those feelings soon turned into resentment. From that day forward our nursing sessions looked like this: nursing for an hour, supplementing with a bottle, and then pumping. This all took about two and a half hours, leaving only 30- 45 minutes of “free” time to get things done around the house before I had to breastfeed again. I did this for six long and hard months.
Everyone cheered me on in my decision to breastfeed because after all, this was the best thing for my sweet baby boy. But little did I know how much damage this would cause. Those six months were filled with exhaustion and sometimes bitterness that seeped into everything I did.
It was God’s grace that got me through the long days and nights. I spent a lot of time talking to God and reading His word through all that nursing and pumping time.
My husband encouraged me to let go of nursing, but I didn’t listen. I became a determined, crazy nursing mom – reading anything I could get my hands on about how to make this work, trying all sorts of crazy recipes to make my milk supply increase. I tried all sorts of gadgets to help him nurse. Alas, none of it worked.
Looking back now I would tell my younger self to –Let it go!
And I’ll tell you what the pastor’s wife told me one day when I was at my wit’s end. She said, “Go out to a playground. Can you point out who was breastfed and who wasn’t? Exactly! It’s okay to find options that work best for you and your baby. It’s okay to do things differently from what you hoped and expected.
image via demandaj
My hope with writing this is to encourage mothers who have struggled with breastfeeding or do not have the option to breastfeed.
My husband and I took all of the classes offered by our hospital for prenatal care, for post-pregnancy, and for breastfeeding. Not a single person ever mentioned that nursing doesn’t always work. All we heard was the opposite.
I remember being in awe of all the breastfeeding videos where the baby lay content feeding. One of the videos was of a baby placed on the mom’s tummy and then it scooted itself up to its mom’s breast, latched on, and fed. We all watched amazed! Had that been a video of our baby he would’ve been placed on my tummy and in seconds he would’ve been out for a snooze.
I believe in the importance of nursing but sometimes it takes time and effort for the mom and the baby to catch on to nursing. And sometimes for various reasons it just doesn’t work.
Some of us do have to reluctantly go and stand in front of the formula aisle for hours making ourselves buy this “magic powder”, that costs an arm and a leg, for the sake of our baby.
So new moms I want you to know that nursing does not always come naturally. You do have to learn how to breastfeed your baby and for some the learning process is harder than others. In my title I mentioned that “nursing is not natural” because I equate “natural” to something that does not need my active participation, it just happens. Nursing doesn’t always just happened and babies don’t always naturally latch on correctly and suck to their heart’s content.
Falling in-love. Making poo. Producing tears. Tummy flutters. Goosebumps. Cold shivers. Muscle cramps. Any of these fall neatly into the category of “natural”. Breastfeeding isn’t like that. At all. At best one could describe the production of colostrum as natural. I didn’t give a moments thought to its production, but there it was…ready and waiting when my babies were born. Breastfeeding, like so much of parenting, is learned. And like most things that are worth learning, it hurts. And takes time. And patience. And it almost always helps to have some kind of teacher (even if that teacher is a book).” via Learner Mom
Looking back now, I would tell myself:
- You’re not less of a woman if you don’t breastfeed.
- It’s okay if someone has to teach you and your baby how to breastfeed most need a lesson or two or three or four.
- Mari, all 3 of your kids are healthy even though you could only nurse one of them.
- It’s not your fault that nursing didn’t work.
- Look at all those kids on the playground. Can you pick out the ones that were breastfed? NO. Do they look any different than yours? No!
- Sometimes you have to let it go for the sake of your family and your sanity. Yes, there are great advantages to breastfeeding, and there is also formula that will give your child the nutrition needed.
- Nursing can be hard and maybe painful. Your breast will fall apart from incorrect latching.
- Children will change your life! Your life will look different, it IS going to change, so embrace the change. Stop fighting it!
- Not to mention your body is going to change.
- Even if you’re exhausted and all you can manage to do is sit on the couch and flip channels, make time for yourself, for your hobbies, for your interests.
- Yes, YOU still exist under all that extra baby weight.
- Have realistic expectations- Your baby may need help latching. Your baby may not sleep through the night. You won’t lose the baby fat in a week so stop trying on those pre-baby jeans.
- You will enjoy your baby a lot more if you haven’t spent 80% of your day trying to feed him, and then feeling resentful, and then feeling guilty because you feel resentful.
- Everyone will want to give you unsolicited mothering advice. Take it with a grain of salt and pray for wisdom.
- Throw modesty out the window the minute you walk into the labor room. You will show parts of your body that you didn’t know exist to complete strangers and nurses who will come in the room. If you’re struggling with nursing you will have nurses grabbing your breast as if they were a tool or instrument that’s broken.
- I’m not sure why moms do this but you tell them what you’re struggling with and they gloat about how great they are doing in that area. Avoid the moms who gloat about the gallons of milk they have stored in the fridge and how their child feeds in 5 minutes.
- Don’t ever forget, that in the midst of the overwhelming exhaustion your baby is a gift.
- Be vulnerable and talk about the frustrations you are having with nursing. You will be amazed at how many other moms have struggled.
- Stop the comparison it only robs your joy. What works for another mom may not work for you.
- Your baby will fall and get bruised (yes even on your watch), he may sit in a dirty diaper for hours, he will get sick, he may even cry himself to sleep . . . . Life happens.
Above all, pray like crazy. Pray for wisdom, discernment, sanity, love, patience, and strength to make it through the day. Your desire should be to honor God. Not to please your friend who has all the baby bling, or to be the first mom to fit into her pre-baby pants or out-do that mom who is making gourmet baby food.
You are BEAUTIFUL! Don’t be afraid to be YOU in your motherhood journey. You are wonderfully made by God with different passions, skills, and personality, so enjoy basking in His presence as He delights in giving you opportunities to shine, even if the spotlight is over a changing table.
“Let the King be enthralled by your beauty, honor Him, for He is your Lord.” Psalms 45:15
On a side note, we did discover later in life that I produce skim milk. In other words, my milk doesn’t have the fat that is needed for my babies to gain weight and grow. In spite of all our issues, I am glad to report that I have 3 healthy, handsome, and growing boys who thanks to God rarely get sick. I finally learned after the first child well maybe it took the second child to accept that nursing wasn’t going to work for us. Thanks to God, even though the process has been long, insecurity, jealousy and bitterness are not a daily struggle in my life as a mother anymore!
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