Written by Ashley Treadwell, IBCLC
Picture it: You’re having coffee with a good friend and she’s confiding in you about her guilt over not knowing her son had a double ear infection when he was running a fever recently. He wasn’t pulling at his ears or crying when she laid him down. He ran a fever for a few days, but had no other symptoms, and when she took him into his pediatrician, they diagnosed a double ear infection and prescribed antibiotics. Your friend is feeling awful that she waited a few days to take her baby in. She’s calling herself a bad mom.
What’s your response?
You tell her that she IS a bad mom, that she should have known that more was going on with her baby, even though he wasn’t showing any signs that he was in pain. She obviously doesn’t have the instincts it takes to be a good mom. You’d probably even tell her that her child would be better off if he was parented by someone else.
OF COURSE NOT.
We would NEVER say these words to a friend. Why? Because they’re aggressive, mean, and meant to tear someone down. And most of all…. because they aren’t true. We would never say these words to a friend for fear of hurting her. So why are we so quick to treat ourselves this way? Don’t we deserve the same gentleness and support our friends do?
From the moment my first was born, a heavy layer of guilt settled over me - and breastfeeding was the first manifestation of this new guilt. Breastfeeding hurt. I mean, *really* hurt. By the time I left the hospital two days after my daughter was born, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and I was having anxiety attacks every time she began to show hunger signs. Because of this, I made the decision to pump my milk and feed it to her in a bottle. I had failed. I had failed to do the one thing I was meant to do as a new mother. I didn’t want to take her out of the house, in fear that she’d get hungry and people would see me feed her a bottle, and know that I had failed.
Looking back, I realize the amount of dedication and perseverance it took for me to strap myself to that pump, every 3 hours, around the clock, so that I could feed my baby my breast milk, but at the time, I could only see my shortcomings, my weakness. Looking back, I remember the sheer and overwhelming devotion I felt for my baby - she filled up my every day. I was an amazing mother. Her every need was met. I look back at myself, almost 7 years ago, and wish I had half the patience and gentleness I did then. I hadn’t failed at all.
The thing is, almost 7 years later, I still feel like I’m failing. Every time the television goes on so that I can cook dinner (which is sometimes (often) frozen fish sticks), or I find myself screeching at my girls to ‘hurrrrry up!’ as our hectic morning rages on. Every time I cut a chapter in half at bedtime because I’m too worn out to read the entire thing, and especially every time I hear my oldest daughter’s loud, disgusted sigh - that she learned from me. I feed my kids non organic fruit. I spend too much time on my iPhone. I let them eat Otter Pops. In my mind, I’m a complete and utter failure at the one job I was built to do.
But you know who I need to hear from? Myself, 7 years from now, looking back. She will remind me that every day, before my kids went to sleep, I laid in bed with each of them and snuggled them. That my girls went to bed every night with the comfort that comes with being loved completely. That I was totally devoted to both of them, and their every need was met. And I have something to say to this woman - myself in 7 years. I want to thank her for her reassurance, and then I want to tell her “Ease up on yourself.”