Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guilt and Motherhood

Guilt and motherhood go together like Pampers and a Diaper Genie. I don't understand why upon giving birth to my son I also was born into this stressful lifestyle of guilt, regret, doubt and resentment, but here I am. And I know I'm not alone.

The expectations are set so high for motherhood these days, one can hardly keep up. Despite the fact that I am still nursing my son at five months, and despite the fact that I stay at home with him all day, and I sing to him daily and read to him nightly, and offer up loads of cuddles and infant massages, I still feel constantly bombarded by guilt and that tingling desire to compare myself to other mothers.

Among my daily list of guilt that weighs on my chest is the guilt that I am not nursing enough. I tell myself other women exclusively nurse, not allowing a drop of formula to touch their child's lips... I know he's getting the benefits of it, even from one single ounce, but somehow I still worry over it constantly. Yes, I supplement with formula when it's convenient, when my personal supply is low, or when I'm just too exhausted to function. I cringe when I have to do it. What's crazy is, I don't remotely look down on mothers who only use formula. I feel guilty because I set out to do something -breastfeed- and now I'm riding the fence between the two. Does that make me a failure?

Daily guilt #2: I'm not stimulating him enough.

There are music classes and swimming classes and baby yoga and infant art classes and baby book clubs and infant sign language courses and literally dozens of resources at the library telling me everything in the world NOT to do with my child (don't watch tv, don't introduce to technology, don't watch movies, etc.), and I can't keep up! I've already broken him! We watched "Winnie the Pooh" just the other day. And this morning, as we were passing through the bedroom, Barney magically drew in his full attention with a rousing rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star". Before I could throw myself sacrificially in front of our tiny 12inch tv, Josiah was stuck like glue on the purple dinosaur, smiling and giggling at the music and bright colors.

We don't do yoga during the day. I've never taken him to a baby music class. He's been in the pool only once, and I don't think he liked it very much. According to some, I'm dooming him to a life of mediocrity!

I feel guilty because despite the fact that I'm here with him all day everyday, I don't feel like I hold him enough. When I put him down for an hour or more to get some things done around the house (or even just to take a shower), I feel like I'm ruining our bond. I pale in comparison to mothers who constantly wear their children in slings. I read about the deep bond that creates, and I feel guilty. What if we don't have a bond? According to some extremists, I'm downright neglectful to leave him in his swing while I do the dishes and a load of laundry for one whole hour.

So, what's a mother to do? I don't want his brain to turn to rot from the occasional Pooh Bear, Big Bird or Barney exposure, but on the same token, these are the joys of childhood I grew up with, and I want to share them with him. I don't want to fail him intellectually, but I don't desire to try teaching him yoga or his state capitals this week either! I want him to receive all the nutritional benefits of breast milk, but sometimes I have to allow Travis to give him formula.

I opened up this month's issue of my favorite baby magazine and found an article written by a mother experiencing the same nursing woes as me. She supplemented with her eldest, and eventually weaned him at the early age of three months. The first half of the article made me feel great. I thought I wasn't alone! I'd found a great mother who not only felt the same way I did, but justified her actions and explained that you can still be a wonderful mother even if you aren't on the extreme end of the pendulum... Until the fourth paragraph. I was betrayed!

She said her son had chronic ear infections and more than one tubal implant in his ear canal, the results of all those bottles as an infant! She went on to talk about how with her next three children, she vowed to nurse until they were two, never supplementing with formula or sugar water along the way. Her big, excited conclusion was a declaration of her success, and how the latter three children never suffered from ear infections, and never struggled with the adolescent weight gain which some sources suggest can be a result of ingesting formula as an infant. My article-writing confidant went off the deep end. She lost me. She went from real woman, real mom doing what she needed to do to make her situation with her son work (even if it meant cutting corners here and there) to succumbing to those guilty feelings and entering the world of the rarely attainable.

Well, unfortunately for me, the reader, I won't have the opportunity to have a baseball team's worth of future children to "make right" on. This is the only -biological- one I get. So what am I to do?

If I can't make up for missed cuddles and missed nursing opportunities with this one, how do I assuage my guilt? I think the best solution for me is to remind myself daily that he's happy, he's healthy, and when he starts to get fussy in his swing, and I put down the dishes to go to him, he kicks and gets more excited and gives me smiles bigger than any episode of Barney could ever bring about. He loves me. And I love him. And I'll continue to show him that love in anyway I can, with or without infant music classes or baby yoga. I may always feel slightly guilty when I give him formula, but I will cherish the opportunities to cuddle and to play with his chubby star shaped hands while he nurses, realizing some women never get to experience such a moment at all.

We need to just stop being so hard on each other, start encouraging each other more, and always remember that motherhood is the absolute hardest job on earth. Hopefully if there are any mothers out there reading this, you'll feel a little easier carrying that guilt that all mothers carry. You aren't alone, Big Bird isn't out to steal your child's brain, formula won't rot his insides, and it's ok for her to play by herself for an hour while you take a shower. So sayeth me.


Cimarron said...

Oh my, did I ever struggle with this one. Emma was exclusively bottle-fed. Breastfeeding just didn't work...we tried. It didn't hurt her, didn't hinder her in any way, and she has never had an ear infection. :)

She also loves to watch movies. She will ask for Veggie Tales or Care Bears, or Little Einstein's. But, we do trade-off. For every hour or so of tv/movie, we play outside or creatively inside for double that time. It's just figuring out a good balance. She learns from watching those shows everytime...and I have a hard time not feeling guilty about letting her sit there for a little bit while I do the dishes or take a shower. Okay...too long. I'll probably be writing a post about this soon. It's been a long time coming.

Kaley said...

I struggled and am still struggling about these issues. I nursed Reas up until 3 months when my doctors told me I had to stop, since he was losing weight and so was I. I still hate putting him down, but right now, I am in a major move from Germany to Lawton, OK, and I can't wear him on my hip anymore. I wish I could.

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