Pregnant women are a curious bunch. In a time of total uncertainty and questioning (Is that a leg or a hand in my rib? Will my husband pass out during the delivery? Am I going to wind up on the news for giving birth to a 15 pound baby?) they’re hungry for information. Us mamas who have gone through it and come out on the other side are just as eager to provide that insight because we were there once, too. We sympathize with them as they trudge through 40 long weeks, wondering if they’ll lose their mind before the clock runs out (the answer is maybe) and if their next doctor’s appointment will give them any more information (the answer is no.) We’ll get nitty gritty and toe the line into TMI territory divulging the details of mucous plugs and episiotomies and post-baby sex. But as a fellow mama and a recently pregnant woman, I am begging you, for the love of all things that are good and decent, do not tell a pregnant woman your graphic birth story.
Pregnant women do not need to hear about how your contractions were so bad they made you vomit. They don’t need to know that you crowned for 2 hours and pushed for 20. They don’t want to see pictures of your placenta or visit the tree you planted with it in your backyard. They don’t require gory explanations of your post-baby vagina, which you dramatically equate to a world war battle scene.
You know why they don’t need to hear all of that? Because it’s not helpful. Labor and delivery is a frightening prospect for most women. The thought of pushing an actual human out of that tiny hole in your body doesn’t fill most women with warm and fuzzy feelings. And, as many of us already know, fear can inhibit labor, diverting the body’s energies to the fight or flight response, as opposed to the get-this-baby-out-of-me response. Those of us who have given birth are strong and brave and deserve the warrior woman title we so proudly give ourselves. But sometimes, I think we share these stories to prove our strength and value to other women and the more heinous and graphic the story, the better. I cannot tell you how many times a graphic birth story was shared with me during my pregnancy. After one too many, I finally started asking women to please wait until after I’d had my baby to tell me about their experience. I’m too easily swayed and I didn’t want to cloud the excitement and readiness I felt going into my labor with someone else’s negative experience.
I am 100% guilty of this myself. I just did it the other day when I was in the company of not one, but three pregnant women. And afterward, I was so mad at myself for it. I felt total fearlessness going into my labor (thank you Hypnobirthing!) and I want that so much for other women. Because it is easily the most beautiful, messy, amazing, empowering experience I could ever imagine. And, God-willing, I plan to do it several more times.
Sharing your birth story can be cathartic, therapeutic, freeing. I know it certainly has been for me, as someone whose birth did not go at all the way I expected. But, from one mother to another, please save that story for the mamas who have already had their babies. Instead, pass along your stories of holding your baby for the first time, your awe of creating a person, your feelings of love and triumph and giddiness. Because that’s what they need to hear now. And once their baby is here, you can tell them all about your stretched out vagina til the cows come home 🙂
My son was never a good breastfeeder. From the beginning, he would latch perfectly but then destroy my nipples with his shallow sucking until they were cracked and bleeding. He and I both cried at nearly every feed; me because I was in severe pain, him because he was still hungry afterward. I quickly learned after several lactation consultations that he was barely transferring any milk; less than a half-ounce total after more than 30 minutes of nursing. Talk about frustrating. I was told that his unproductive sucking was telling my body that I didn’t need to produce as much milk since he was leaving so much behind at every feed.
It was a vicious cycle: he would nurse aggressively at first until I was in excruciating pain and then, when it was clear he wasn’t getting as much as he needed to be truly full, he would stop sucking altogether and either scream bloody murder or use my breast as a pacifier until he fell asleep. I felt so helpless to feed my son the way my body was designed to and yet dreaded his waking hours because it meant I would have to endure more painful, yet unproductive feeds. One night during a particularly painful stretch of cluster feeds, I tearfully broke down and mixed a bottle of Enfamil we had received in the mail. After drinking just 2 ounces of formula, my son slept for five uninterrupted hours. Still, I felt so guilty about giving it to him that I couldn’t enjoy the long stretch of sleep for myself. Well, not that much anyway.
As I continued to search for the solution, the lactation consultants suggested position changes, shooting syringes full of breast milk into his mouth to stimulate his sucking (um, what?) , breast shields, etc etc etc. Armed with more tips, I left each visit hopeful that I could really make this work for my son. And every time, we wound up in the same position; both upset and frustrated. After three weeks, I decided to try pumping exclusively. I had heard that some women make it work with great success and I was willing to try anything.
I read up online about the important rules of EPing: pump as often as the baby eats, drink tons of water, make sure both breasts are completely empty before stopping. I began pumping every two hours around the clock, waking up in the middle of the night to pump several times despite the fact that my son was only waking once to eat. I felt like I was chained to the pump; it interrupted everything in our lives. I pumped in the back of the car on the highway, in parking lots…wherever I found myself when my two hours were up. All I can say is thank God for tinted windows.
In my second week of EPing, I developed mastitis, a particularly nasty infection in the breast tissue caused by a clogged milk duct. The area where the clogged duct resided was very painful, but much worse were the flu-like symptoms that come with mastitis: fever, muscle aches, nausea, headaches, etc. Not ideal for taking care of a newborn baby.
The clogged duct and the antibiotics used to treat it slowed my already lagging production down considerably. Just when I was starting to see my supply steadily rising, it came crashing to a halt. I began to increase the amount of formula I gave my son and was forced to pump even more to work out the clog. I spent 40 minutes out of every 2 hours staring at the drops of milk dribbling slowly into the bottles, growing increasingly more frustrated at my lack of production. It was enough to drive a person insane. (My poor, poor husband.)
I did this for a few weeks and fully intended on continuing until I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. It had long passed the point of being sustainable, but I was taking each day at a time and not looking past the following day, hoping that my combination of frequent pumping, Fenugreek horse pills, Mother’s Milk tea, lactation cookies and tons of water would suddenly kickstart things. Nothing seemed to work.
At my son’s 2 month doctor’s appointment, I sat in the waiting room dreading the question I knew they’d ask: “How is he eating?” I debated lying and just saying we were both doing fine; I didn’t want to be made to feel even more inadequate by someone who didn’t agree with my method of feeding my child.
As soon as the nurse posed the question, I found myself unloading about all the troubles I’d had so far, from the early days of painful breastfeeding to my current hellish pumping schedule. The nurse very calmly looked at me and said, “I want you to really hear me. It is OK to feed your child formula. Plenty of people have done it before and their children turn out just fine. My son is 23 years old and never got a drop of breastmilk in his life; he’s one of the healthiest people I know. This is a very short stage in your child’s life. In two years, you’ll have totally different concerns and you won’t be worried about this at all. Give yourself a break. Sleep when your baby sleeps. Let yourself enjoy him. I’m giving you permission to stop torturing yourself, because I think that’s what you need to hear.”
I could’ve kissed her on the mouth (I didn’t) and cried (I did) for the relief those words brought into my life. “You are honestly the first person that has said that it’s OK not to breastfeed,” I told her in a somewhat hysterical voice. Suddenly, I felt validated, annoyed at all the negative noise surrounding bottle feeding, relieved that someone had given me permission to do what I already knew in my heart would come eventually.
And then a crazy thing happened. I went home, practically skipping into the house, and because I’m still a rule follower, hooked myself right up to the pump. And, miracle of miracles, I produced DOUBLE the amount that I had been for 2 freakin months. Stress, my friends, is mama milk kryptonite.
From there, it was relatively smooth sailing. I produced enough to feed my son, only pumped a few times a day and enjoyed a couple formula free months. I cut out the nighttime pumping sessions and, while I still pumped in the back of cars and left outings early to pump, I felt like I’d been freed from some self-made hell.
And then, when Chase was 4 months old, I decided to stop altogether. Pumping no longer worked for our lifestyle—we were busier than ever during the day, Chase was curious enough to no longer lay next to me on the couch for three or four 30 minute sessions per day and honestly, I was just so freakin tired. I weaned slowly and then, one Saturday, it came down to a choice between an afternoon out with my family or a pumping session. If I chose the pumping session, we’d miss our opportunity to spend some time outdoors together. It just didn’t seem to make sense anymore, so I let that last session fall away, mixed up a few bottles of formula and off we went.
Though mama guilt is always in the back of my mind, I promised myself this time that I wouldn’t let myself feel badly about my decision. I was and still am proud that I made it almost 5 long months hooked up to a pump for a majority of my waking hours ;I do not want to lessen that accomplishment by feeling unproductive and unwarranted guilt. So I haven’t. Because just like breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, guilt is a choice.
From one mother to another, it’s OK to quit breastfeeding. Or never start. Or continue doing it until your child is eight. If your child is being fed, no one else should concern themselves with how you accomplish that and you should do what’s in the best interests of yourself and your family. And be kind to your fellow mamas, because your support could make all the difference to someone else.
Even before I became a mother, I had my fair share of guilt. I felt guilty for texting instead of calling to catch up with friends. I felt guilty for throwing cardboard in the trash can because I was too lazy to take it out to the recycling bin. I felt guilty for drinking three glasses of wine on a Tuesday. And then throwing the bottle in the trash can. Suffice it to say, I was no stranger to the feeling. After all, I grew up in the Catholic church, of which guilt is a founding principle.
But as soon as those two blue lines showed up on the pregnancy test, I discovered a new kind of superguilt: pregnancy guilt. As I came to quickly realize, pregnancy in and of itself, is basically a huge guilt fest. In the first trimester, I felt guilty for mourning the loss of my nightly glass of Cab, for wondering when I would no longer feel nauseous all day, for being kind of a little bit bored because 40 weeks is a long damn time. I mean I was growing a human, so shouldn’t I feel amazed and blessed and in awe of my body’s ability to grow said human like every minute of every day?
Then the second trimester came, and with it, a whole new set of guilt-inducing changes. I felt guilty for wishing I looked pregnant instead of like I ate a few too many burritos (patience, my dear!) I felt guilty because I would’ve given my right arm for a rainbow roll with copious amounts of wasabi and soy sauce. I felt guilty because I finally took a few sips of wine and it was a total freakin letdown.
Then the third trimester rolled around and the guilt was at a fever pitch. I felt guilty for pretty much everything: being annoyed with strangers’ well-meaning questions about my due date/the gender/my sleep patterns/the name we picked, etc. Wishing repeatedly that babies only required seven months of gestation. Eating another chocolate cupcake. Buying one more overpriced maternity outfit, because four horizontally striped spandex shirts and one pair of worn out maternity jeggings does not a wardrobe make.
Then I gave birth to the aforementioned tiny human and something happened: 1) I was suddenly responsible for an entire person and 2) I felt guilty about pretty much everything having to do with that person. Translation: Mom Guilt. The kind that makes Catholic guilt/pregnancy guilt/too-much-wine guilt look like child’s play.
It’s the type of guilt that always comes with a flip side; something you could be doing differently or better for your child. Recommended amount of tummy time or a happy baby who’s not screaming because his face is buried in the carpet? Tylenol for a teething baby or any amount of natural remedies that don’t seem to squash the pain nearly as well? Independent playtime or total one-on-one attention? Daycare or staying home? Pile of laundry or playing with the baby? Cloth or disposable? Bottle or breast?
We make a million choices a day for our babies and, if we’re honest with ourselves, there’s probably always something we could be doing to potentially screw them up. But something tells me that a little less tummy time than our pediatricians recommend isn’t one of those things.
I don’t have a remedy for mom guilt and I’m not sure that any mother is really immune to it. I consider myself to be a pretty relaxed, easygoing mom, but I’m certain there will always be a tiny voice inside my head asking if there was a different or better way, even when my child is grown. Being responsible for a person’s childhood is a huge responsibility and it would be impossible to navigate those years without a little second-guessing.
There is always something you could feel guilty about. But try not to. Your child(ren) are loved, fed however you so choose, usually clothed and generally happy. They also have short memories and they’ll forgive you for making them wear any number of clever, cheeky onesies that were on sale at Carters. If you’re doing the best you know how, then that’s good enough. Tomorrow is a different day with a whole new set of choices.
Save the guilt for the teenage years when your daughter starts dating the kid with the Harley.