“What makes a mom not just a good mom but a great mom?
When I was pregnant, I asked myself this question quite frequently. At the time my answer was always ‘making sure I am giving my baby the best of the best at all costs’ Simple, right? It was easy to set my expectations high, there would never be anything more important than him… What I did not realize at the time was how much I would need to adjust my expectations to be okay with my reality.
The day my son was born was the only moment during my life that time stood still. My boyfriend fit into the father role perfectly, putting his typical shy and closed off personality aside to enjoy every new learning experience. My mother instantly transformed into the ‘my perfect grandson’ Nana we knew she’d be. His Auntie showered my son with her sweet quiet demeanor that could make anybody feel safe and at home. My heart was the fullest it’s ever been. But then it was my turn.
I’ve been imagining this moment for a long time, anticipating the mom/baby bond so many people told me about. I held my baby to my breast, and all I got was an angry baby latching on and off, screaming in frustration that milk wasn’t coming in fast enough. My nurse was encouraging, explaining it was normal. Saying phrases like ‘it can take a couple days for the milk to come in fully. The baby just needs to get used to it, it’s new to him too!’ The words were so comforting, and I kept going with no intention to stop.
The following weeks were nothing I could have ever imagined or anticipated. My baby was losing weight and I almost signed a rental agreement with the doctor’s office because of how often my baby and I were there. Lactation appointments, weight checks, normal routine checkups… it felt as though I spent most of my baby’s precious moments talking about my boobs and milk production rather than about my actual baby. I was fixated on his weight. How much he was gaining and losing and how much he could afford to lose. But every time I spoke to a lactation consult, I got the same cold lecture about how breast is best and to keep trying. They would gently remind me ‘you are doing everything right, it gets better!’
I kept thinking, does it get better? How long did I have to drip tears on my skinny, screaming and hungry baby to finally accept that enough was enough? How many sleepless nights could my body endure feeding my baby every hour on the hour just to keep him under his birth weight? How much money was I going to spend on different pumps, breastfeeding products, and milk supplements just to get this right? But the words haunted my soul like a bad running record on repeat, ‘breast is best. It gets better. Breast is best.’
At my son’s one-month appointment he was still at birth weight and I remember sobbing like I was at a loved one’s funeral. His pediatrician recommended supplementing but to keep up with pumping to increase my supply. Giving that first bottle of formula was gut wrenching. I remember lying in bed, tears streaming down my face. I could not help but head down a tunnel of dark thoughts. Why could the people around me do it and not me? If formula never existed would my child die because I was unable to do the most important job a mom could do? Will my baby not love me as much? What will my baby’s future health look like because my body let us down?
When I started formula, I instantly saw a change in my baby, but it was not at all the change I was expecting. My baby was flourishing. He wasn’t spending so much time crying, upset or hungry. He was becoming a baby I did not yet know. A baby that smiled frequently, discovered new things around him and he was looking at me as more than just an empty boob. We were finally bonding. I found this new feeling to be so fulfilling but the emptiness inside still lingered.
As time passed my anger grew. Angry at the people that chose to not even try not breastfeeding, people that complained about having an oversupply, people that ‘bragged’ about their exclusively breastfed babies. Gloating moms who put their babies in clothes that said things like ‘don’t be jelly of my breastfed belly’. It felt like the only people that I wanted to talk to were people that also had negative experiences like mine because they knew the struggle. They shared the same anger and insecurities that I had.
Month three was much of the same… I could only pump around two ounces per session from both breasts combined, barely enough to feed 50% of what my baby needed. As I continued to search for solutions, I saw yet another spike in my anxiety. ‘Have you had your thyroid checked?’ ‘Is something wrong with you? There is no reason why your body shouldn’t produce milk.’ These are only a few of the things I’d hear in ‘support’ groups I joined desperate to connect with other moms like me. I found myself running to the doctors for a solution. I was unable to face the fact that this was just the way it was.
Entering month four my ‘supply’ (if that’s what you want to call it) took a turn for the worst. I was barely pumping half an ounce and it was just taking all my free time away from my baby. I felt disgusted with myself. Why couldn’t I just put the pump down? I knew this decision would allow me more time to hold my baby, yet I was still holding on to this expectation of myself… I knew I wanted to watch him learn, explore and grow everyday instead of being strapped to a machine multiple times a day that was yielding minimal to no results…. Yet here I was.
I think hearing those words ‘breast is best’ should not be words ever uttered to a new mom. It should be ‘do your best’ – whatever that looks like. Perhaps it is exclusively breastfeeding, maybe it’s all formula and just maybe it’s a little of both. But no matter what, new moms need to be reminded that nutrition is nutrition… PERIOD.
Furthermore we need to be kind to one another’s struggles as new moms. There is going to be plenty of time for mom guilt in the coming years. So next time you see a mom dumping her pre-made formula into a bottle to feed her pride and joy think of me… my words… my struggle. Because after four long months I realize I have nothing to feel bad about or guilty about… and as I pack my breast pump and all its parts away for the last time, I remind myself… I am not a good mom; I am a great mom.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Marisa Lena, 25, of New Hampshire. Follow her on Facebook here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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