He’s adorable. I know.
Keeping a tiny, helpless human being alive is difficult – this truth is universal. Many parents face the same set of struggles in raising their healthy newborns; the experience varies based on which of the struggles comes to the forefront. Phineas is a happy, content baby. He’s a good sleeper. He hasn’t dealt with reflux or colic. He battled cradle cap for a couple of months and although it cost him a lot of his hair, it clearly bothered his dad and me more than it did him. We were blessed with a very “easy” baby. Then when he was four months old, we learned he’d completely fallen off the growth charts – he was so small compared to other babies his age that he couldn’t be assigned a percentile and was in fact well below the lowest percentile. This was a big deal considering he was born somewhere around the 75th percentile for weight and even higher for height. Righting this problem was – and still is – our greatest challenge with Phin.
Blood tests told us that all his organs function well, that he has no major food sensitivities, but that he was anemic. After a bad experience at a pediatric GI specialist’s office, we consulted an IBCLC who diagnosed his lip and tongue ties. Because of his ties he could not suck properly and was not getting nearly enough milk, but his anemia suppressed his appetite enough that he didn’t demand more. It was a perfect storm scenario. Thus began our ongoing journey working – and I do mean working – to feed our baby. A fantastic dentist fixed Phin’s ties with a laser revision. Then began our efforts to get my supply where it needed to be in order to provide Phin all the nourishment he needs. This included, but was not limited to, bottle supplementing, tube supplementing, supplementing with whatever milk I could pump, blowing through my stash of frozen pumped milk, formula supplementation, galatactagogues, tinctures, lactation cookies, power pumping, and nursing Phin every 60-90 minutes during waking hours and every 3-4 hours overnight (for those of you doing the math, that netted 12-14 feeds each day at minimum).
Feeding the baby quite literally was a full time job. I’m pretty sure I put in well over 40 hours weekly. Through all that, do you know what I felt? You’d think maybe something positive since I gladly expended so much effort, time, and money on behalf of my little one. But no. What I felt was guilt. Guilt because I didn’t notice sooner that there was a problem. I felt shame because my body was created to nourish my baby and it was failing. I felt lonely because I couldn’t be away from Phineas for more than an hour and it was too hard to do all I needed to do away from home anyway so I pretty much stayed there for months.
It was full immersion mommy guilt.
You see, there’s this unspoken lie that (it seems) many of us mommies hear whispered in our ears. It tells us we are not enough. It’s as if somewhere, there’s this perfect mommy – each of us have a picture of her in our minds – and every place we fall short from that ideal costs us points. With each point lost, we gain a heaping share of guilt and shame. Who’s keeping score for us? Usually, we all keep our own tallies. It’s really ugly.
The truth of the matter is, with a few extreme exceptions, all of us are doing the very best that we can. Whether we stay at home or send our child to daycare, breastfeed or formula feed (or some combination), co-sleep or crib sleep, cloth diaper or use disposables, buy organic or the regular baby food (or make our own), baby-wear, attachment parent, cry it out…WHATEVER. We are keeping these precious creatures alive and that, my friend, is an outstanding accomplishment.
So this Mother’s Day, my suggestion is to tell a mom who you love and adore that she’s doing a great job. If you can give specifics, that’s wonderful, but my hunch is all she really wants to hear is that she’s enough.