Do you ever have a moment where something that happened to you in the past that you thought you were over comes back and hits you in the face, full force, and brings all of those emotions back so strongly that you think, hmm, maybe I’m not over this? I had a moment just like that this week.
It happened in my therapist’s office. (Side note: I have been seeing a therapist for my anxiety and just general emotional tune-ups for around a year.) I had spent most of the session rehashing my current stresses about what shape my career is going to take in the near future, once we expand our family by (hopefully) adding a second child. With less than ten minutes to go in our session, I somehow segued to the first few months of Little Cotton Candy’s life, and the struggles we went through with nursing, starting from him being diagnosed with hypoglycemia immediately following birth and being whisked away to the NICU. As my therapist reminded me, over and over, that I have nothing to feel guilty for or to forgive myself for because I did nothing wrong, I started to cry as my feelings of inadequacy as a mom in those early days, weeks, months rushed to the surface.
Now I am working through the realization that even though I thought I had dealt with all of the intense emotions surrounding Little CC’s first few months of life, there’s more to wade through. These feelings are like a Slinky that got all tangled up, and every time I try to untangle it, I look at it as a whole and realize I just moved all the mess to the opposite side. I may never fully feel freed from the feeling that I failed somehow (and not just regarding nursing, but I’m using the nursing failure as a proxy for the other ways in which I felt like I was screwing up as a mom in the early days).
Here’s what I know. A lot of factors played into the reality of nursing not working out for me and Little Cotton Candy. 1. Since he was getting formula in the NICU every three hours, of course, he wouldn’t be as enthusiastic to nurse from me as a hungry newborn. 2. Little CC was, in general, a “lazy” and sleepy eater; as soon as he got comfy on the boob, he would fall right asleep. 3. I was in general undereducated on the realities and logistics of nursing (i.e. how often newborns needs to eat, how your milk can take a few days to come in, etc.). This is the one aspect where I can say that I could have done more by reading more and asking more questions about breastfeeding before giving birth.
So what do I do with these feelings now? I want to move on and accept this as my truth: When Little Cotton Candy was born, Mr. Cotton Candy and I were really green. We were new parents, and we had zero experience with babies. We did the best we could, and we made some mistakes. But we also worked really hard to make sure that Little Cotton Candy thrived. I pumped breast milk ten times a day until my body gave up, and my supply dried up completely when Little CC was around four months old. We went to our hospital’s lactation center once a week to weigh Little CC and get advice from the lactation experts. We supplemented with formula when they told us it was necessary. We didn’t give up on nursing when it got hard; we kept trying, despite the lack of improvement. In the end, Little CC thrived on formula, and I have no regrets about making that choice to supplement (although I did sob big ugly tears when feeding him his first formula bottle).
Maybe I should just read the above paragraph to myself every day until it sinks in. I. Didn’t. Fail. Little CC.
I know that if we are lucky enough to get pregnant with baby #2 that these feelings of failure may rise to the surface again. I also know I’m not the same person I was four years ago. I’m stronger, more confident, and more armed with information; and I’m surrounded by a solid and supportive community of other moms that I now feel more comfortable reaching to for support and advice. Also, I am now fully a believe in the modern miracle that is infant formula and how lucky we are to have access to it should breastfeeding not work out a second time. I think, for now, that knowledge is enough.
Have you struggled with feelings of failure or inadequacy as a parent? Did any struggles with your first child make the decision to have more children difficult?