Thursday, August 8, 2013

on one year of breastfeeding (mommy guilt)

The first few days of his life I would scream whenever Elden latched.

The next two weeks I would have to bite my fist to avoid crying out in agony.

Add into that mix the doubts about my abilities as a mother and incredibly long and colicky days spent wondering if we would survive parenthood. In all seriousness, those were dark times in our lives. Bringing home your baby is supposed to be so joy-filled and wonderful and you are supposed to be mesmerized by every little adorable thing your son does. Hindsight is 20/20 and I can sit here with confidence and tell you I have never felt so much despair, frustration, and heartbreak in my nearly 25 years as I did Elden's first month of life. The colic certainly contributed to that, but so did breastfeeding (and I'm sure postpartum hormones didn't help).

Before he was born, Jon and I had discussed our dreams for his first year. A huge part of that dream was breastfeeding. Studies have shown it's better for your baby, it has health benefits for the mother, and (this was the biggest selling point for me) it was free. When asked how long I wanted to breastfeed for, I said I wasn't sure, but probably a year or so. I think I got this number from the World Health Organization's recommendations.

Once Elden was born and he was cluster feeding and it hurt so intensely, I wanted nothing more than to stop. Jon forced encouraged me to continue with the reminder that it was in Elden's best interest the fifty times per day I begged to just give him formula. I've admitted previously I am glad Jon was so outright with me about the benefits to Elden outweighing my discomfort, but at the time I did not feel so... willing? to see the rational side of things. Then after about a month things got easier and I was able to look beyond the misery I had associated with breastfeeding to the time I got to spend with my son. The way his little fingers would trace my side; the way he would nurse himself to sleep in my arms. Those little moments would come to mean the world to me and I mourn their loss as we near the end of our breastfeeding journey.

We have officially made it to one year(ish) of breastfeeding. The ish is because about 2 months ago I switched to almost exclusively pumping spare when Elden first wakes up in the morning.

And yet I have guilt.

We're in the process of switching Elden to whole milk. I've been mixing in milk with his bottles in increasing amounts to get both his palate and his body accustomed to cow's milk which has significantly decreased the amount of breastmilk required to prepare his bottles for the next day. I've switched from pumping three times each day to twice (still nursing at 6 am) and in all honesty I can probably switch to pumping once per day. But I know as soon as I do that my supply will almost certainly dry up and I am afraid to let that go.
a doubt-filled moment
What if Elden refuses cow's milk all of a sudden? What about the fact that breastmilk continues to be beneficial past the magical one-year mark? Am I a bad mother for choosing convenience over my son's nutrition? In a world where I'm bombarded with opinions on what a good mother makes (formula vs. breast, vegetarian vs. meat, cosleeping vs. not, cry it out vs. attachment parenting; the list is almost endless) I'm constantly concerned about whether I'm making the right decisions for my son. Just this morning I found myself mulling over Elden's development and questioning whether I am doing everything I'm supposed to in order to help him thrive (is he talking enough? does he understand words? why isn't he walking yet?) or if I am dropping the ball. The self-doubt creeps up hourly and then he throws a tantrum and I wonder where we went wrong that encouraged this type of behavior.

My point in writing this is that I set a goal for myself as a mother and I made it, but somehow I still don't feel like it was enough. So, I'm not sure when I'm going to stop pumping and breastfeeding. I'm too anxious to willingly let this chapter close. But hey. All three of us survived the first year, so that counts for something right?

7 comments:

  1. Oh my word, girl. Breastfeeding is HARD and you gave Elden a tremendous gift by sticking with it and feeding him for so long. There is NO shame in calling it done and moving him on to new tastes and new experiences... and freeing yourself up in the process. It's part of growth and development and separation... and you'll know the right time for you and Elden and Jon. When it feels right then just go with it - your own parental intuition is best!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kim. That's really good advice. I'm not there yet emotionally but the last several days what I've pumped has decreased substantially so I think my body might ultimately make the decision for me!

      Delete
  2. Completely understand, and I think it's normal to have all these thoughts. Like you, I've always had the one year mark in mind with breastfeeding, but now that we're approaching that, I'm starting to feel a little guilty about not nursing beyond that. As if 12 months wasn't good enough??? You already know this, but you've given Elden a tremendous gift. Not that I can speak from personal experience, but I think you will know when the time is right to fully wean. Trust your intuition, it won't let you down. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jess. It's crazy how things that should bring us joy can actually bring us guilt. Wish I had known about the depths of mama guilt before I got into this game, but I suppose I wouldn't have understood til I was in the thick of it anyway.

      Delete
  3. I've been wanting to comment here since you first posted it and I first read it. I feel like I have so much more to say than is appropriate in a comment.... to summarize, there is not need or room for the mommy guilt, although we all have it. Consider all the babies in all the world and how differently they are raised - from toys, environment, parenting, etc, and they all learn relatively the same things, skills, behaviors. It is both terrifying and freeing to realize it is a lot more out of your control than you may think. I have been realizing more and more lately (thanks to a great book for young moms) that my children (and husband) are not trying to spite me, they are young sinners. The tantrums, the rebellion, the selfishness - you are not encouraging or teaching that behavior, they've been born into it. Having a 3 year old, I am seeing more than I ever have before that I truly have no control over the actions of my kids. I used to think I could control them, but I can't. You will continue to grow in confidence. Seek the Lord in the decisions that arise, ask for peace, and boldy carry on. You, your family, your child is like no other on earth, and therefore your methods and choices will/must differ from others. You do not need to feel guilty for it. We are all doing the best we can with what we have and it's OK!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the book and the words of encouragement! It always amazes me just how guilty I can feel on the day to day since entering into motherhood!

      Delete
  4. http://www.amazon.com/Desperate-Hope-Mom-Needs-Breathe/dp/1400204666

    I meant to include this link. I highly recommend it!

    ReplyDelete