Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Guilt We Give Ourselves

My mother apologizes.  A lot.  To the point where get mad at her for apologizing and snap at her.  To which she replies, "Sorry, sorry!"

I didn't realize this was a mom thing until three weeks ago when I became a mom.  Everything that bugs my little bunny, from a wet diaper to hunger to something as small as a wrinkled blanket under her back, I find myself going, "Sorry, baby!  So sorry.  Silly mummy messed up."  Why is it that moms assume every little thing is their fault?

Probably because in the early days, when baby depends on mom for every little thing, even play and sleep, if something is upsetting, it probably IS mom's fault.  At least, it's her responsibility to figure out the problem and rectify it, usually with a newborn screaming in her ear.

And there are plenty of things we have to feel guilty over that are way bigger than a wrinkled blanket or wet diaper.  The worst kinds are things that are/were ongoing, so when they are finally discovered, we have the luxury of examining the whole past month (or three weeks in my case) and lamenting what we should have done differently.  My current guilt-fest is feeding.  I wasn't going to write about this in the blog yet, as I'm still coming to terms with all that has happened myself.  After such a perfect birth, I thought everything else would come perfectly to me too.  But, surprise surprise, that was not the case!  Being a perfect mom is impossible.  I knew this was true for everyone else, but I wasn't everyone else, was I? :)  It turns out, I am.

I'm going to share this, even though it's still kind of fresh and raw for me because 1: I think it will be cathartic, 2: I think it will help me connect with other mums who have had similar experiences -- because I now know there are plenty, and 3: If it can help other new mums to either avoid what happened to me or to feel better about it if they're going through the same thing, then I will be happy. :)

It all started on Day 6.  Well, no, actually it started right from the beginning when I was so high from the birthing that I didn't pay attention to my first breastfeeding lesson.  It was natural and normal, right, so baby and I would just be able to do it, right?  No.  As it turns out, breastfeeding takes a bit of skill, a bit of practice, and a bit of perseverance.  Even a bit of planning.  I didn't have any of these things right off the bat, even though I had taken a BF class before Ebba's birth.  It was like all that information went in one ear and out the other.

So, for days 1-6, I was feeding however I could -- probably shoving the boob in baby's mouth unceremoniously, and definitely not waking her for feedings (a few times she actually slept up to 5 hours.  Oh, hello Guilt, there you are!).  I must have had a terrible latch because my nipples were a painful mess, and as it turns out, Ebba wasn't getting a whole lot of food.  Bad mommy.

On Day 6, at her second weigh in, this fact was discovered and my midwife and David jumped into action...while I turned into a blubbering mess of "What do you mean I can't feed my baby?" and "I made so many irreparable mistakes!"  All the stress and guilt probably did nothing for my milk supply, so other new mums who read this, take note.  I know your hormones will tell you to sniffle and moan if this ever happens to you, sniffling and moaning does not help anyone, least of all your baby.  Pick yourself up and do what you can to give your baby food and to help your milk come in.

Which, eventually is what I tried to do.  We started pumping, and we supplemented my meagre supply with friends' breastmilk.  (Thank GOD for my friends Kris and Candace who were willing to bring over frozen milk!)  The sniffling didn't stop there, of course.  Some late nights when David was feeding my baby someone else's milk while I pumped a measly 15mL of my own, I would turn all weepy again.

Sidenote: For the record, the amount you pump is no indication of how much your baby is getting from you.  The best way to tell this is to do a pre and post feed weigh in.  Some great information can be found at Jack Newman's website and the Kellymom website.

Now, to continue my story.  As I learned more about my latch and how to tell if baby was feeding properly, I started to feel more confident.  Also, probably, driven by the dwindling donated breastmilk supply, I started to decrease Ebba's supplements.  At our next weigh in on Day 16, Ebba looked to be doing quite well!  So, (Here's another part where that Guilt character pops in again), I continued to decrease the supplements more and more until she was getting almost none of her food that way and all from my breast.  Which is the goal, right?  Well, yes, as long as there's enough there.

In my case, there still wasn't.  On day 21, Ebba's 3 week birthday, we discovered she had actually lost weight, almost an oz from her previous weight.

This.  Sucked.  That was yesterday.  Today we bought formula to supplement with, as our donated milk ran out this afternoon.  This was difficult for me.  I never wanted to give my baby formula.  Remember, breastfeeding problems are something other mums experience.  I was going to be the perfect mum.  How could I be perfect if I was giving my baby some artificial stuff instead of my own tailor-made milk?

This is where I had to be hit in the head with a brick.  Well, fortunately not for real.  But suddenly I kind of woke from my "woe is me" stupor and realized -- what kind of mum doesn't feed her child enough?  What kind of mum focuses on her own breastfeeding woes instead of doing whatever she can to make sure her baby is growing and healthy?  Not a perfect one.

So, we got the formula.  I am still counting on my milk to come gushing in one of these days, and I'm working really hard to make sure that happens, but in the meantime I'm also working really hard to make sure my baby gets fed.

And, lastly, I'm working really hard to let go of the Guilt that has hovered over me through this whole situation.  The "I wish I had done this," and "Why didn't I do that?"

I'm sure I'll have enough opportunities in the future to feel guilty about all kinds of crazy parental things.  But I won't let this be one of them, because it doesn't help.

My mom told me that if she had me to raise all over again, she would do it almost the same.  The only thing she would change is that she would worry way, way less.  Hopefully I can learn from her mistakes.

And hopefully someone else can learn from mine. :)  If you're a new or expecting mum, here are some things that I no longer feel guilty about not doing.  Learn from them!

  • really focus on your first breastfeed with your new, minutes old babe.  It is so rewarding and important (I imagine. heh)
  • wake your baby up to feed every 3 hours!  Sleep is for when you're dead.  Your baby needs food.
  • if your milk supply seems low, let baby breastfeed as often as possible
  • if your nipples hurt, change your latch!  Breastfeeding is pleasant, as I am now finally learning.  It should not be painful.
  • plan ahead for where and how you'll breastfeed.  Picture yourself doing it often.  Come to terms with that early on.
  • and, relax.  Being relaxed is apparently one of the best things you can do for your milk and your baby.  Don't fret like I did!
I'll write more in depth on this issue in the future, I'm sure.  But for now, I hope some people can benefit from my story!  Now, off to breastfeed.  Baby's waking. :)

1 comment:

  1. You are very brave Amanda for putting this out there...I think it is fabulous, because there are SO many women who struggle with bf or who are unable to breastfeed exclusively or at all. I know quite a few myself, and we certainly weren't without our struggles in the beginning. There is obviously indisputable scientific backing for "Breast is Best" but the societal pressure is also immense....I think we get messages often that is you cannot bf, you are somehow "less than" or even a failure. And you're realization that it is not about you but about your baby and her growth and health is bang on! Good for you! I know there will be ups and downs, but stay strong, and know that you are doing what is best for Ebba!

    I think some of the biggest things that helped us when we had the girls re. bf:
    1. Our midwives and doula encouraged me to hand express and store colostrum BEFORE the girls were born (but not too soon to the due date, as this could induce labour!) Because we were having twins and the likelihood of complications was higher, with birth and feeding, it was good to have some of my "own" food ready for them, as the hospital would likely want to give them formula from the get go. Thankfully, we did this (it was A LOT of work!) I had an emergency C section, and could not hold my babies for about 2 hours after they were born. But, because we had the stored colostrum, Daddy was able to do skin to skin and, with out doula and midwife's help, gave them their first feed of colostrum from a syringe with a fingertip inserted to encourage active sucking. That way, we avoided a first feed of formula from a bottle. I don't know if this is something that can be done for singletons, but it may be worth looking into with your OB or midwife.

    2. While still on the OR table getting put back together, our midwives encouraged some skin to skin with me, and to allow the girls a chance to latch, though I couldn't even hold them. Hannah actually latched for a few seconds right there and then, and I was SO GRATEFUL that my midwife was there to do that for us. That gave me hope, and let me feel empowered and in control in a situation where I had become a "patient" and was out of control.

    3. In the hospital, a million nurses showed us a million ways of bf. It was frustrating, and painful. In the end, we had to follow our own instincts more, and figured out what worked for us and our babies.

    4. After several days of exclsuively bf, with the girls borderline jaundice, passing the 10% acceptable weight loss, and A LOT of crying, I finally relented and allowed formula. I felt awful. But Hannah was completely losing it, and II realized I was hurting them more than helping them at that point. Since they were only a few days old, we pushed to have the formula fed into their mouths using a tube and again a finger to encourage active sucking. I was afraid a bottle just spurting milk into their mouths would confuse them and interfere with them learning to nurse.

    While we have had great success in the long run with bf (which I am SO grateful for, considering the birth was very, very hard and traumatic for us), it was a tremendous amount of work. It took about 6 weeks for my supply to begin to match their needs, and there have still been many ups and downs over the past 11 months. There was a tremendous amount of pumping and in those early days, we used our share of supplemental milk and formula...

    So, I hope I haven't hijacked this post with my ludicrously long "comment." :) Just wanted to give my two cents for what they might be worth. xo