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December 22, 2017
She was already crying when I opened the door to the exam room. She sat, defeated, her newborn baby snuggled closely in her arms, huge crocodile tears slipping down her cheeks. Try as she might, she could not get the latch right when she tried to nurse. She told me she must be one of those “breastfeeding failures.” She had spent the last four days in pain as her baby clamped down on her again and again. Now, exhausted and defeated, she wasn’t sure how to move forward.
I watched as she told me her story. Her shoulders were heaving as she took gulping breaths between sobs. I knew what she really meant: “I feel like I have already failed at this whole mother thing and I am less than a week into it. I am not the parent I hoped I would be.”
We put a ton of pressure on mothers-to-be, then don’t educate them well before their babies are born on the potential pitfalls of this not-so-intuitive task. After birth, support from other experienced breastfeeders is usually minimal at home. Add in that we often put the onus on moms to do most of the day and night care within a family? Bam. Stress City, here we come (you can get information and help preparing to be a new mom by subscribing to our free guide here).
No wonder we have so many new moms that don’t keep going.
Of course, I get and support the Breast is Best movement when possible. The benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding are super clear. I want to help nursing parents reach their breastfeeding goals. But, for those who cannot or do not breastfeed, they often feel (or are made to feel) like they are somehow parenting failures because of their struggles or decisions in this ONE AREA.
Breastfeeding is not the only opportunity to feel, potentially, like a parenting failure. What about when we raise our voice at our toddler when we’re stressed or realize we’ve been ignoring our baby while we peruse our social media feed? How about the time my doctor friend missed her own kid’s broken arm? Yeah, those feel like real “Mother of the Year” moments, too.
Or the bigger, longer-term fears we all have? That the core issues we deal with ourselves are going to royally going to ruin our kids in some way? My mild anxiety (or my a little too laid-back personality), my own parents’ failures, my lack of expertise in all things child-related – all of these insecurities can get in the way of doing our best day by day.
“I handle multi-million dollar sales transactions on a daily basis. I sit in a conference room with other business leaders and can influence their decision-making at the drop of a hat. But getting my toddler to put on her shirt? Somehow, I fail every day at doing that without getting flustered and losing my cool. It’s so demoralizing. I’m scared of what I’ll mess up when she gets older and it really counts.”
You’ve seen the articles: “10 Things That Will Mess Up Your Relationship With Your Teenager,” “The 5 Tips You Need To Raise Brave Girls.” They are well-intentioned, and they often have really useful information, but, read enough of them and, in the end, they can leave you feeling stuck, not motivated if consumed without the right perspective.
Our friends, our parents, our significant others – pressure and guilt can come from all sides, piling on a sense that it’s all or nothing. That good enough is never enough. That only the best will do.
Going to therapy, or to lactation or to our pediatrician for help. Understanding we are not as in control as we think we are most of the time. That sometimes we do our best and take all the classes and read all the books and IT STILL DOESN’T WORK. Taking a look at our own “weaknesses” and fears – these are the things that really make a difference.
I looked that sobbing mom in the eye, taking her hands, telling her what countless moms (including me) have needed to hear at some time or another.
“You are an amazing mother. What or how you feed your child does not define that. In fact, you can use the fact that you overcame this challenge (either breastfeeding in the end OR NOT) to show your baby how to be resilient in his own life. All moms have moments when they realize it is impossible to be flawless, and that it is better, in the end, not to be. You are more than okay. You are just what your baby needs.”
Of course, that’s when I started tearing up right alongside her.
I knew some reassurance would help, but the look of relief that washed across that new mom’s face? It was stunning to see her whole body relax and her demeanor change.
Baby and mom ended up just fine. They found their way.
Stop beating yourself up if you do not feel like you are the parent that you hoped that you would be. None of us are. Try your best. Deal with your own issues head-on. Get the help you need to support yourself and give you the parenting tools that will allow you to rise above your most challenging days. Your child will thank you for it when they’re navigating their own parenting insecurities years down the road.
Want more help with mommy self-care? Click here.
Having a new baby or have a friend who is? Want even more? Check out our book, The Newborn Baby Blueprint: Preparing to Care for Your Infant and Yourself.
Looking for registry or shower gifts? Check out our Newborn Gift Boxes, filled with inspiration, information, and a little love for all the modern mamas you know (including you!)
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