Motherhood, with a side of guilt

22 Jan

People always joke about growing up with “Jewish guilt” or “Catholic guilt.”  I’m technically Jewish, since my mom is culturally Jewish and my ancestors on my mom’s side were all Russian / Eastern European Jews, but my mom wasn’t raised religiously and neither was I.  We grew up celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah just because of their proximity to each other (it wasn’t until watching The OC that I realized “Christmukkah” was more common than I thought) but never went to synagogue, had Passover seder, or observed the high holidays.  (Nor did we go to Christian church, though I ventured with certain friends from time to time — including to Mormon church, much to my parents’ dismay.)  So my mom was not the stereotypical Jewish mom and I didn’t experience the stereotypical Jewish guilt.

That being the case, I’ve been a bit shell-shocked by the amount of guilt that comes along with being a parent.  This begins even before the baby is born and I imagine continues indefinitely.  As a mom, at every stage of Lucy’s life I will be presented with a dizzying amount of choices that could have a real impact on her life and her future.  The first guilt-inducing issue, which for some people seems more controversial than gun control or the Middle East peace process, is feeding: namely, whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed.

If you’re a parent, you’re well aware that the current medical/cultural opinion is that “breast is best.”  I heard or read this refrain many times during my pregnancy and I fully intended to breastfeed exclusively.  When my OB’s office offered me a free tub of formula, I turned my nose up at it and said “No thanks, I’m breastfeeding.”  Hubs and I attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital and became well-versed at how to properly position the baby doll at the breast and the mechanics of latching.  We watched an extremely cheesy video picturing a beautiful blond woman in front of a tropical setting, touting the magic of nursing.  Even though I stocked up (and perhaps overstocked) on baby items, I didn’t think about buying a breast pump because I figured I wouldn’t need it till much closer to the end of my maternity leave.  And — I’m ashamed to admit — I was secretly kind of judgy about people who didn’t breastfeed.

Fast forward to the hospital.  I’m in bed, in pain from delivery with a giant ice pack on my hoo-ha, and every few hours the nurses and/or lactation consultants come in and try to help me nurse Lucy, which basically consists of them manhandling and squeezing my boobs and trying to force them into Lucy’s screaming mouth.  Where was the beautiful blond woman, the tropical locale and the peaceful, angelic infant?  Still, I was determined to make it work.  At that point, my milk had not yet come in, which I assumed was the problem.

photo-17

Beautiful Lucy taking a rest from nursing attempts in the hospital.

But at home, things didn’t get better.  Lucy lost too much weight in the first few days, so the pediatrician told us to give her an ounce of formula as a supplement at each feeding.  I had also been told by the lactation consultant at the hospital to pump with each feeding.  And we were supposed to feed Lucy every three hours (counted from the beginning of the prior feeding).  As you may imagine, between trying to nurse, feeding her the formula, pumping and feeding her the pumped milk — all every three hours — we were basically constantly feeding her.  And whenever I would try to nurse, Lucy would either not latch at all; scream and cry; or else latch on and fall asleep, rendering it near impossible for me to de-latch.  We could spend hours like this, all night, and I came to realize that my milk supply was just too low, notwithstanding all my pumping, so basically I had turned into a giant human binky.  (I hadn’t thought to give Lucy a real binky, since we were told that could cause nipple confusion.)

After two weeks of both Lucy and I being in tears over the feeding situation, I finally met with a lactation consultant.  She informed me that Lucy has a “high palate” and she said that nursing would be a real challenge, though she thought I could do it.  But after trying repeatedly for a few more days and experiencing lots of screaming, crying, and failed latching, I gave up.

Now, I feed Lucy a combination of pumped milk and formula, about 50-50.  In any given day, I pump about 10-15 ounces of milk and she drinks between 20-25.   The first few days after I stopped nursing, I was depressed about it.  It’s hard to have your heart set on the way something’s going to be and not have it work out, and I was feeling guilty about not being able to exclusively breastfeed.  But as the days went on, I have come to mostly like our arrangement.  The moment we switched to just bottle-feeding her, feeding Lucy became such a pleasure.  Hubs is able to feed her and he enjoys the bonding time with her.  My parents and Hubs’ parents can also take turns feeding her when they’re here.  Lucy is a great little eater and she’s healthy and gaining weight well.  And a side perk is that selfishly, it gives me freedom to go out and do things without worrying about always needing to get back super quickly for Lucy’s feedings.

I didn’t really realize it till I experienced it, but a LOT of people have trouble with breastfeeding.  And a lot of people feel like they are judged when they formula feed.  Luckily, no one has ever said anything overtly judgy to me, but people do ask questions with implied judgment (like “how’s nursing going?  Are you pumping?” etc.)   Right now I’m reading a book called Bottled Up: How The Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why it Shouldn’t.  It’s “part memoir, part popular science, and part social commentary,” and very insightful about the history of “Breast is Best” and womens’ experiences.  It is not an anti-breastfeeding book, as the author makes clear.  But it sheds light on something that is a common issue and which hadn’t been written about in this way before.

The author of this book also has a website called Fearless Formula Feeder.  I can’t say I’m yet “fearless” about anything involving motherhood, including formula feeding.  I do still wish that I could feed Lucy only breast milk.  But I’m trying to work on at least not giving myself a guilt trip about it.  There are enough people out there judging…I don’t need to be one of them.

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4 Responses to “Motherhood, with a side of guilt”

  1. dandeliongreen January 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    I am a firm believer in doing what works for you and your family – and this will be different from what works for other mothers and their families. The guilt, well, the guilt is harder to let go of as it creeps up on you when you least expect it. Do what works, get as much sleep as possible, and enjoy your little one 🙂

  2. thepeakofwanderlust January 22, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    This speaks to me. I am a new mommy as well. My son was premature, he was born at 36 weeks after I spent 16 weeks on strict bed rest. He spent 5 days in the NICU. So he couldn’t be brought to me for nursing and while I spent a majority of my time in the NICU with him, he would tire out while nursing and losing weight in the NICU is a big NO NO. So in order to ensure he would get home we went to formula and I pumped and pumped until I had milk but by the time he got home latching on was something he was not interested in doing at all. I broke Down after two weeks, blistered and bleeding nipples and then mastitis. He is now formula fed, hasn’t gotten sick after being here for 11 weeks and his father got the flu and he has all the cute little rolls we delight in on all babies. I still feel a sting of guilt sometimes tho. C’est la vie.

  3. Elizabeth January 23, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    This was such a great post! There is so much subtle pressure to give birth and to parent the “right” way (unmedicated birth, exclusively breastfeeding, etc.) I was in a similar boat in that I had a lot of difficulty nursing at first, my milk didn’t come in for 6 days, and we supplemented with formula for the first 2 weeks because he lost so much weight. We eventually figured out nursing, but only after twelve (12!!) weeks of extremely painful nursing on one side. I really resented nursing for awhile and was pretty bitter that no one seemed to honestly acknowledge how really, really challenging it can be…and how it’s normal for some moms to not like nursing! I will say that my perspective has changed after 9 months, but I still remember those first few months like they were a horror movie I lived through.

    Aaaanyhow. Lucy is beautiful and thriving and getting all of the food and love and nurturing she could ever need! Where that food comes from is such a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things. I wish people would save the drama about breast vs bottle and focus on what’s really important.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. …Lest Ye Be Judged | Loving Lucy - March 4, 2013

    […] willing to admit that some of it is probably in my head, and that I may be projecting some of that fun mommy guilt outward and assuming that others are judging me.  (For example, when someone sees me giving Lucy a […]

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