I am pregnant with my third and final baby. Recently, I have spent some time reflecting on how I have grown as a mom over the last five years. For years before I was pregnant with my first, I looked forward to having a child and wanted to be the best mom that I could be. When I got pregnant with our first child, I felt like I did not necessarily know how to be the best mom. To remedy that, I focused on what I thought society, friends, and family valued as being a good mom and based my expectations of parenting around that. As an example, I heard from many people at the time that breastfeeding was natural and from that I took that it was easy; the baby and I would know just what to do. I grazed a few books on the topic and when I considered taking a breastfeeding class, I decided that I was 28, an intelligent young woman, I had a good support system – so why would I need to take a breastfeeding class? In hindsight, with my lack of confidence entering the mommy world, it would have been a great idea.
Breastfeeding. It was the one thing that I absolutely knew for sure that I was going to do with my son. I had read enough literature on the topic and I knew the benefits of breast milk for a young baby. Everything else was up in the air, but this was the one thing that I felt confident about. Enter my handsome son, Jayden. He was not the least bit interested in latching on. I let every nurse at the hospital try to help him – two lactation consultants, my husband on numerous attempts – and not once did Jay latch. He was hardly interested in eating in general. The nurse told me that I could wait up to 24 hours after he was born to see if he could latch before I would HAVE to supplement. To be honest, I did not get close to the 24-hour mark, but several hours went by and the baby still would not latch. I supplemented with formula. He still hardly wanted to eat, even with the formula. The hospital was threatening to possibly keep him another day if he did not eat a certain amount. He ended up eating enough and we were sent home on time. Side note: Jayden is 4 today and still eats like a bird. His 18-month-old brother often eats more than him during meals, because Jay would rather eat small amounts throughout the day.
When I came home from the hospital, I felt defeated. I was a failure. I remember a woman once told me at that time that every mom can breastfeed, some just do not try hard enough. That comment still sticks with me today. The one thing that I knew that I wanted to do, that I could do which my husband could not, did not work. I still tried to pump. I had a used hospital grade two breast pump, but the lactation consultant scared me out of using it because she warned me of the terrors that could possibly come from sharing a pump. My husband and I did not have a lot of extra money at the time, so we bought what we could, a one breast pump that was not hospital grade. This was before laws changed and insurance was required to supply moms with a decent two breast pump. I tried to keep pumping but it took too much time to do both breasts, I felt guilty that I was spending 30 minutes each sitting to pump breast milk, and the final straw was when my young baby seemed to be constipated from the mixture of breast milk and formula. After a few weeks, when we stopped giving him breast milk for a few days and he had more regular bowel movements, I knew I was finished pumping.
I let this one disappointment overshadow my other contributions to my son, when I did not have to. I noticed every time my husband would get a pat on the back for changing a diaper, rocking my son to sleep, holding him, etc. I felt like a failure because I was not fulfilling the expectation that I thought society had of me as a woman and a mom and my husband was filling in the gaps. In retrospect, I should have reached out to someone and told them how sad I felt, how disappointed I was, and not just focused on what I thought that I was not. I fell down a rabbit hole of self-doubt. I let other people make decisions for me regarding my son. I did not have any confidence in my own parenting decisions. I felt like I was doomed to be a sub-par mother.
Fast forward a few years and I was no longer as focused on expectations that I thought others had of me as a mother. I had for the most part stopped thinking about being unsuccessful with breastfeeding with Jay and life was going pretty well. I started to get even closer to Jay. I started to gain confidence in myself as a parent. My husband and I were ready to have another child. While pregnant with my second child, this time, my husband and I said that no matter what happened with breastfeeding, we were just going to deal with it and move on. Blake was born and he latched right away. Long story short, he ended up not always latching for long periods of time, but I had a new attitude about things and a new hospital grade pump. Although Blake often breastfed only once a day, I pumped 7 times a day and was able to supply him with strictly breast milk until he was one.
Even if I had not been successful with pumping with Blake, I still feel that having him would have been different than my experience with Jay. This time, I had enough confidence in most of parenting decisions. This time, I realized that if my husband received more accolades than I, it was not because he was doing a better job than me, but more that he was more breaking some of the societal standards that people had built up for men in my community. This time, I was going to be completely up front with my feelings and ask for help if I needed it.
I was so much happier with myself as a mom after I had my second child, because I allowed myself to be imperfect. I let myself know that it was okay if things did not work out as I planned, and I surrounded myself with a lot of awesome moms that build each other up (we often refer to ourselves as “The Village”), in addition to other awesome family and friends. When I realized how much had changed for me the second time around, I vowed only after Blake was a few months old that I would do my best to build moms up, remind them that they are doing a great job, and listen. So you, young mom over there, who has not had more than 4 hours of sleep, yet still takes time to see family, you are awesome. You, young mom who is struggling with breastfeeding and does not understand why it is not working out, you do what makes you happy. Your baby is so lucky to have you for a mom. You, mom who is still dealing with the pains of a C-section while trying her best to take care of the baby, clear off the table, and dial LaRosa’s…you go girl!
I wrote this post because I want to make sure that other moms, who have been in the same place that I have been, know that you are a great mom! If you feel like you need help, do not be ashamed to ask for it! If something does not go as planned, it’s okay to be disappointed. If you have an overachieving super-dad for a husband, like I do, be glad and make sure to have him clean up the next diaper explosion. Say to yourself, I am the best mom that I can be and my baby is lucky to have me! You are doing a great job, Mama!