Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mommy Guilt

Quite some time ago, okay like in May, I asked my readers to send me their rants, thoughts and suggestions for things to share.  I received the following thoughts from a man, nonetheless!  A very brave man, actually!  Since then, I have been thinking about it, mulling it over and agonizing about how to present it. Here's the message from my friend, let's see what you think:

Oh I have a rant, but since it's about girl issues, and I'm a big ugly boy, I'm still holding it in. Women are mean to new moms. If you eat , drink , you're going to cause damage to the fetus. If you don't have a natural childbirth, you're not a real mom.  Millions of women birthed without an epidural, you don't need one. If you don't have a home birth, your going to get a disease/infection/etc. Girls on the message boards know far more than the OB's and doctors that have been in practice for years. If you don't breastfeed, you're a bad mom. If you quit breastfeeding too early, you're a bad mom. If you send the child to spend the night somewhere else, that means you don't love him. Real moms use kanga-wraps and carry their babies everywhere. If you use scented wipes or diapers, you're poisoning your child.  Sorry. Too many pregnant women around, with too many other women giving the absolute best advice that she just haaaaas to follow.

Mommy guilt.

Ah, yes.  Mommy guilt.  It hits us all at some point.  And to be quite honest, it starts the minute that we find out we're pregnant. 
  • Did I drink any alcohol prior to finding out I was pregnant? 
  • Should I really be eating the lunch meat on my Subway sandwich? 
  • Oh, I shouldn't be drinking any caffeine. 
  • Wow, I really think that I should work out more during my pregnancy. 
  • What type of birth should I have? Hospital? Home birth? With or without meds?  Use a midwife or traditional OB/GYN? 
  • What type of paint should I use in painting the baby's room? 
  • Are the slats on the crib close enough together? Is the crib free of blankets, pillows and toys that could suffocate the baby?
  • Should I cloth diaper or use disposable?
  • Co-sleeping or in a crib?  Or in my room with a bassinet?
  • Should I be a baby carrying mom?
  • Should circumcision for my son be considered? Or is it necessary?
  • What about sleep training?  Do I soothe them when they cry or let them "cry it out"?
  • Should I breastfeed, bottle feed, or pump?
  • Do I quit my job to stay at home or find daycare and continue to work?
  • Is a C-section on the horizon for me?
I will stop here, because I could go on for days with the questions, doubts and guilt that ensues before the little darling even arrives. My "big ugly boy" friend makes a very valid point in his rant.  We second guess ourselves, question our own instincts and listen WAY to much to other women. 

I am guilty of this on both sides.  When I pregnant with both of mine, I second guessed everything I did or heard from other women, who had "been there, done that."  Instead of listening to my heart or using my own common sense, I let the ramblings of others make me feel inferior as a mother.  I agonized over everything from the C-section question to breastfeeding.  Those two things, alone, gave me the most mommy guilt that, to this day, still haunts me. 

In the infancy of my motherhood, I was determined that I was going to be the mom that labored without an epidural, had a natural birth and breastfed until at least the first year. Ha! Maybe because I had such a set-in-stone vision of how motherhood would be, I suffered the worst mommy guilt and postpartum depression anyone could NOT ask for.  The one thing that I learned very early on was that, in spite of my efforts, my dreams of a drug free, natural birth with a baby that would breastfeed were laid in the hands of a very harsh mother, called Reality!

While my dreams of the mother I wanted to be crumbled around me, I did the worst thing any new mother can do.  I listened to people around me.  I let them pass passive-aggressive judgment on me.  I didn't speak up for myself and swallowed my pain and guilt.

I let an acquaintance that didn't even have kids at the time, say things to me about breastfeeding that cut the biggest hole in my heart, that I still have guilt about.  As I was struggling in my third week of unsuccessful breastfeeding, I mentioned my problems to this particular person and her never-having-done-it-herself responded with, "Maybe you're not trying hard enough.  You really have to be dedicated to it.  Breastfeeding is the most natural thing that your body can do." 

No shit?  Bitch, I couldn't BE trying any harder.  I have a baby attached to my boob 24/7 and I haven't slept in three weeks, don't talk to me about "not trying hard enough."  Sadly, this person is now working with birthing mothers as a doula.  Even more disappointing is that she is regularly a very sweet person and probably had no idea the effect her words had on me.  She had no idea of the PPD that I was going through and how my dreams had already been crushed by the C-section, use of medical intervention and breastfeeding issues. 

This is where, as I look back, I should have told her how those words hurt.  I'm sure if I had, she would have apologized and ate those words.  But instead, I smiled and changed the conversation.  I swallowed my feelings of disappointment, guilt and fear and sadly gave up breastfeeding.  I gave my baby, gasp, formula!  I felt like the worst mom in the world.  But why?  He was eating, gaining weight, and astonishingly smart.  What was the big deal?  I'll tell you.  I read everything there was about having a baby and EVERYTHING said that the best thing for your baby was breastfeeding.  All the of the positive health benefits were listed, spelled out and presented in books, brochures and videos.  So, if I couldn't breastfeed, was I not giving my baby the very best? 

Looking back, yes!  Yes, I was!  As I tried day in and day out, appointments with the midwife, lactation consultant and nurses, I tried to feed my baby.  Only to end a feeding session with his belly growling.  That was enough to make my final decision  to feed him formula.  My baby's belly was growling.  I couldn't stand by because of my own selfish need of accomplishment to watch my baby scream because he was still hungry and I had nothing left to give. 

And if you are sitting there reading this, thinking, "Well, he was probably going through cluster feeding and if you would have continued to stimulate you would have produced more milk for him."  STOP IT!  STOP IT RIGHT NOW!  That is exactly what this post is about.  As mothers, we need to stop giving unsolicited advice about someone else's children, babies or pregnancy.  As mothers, we know in our heart of hearts what our children need like no one else. Period. 

I'm not going to say that I haven't said things to other moms that I had no business saying.  Regretfully, I have tried giving advice and my opinion based on my own experience and if I have hurt someone, like the breastfeeding bully did to me, I am sorry.  I apologize for being a big know-it-all.  I apologize if I wasn't thinking of your unique circumstances.  I make this promise to myself, friends and family, I am done being Judgey McJudgerson. 

The finality in this whole thing needs to be that we, moms, need to be more confident in what we are doing.  There are always going to be people who will offer their two cents and we need to have the ability to take that with a grain of salt.  Sure, there will be days that we will fail to live up to our own perception of what a "good" mom looks like.  But we have to gain the strength to get over it and move on.  In our children's eyes, we are the best moms in the world.  So what if I couldn't breastfeed.  So what if I didn't cloth diaper.  So what if I took my kids to McDonald's for lunch yesterday.  So what!

If you are beating yourself up over the questions listed above, and yes, some of them are legit, uber-important questions, remember that you love your baby/child/children more than anyone else and they know that.  The time you spend and you choose to spend it is what's important. So what if you work outside the home 8+ hours a day and only get to spend a few precious hours in the evening with them.  It's what you do in those hours that mean something to them.  That hug or kiss before bed.  That folding and putting away their laundry.  That making their favorite lunch/breakfast/dinner. 
That letting them choose the movie. That moment that you look at them and smile and tell them you love them with all your heart.  That's what matters.  And don't, for one second, believe that you are anything less than what they need.  You are their mommy.  And you should never feel guilty about that.


  1. I think McJudgerson stems from fear. And in order to justify to our inner McJudgersons, sometimes women blurt out the unsolicited advice you wrote about, while their consciences are patting them on the head" yes you're a good mommy, because at least you do _______" its absolutely horrible isn't it! You once wrote about mothers using that energy to support each other and you are right. More right when you said to stop listening. Find what works for you. every mother is different AND every baby is different, so you cant possibly tell anyone anything that would, FOR CERTAIN, work for them. it would be like telling someone who owns a porche how to fix something that worked on a miata. IT JUST ISNT THE SAME. Celebrate life, celebrate your beautiful baby, and celebrate motherhood. I recently saw another ecard type thing that said "find out who you want your children to become and BE THAT". I agree, stop listening to the crap around you and follow your heart to the tune that works for YOUR baby.

    1. Very well said Jessica. I completely agree! By the way, you are rocking this motherhood thing.