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Wednesday, February 01, 2012


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I had to stop breastfeeding at 2 months. It was a rational decision and I still think it was the best decision. I don't feel guilty about it, actually. The guilt happened during those 2 months when I constantly felt like I wasn't breastfeeding WELL enough. I was failing my baby and it made me crazy. So I agree that hormones play a role, but they can be really unpredictable.

I'm expecting #2 right now and plan to give it a serious go. I learned a lot last time and if the baby doesn't have some of the same physical limitations as my first, it should be just fine. But the main thing I learned from last time is that if I feel like I'm failing my baby, I need to stop. Because the least I can do, not just for my kid but for myself, is to be a present and happy parent.

I'm not sure about the evolutionary stuff. But I think in general we tend to ignore how common wetnurses used to be. It's not like all women have always been able to breastfeed. Babies died. Babies were nursed by other women. (Childbirth is similar, how many women and babies used to die during natural home births? Like breastfeeding, it's natural and the way we're built, but that doesn't mean it works.)

You are a horrible mother!!!!!! I can't believe that mothers like you actually exist. I shudder to think that you are populating the world with more people who will grow up to be just like you!!!!! Fast food. The nerve!

Funny that I texted you last night about the guilt/judgement I feel from other people over having had 3 c-sections...and how I feel that other moms are most definitely thinking, "Well, duh, she lost her uterus because she had too many c-sections!" and then I want to scream, "No! It's not that way at all! I was bleeding before the c-section!"

but then I realize that 99.999% of the judgement is coming from inside my own head.

I think you may have something there. Breast feeding would have been an evolutionary advantage. Interesting theory.

Here's what I think. That thing where you had awful horrible guilt over the NICU stay? To ME, I think, WHY? Why would you be so upset over circumstances you couldn't POSSIBLY have changed? Your babies were born early - not because of anything YOU YOURSELF DID - and they had to stay in the NICU to be SAFE, and that also is not at all tied to anything you yourself did, and yet! You felt awful, guilty, like a terrible mother.

The thing about the hormone stuff is that the guilt pervades those of us who even THINK of quitting. So while there is guilt BECAUSE we've quit, there is also an INSANE amount of guilt tied to even CONSIDERING it. So! You know my theory?

We beat ourselves up about it because there really isn't anything else to worry about with an infant other than eating, sleeping, and pooping. (As well as in your case, BEING with them.) There's nothing else! There's no developmental milestones to reach, there are no bullies to avoid or potty training to moan over - there is only FEEDING, POOPING, SLEEPING. Babies need so few things when they're tiny that those few things end up being HUGE aspects of their care.

So if you feed your kids fast food three times a week, that's a very small percentage of the decisions you make for them. And decisions about food are EXTREMELY varied - look at how many different foods there are to choose from, and that's before you start talking about the OTHER things you have to do for older children: discipline, teaching, listening! If you fail at only ONE of those things? No biggie to an older child - you could be doing 98 percent of everything else perfectly.

But if you can't feed your baby the BEST way (as we all have been taught), which is with breastmilk, then you are failing at probably SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT of your job as a mom to a newborn/infant, if not more.

I don't know, does that sound crazy??

Interesting theory, except that in my case it must be something else. I have never carried a baby to term, and consequently I bottle-fed my adopted son. Rationally, I have no guilt about that. Emotionally, sometimes I do. (And I have no problem reading about good breastfeeding experiences, except for on the occasions that the writer in question is judgmental toward bottle-feeding mothers.)

I am so glad that you're feeling more at peace about the NICU time. Speaking of which -- I need to give you the admin privileges for the Spiritual Bouquet Blog so you can preserve it if you'd like. No rush, but it's on the To Do list.

I agree that hormones are involved in all of this. I generally find that there are subtle (skin breaking out) and not-so-subtle ('I can't do this' during Transition, crying futile tears as my milk was coming in) physiological and psychological symptoms that take place in my body when different hormones kick in.

A lot of my mothering-related guilt is tied to breast-feeding, and both my kids got breast milk for at least 17 months (and counting with V). I should probably write my own post about it, so I don't hijack your comment thread any further.

Arwen, I think you're a genius :)

Oh, I like that! The BODIES just don't know things are being handled!

Interesting theory! Like Jessica above, I stopped BF-ing much earlier than I ever expected (we lasted a miserable 13 days). And while I'm so very happy for friends who develop an excellent BF relationship with their babies, I'm also a bit jealous and wistful that I never had that experience with mine...even though I made the best decision for my family at the time and truly believed (now and then) that I tried my best.

Thanks for posting this, Arwen. I REALLY appreciate it! Now we'll see how #2 handles BF-ing in May...

This makes me feel better over my extreme guilt for giving up one work pump session a day. It is hormones, not rational thought that is making me crazy. Rationally, I know one bottle of formula a day will not kill her and will help me keep my sanity (and job!) at work. I have to keep telling myself: formula is a legitimate food option, not rat poison. Where before I got pregnant, I would have 1000% been ok with having had a formula fed baby.

I wonder if part of it can't be compared to a new romantic relationship. In that when you first start dating someone, you are completely infatuated with that person and want to spend every waking moment with him/her. Once the relationship is older, you are able to see some flaws and no longer the desire to be connected at the hip. With a baby, your relationship with him/her is so new and overpowering, you want it to be perfect, thus the guilt over breast feeding. As time goes on, the relationship grows older, and the need for perfection diminishes--just like a baby and the *need* to have to breastfeed constantly.

This may seem like semantics, but I like to be conscious about distinguishing guilt from regret. I once saw regret defined as "distress over a desire unfulfilled", whereas guilt is what comes from knowingly doing something wrong. The distinction feels important to me, since calling something "guilt" seems to carry self-blame and the wracking inability to forgive oneself.

Regrets are something we all have--things we wish would have gone differently--but they seem easier to let go, somehow. It makes more sense to me too; like, it makes total sense that you would regret the NICU time you missed with L&A-- you desire so much that it had gone differently! But you did the absolute best you could, so no guilt. And, the moms I know who never had the desire to breastfeed don't have the crushing guilt of the moms who really wanted to breastfeed and couldn't. So, I think it's more than semantics, is what I'm saying! :-)

But, even framed as regrets, I think early motherhood regrets are particularly hard because we don't get a chance to do it over. To do it better. If I regret feeding my kids too much fast food, I can feed them home-cooked meals for the rest of the month and feel better. If I regret yelling and being short-tempered, I can change and make it up to my kids. Births, first days spent with a baby, breastfeeding-- if these don't go how we hope they will, we can't change that. The disappointment (the regret!) is awful.

Anyway, having said that, I totally agree about the hormones! And I think hormones amplify the regret we feel when our desires for ourselves and our babies go unfulfilled.

Great topic! :-)

Okay, so I started to write a novel length comment but I won't. Suffice it to say, this is an excellent post.

Long have a thought that there is a instinctual tie with mothers and breastfeeding.

I had low supply with both of my sons. Intellectually, I knew that I was doing everything in my power to breastfeed them, but I'm a mammal, and mammals nurse their babies, so supplementing was a giant disappointment for me even though it was necessary. I believe that the mothering instinct (or hormones, or the way we have evolved - whatever combination is involved) to do things the way "nature intended," even when we realize that we're already doing our best, is so strong that mothers can feel a lot of disappointment/guilt over not doing whatever they consider to be "ideal."

I made it 13 days before I broke down, and sobbing and dripping snot over everything, baby included, told my husband to go to the store and buy some formula because Gwen was hungry and I simply couldn't bring her to my breast. I managed to do some pumping for another two weeks or so before the output was so meagre and it was preventing me from spending any time with my wonderful little girl and since then (2 months) she's been healthily and happily formula-raised.

In a sense, the decision to stop nursing was easy, in that I'd reached the point where the mental anticipation of the pain was so strong that I simply couldn't physically get my arms to bring her to my breast. But nearly every day I regret that decision, and for many days after I made it the decision made me cry. Because it wasn't like I had no supply. It wasn't like Gwen had tongue-tie or a cleft palate or anything. No, two nurses and three lactation consultants later, the only thing was "her mouth is a bit small", and I simply never mastered the art of getting her to latch on properly, and during the last 5 days we nursed, when she did latch on, the pain was so great that I rate it only 1 to 1.5 points lower on the pain scale than labor itself. So there is always a part of me that says that the reason I had to stop was that I didn't try hard enough/have enough patience/have a higher pain tolerance, and that if I had tried hard, had more patience, could've worked through the pain, we'd still be breastfeeding.

So yeah, even when I look at my happy, healthy little girl who grins at me when I pick her up from her basket (which I should go do soon since I hear her cooing away...), even when I read all of the stories of friends who say "I was formula-raised and look how I turned out", even when I look at my wonderful husband who was formula-fed after 2 months (I think), I still feel tremendously guilt that I could've done better. That there was no reason other than my failings that prevented us from being able to nurse.

Geez, I'd really been doing quite well for the last month or so, but writing all of this is making me cry again. I think I will always regret that nursing didn't work out for us.

Nutshell: I think the coping mechanisms we use pre-child don't even begin to encompass what we'll need post-child. I totally agree that hormones are a big part of it, but I'm also going to throw in the whole shock to the system that is birth and parenthood. You cannot possibly know until you try it. I do believe it is different with each successive child, even though I had one. I think that many times when you hear about somebody giving their child tons of companionship in the NICU, it's because they don't have older children at home or a job they're returning to. So, to contrast their situation with our own is not a correct comparison.

My daughter eats fast food a lot. She's a very healthy girl who's doing wonderfully in school, and I have had to concede that fast food is indeed food, and kids can handle it. It still has fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It's palatable and they eat and grow, so, I have no argument there. I liked Wendy's in the nugget years because they had mandarin oranges if you didn't want fries, but of course McD has apple slices. There are options, and one of them is to have fruit another time and enjoy fries at the restaurant...because the odds of me ever making fries at home are zero! lol

I think it's a good theory. Hormones can be so wicked, which annoys the hell out of me as someone who spent (and spends) a great deal of time getting irritated when people blame crankiness or assertiveness on a woman's hormones.

Anyway, that thriving post you linked to: Brilliant.

I feel guilty for how good it felt when I stopped! I nursed my twins for 9 months. And letme tell ya, if you think most people would give mothers of multiples a pass on breastfeeding, they surely will if they are born qt 28 weeks! I breastfed and pumped and it was hard! I had just about every problem except bleeding nipples. Ostensibly, I stopped to takes mess to treat my rheumatoid arthritis, but the other piece was that I was done. And within two days I felt so much better. But when the boys get sick, or I see a friend nursing her one year old, I wish I could have held on, but then another part of me is so glad I let go

As an adoptive mom who hasn't had the "pleasure" of dealing with pregnancy or breastfeeding hormones, your post was intriguing to me in a different way. We are currently waiting to be chosen by a birthmom to add a second child to our family. As I think and pray about women who are in a position to have to make a decision about placing their babies, I often think and pray, too, about women who have "lost" their babies to abortion. I saw a photo from the March for Life featuring a woman holding a sign that said, "I regret my abortion," and it made me think about all those people who deny the existence of post-abortion syndrome. I think your post (and the hormonal experience of millions of mothers) absolutely proves the existence post-abortion depression. How could you NOT feel some sort of depression in that situation? Your brain is being pumped with hormones that insist that you SHOULD be nurturing a life. They are biologically programmed to feel SOMETHING. Just experiencing the emotions of our first adoption...I know if the birthmother had changed her mind after the baby was born, I would have mourned the loss of that child...I was already attached. And I didn't have any biological or hormonal connection.

Awesome job on the twins! My twins are almost 1 and I am really looking forward to not pumping at work. I couldn't pump enough, so they've had a mix of formula and breastmilk. It was really hard convincing myself that they would survive on formula.

Love the thoughts and discussion here! I wish I could give you a big hug! I've also been thinking about choices lately and ran across this TED video about choice. At the end she talks about parents who had to make the decision to take their extremely premature baby off life support, how that choice is handled in other countries and how the respective families feel about that choice. Eye opening for me and a different way to look at the choices we make.

I think hormones and instinct have a profound impact on mothering during infancy.

At the same time, I have three children; I have both nursed and bottle-fed, depending on the situation. I chose to bottle feed precisely because I did not trust my body to do what it was supposed to do; I had already lost two children to miscarriage and just couldn't assume that everything would work naturally. I felt such relief to feed them a bottle and know for sure I could feed my children.

Interesting how all of it works together.

From Rach: "but then I realize that 99.999% of the judgement is coming from inside my own head."

She hit the nail on the head for me, there. I know that all the judgement about my having had (an unwanted, emergency, double-life-saving) C-section is in my head. I know that the judgement for having stopped nursing at 9.5 months (after 2 months of serious physical and emotional struggle to bring my supply back up after an illness, resulting in my daughter still being supplemented with formula after each nursing session) is in my own head.

And I think you make a very valid argument, Arwen, for why our heads have these thoughts. Biologically, we are not supposed to need C-sections. We are supposed to nurse our children until they no longer need our milk. And even though we live in a modern time, where lifesaving surgeries can be performed (my daughter and I both probably would have died in childbirth 200 years ago) and where formula is available for those who can't produce enough milk or who can't be with their babies all day long to nurse or who just choose not to fight the battle that is breastfeeding (even if it goes smoothly, it's still HARD WORK), history and biology tell us that if we don't do exactly as our bodies are built to do, there is something wrong. Even if there is absolutely nothing wrong.

I've never looked at a bottle-feeding mom, even when I was exclusively nursing, and judged her. If anything, I have thought, "Man. That would be so much easier than fighting with this stupid cover and clips and shirt panels." I don't know anyone who has ever heard of a situation where a woman delivered via C-section and thought "Well. She obviously didn't try hard enough." But I know SO MANY WOMEN in both of those situations who judge THEMSELVES for not trying hard enough, or being strong enough, or whatever.

I wish someone would give women a pass to stop assuming we're all judging each other, so that we can stop judging ourselves. (A REAL pass. The internet is full of blog posts just like this one, giving women free passes to stop feeling guilty, and yet we can't seem to stop. Maybe if we all had physical passes that we could turn in somewhere for, I don't know, trophies or something.)

Gah, that comment was a blog post in and of itself. Sorry about that :)

I think the idea that we're wired to feel like we NEED to be breastfeeding is a very interesting one. That certainly helps explain the emotional roller coaster that everyone seems to experience when weaning, at whatever point they choose to do so.

As for the teething post, which I meant to comment on and never did, I fully agree with you. Teething is likely painful, and can be the cause of baby fussiness sometimes. It's unlikely that teething causes every single bad night, or low grade fever, or bout of excessive drooliness. My mother in law swears her children were never EVER sick, so if my kids were sick, she would INSIST that it was their teeth. Even if we had a confirmed ear infection, it was a RESULT of teething. Good grief

This is fascinating! On the NICU thing, I have this to offer. My younger son was born 5 weeks early and had a 3-week NICU stay. I was with him overnight every night, and there during the day at least 4-6 hours out of every day. My husband was able to take family leave and be with our almost-4-year-old.

So, the guilt? It goes the other way around. It's over three years later, and I STILL feel guilt that I didn't take greater advantage of the terrific NICU care my younger son had, and spend more time at home with my older son. I actually grieve the lost opportunity to have one-on-one time with the older son before the great change (baby coming home) occurred. It helps to read your post and know that I would probably second-guess the decision no matter what I'd decided.

I think you're pretty much one of the smartest women out there. And that, after reading your blog for three years, this post has made me certain that you and I would be best friends if we knew each other in real life. I just love it when people display such humility, are so down-to-earth, rational, and thoughtful. This was a brilliant post, and you are brilliant!

This is so great! We all have different kinds of guilt. I get so sad when I hear stories of women who had a natural birth, when I tried so hard to have one and ended up with a C-section. A month ago, I was worried that I wasn't pumping enough milk for my baby at daycare, and I thought I would have to supplement her. I had horrible anxiety over it for days before I found a solution to the issue. And the head/heart disconnect is right on. It MUST be the hormones.

I totally hear you. I had one baby in the NICU for a week. The first few days when he was so sick I was by his warmer about 18-20 hours a day and felt awful it wasn't 24. Once he was doing better I was still with him 18-20 hours but was able to hold and care for him. I was the only mom there that much. Many babies went days with no visitors. All I could think of was 'if a few hours away from my baby hurts me, what would I do for days?' I'm looking at a possible early term preemie now. The hospital is an hour from home and I have 8 children at home. I am petrified of a nicu stay. More because I don't know how I will manage the needs of ALL my children than anything else. I feel like it is.lose-lose no matter.what I do.

I totally hear you. I had one baby in the NICU for a week. The first few days when he was so sick I was by his warmer about 18-20 hours a day and felt awful it wasn't 24. Once he was doing better I was still with him 18-20 hours but was able to hold and care for him. I was the only mom there that much. Many babies went days with no visitors. All I could think of was 'if a few hours away from my baby hurts me, what would I do for days?' I'm looking at a possible early term preemie now. The hospital is an hour from home and I have 8 children at home. I am petrified of a nicu stay. More because I don't know how I will manage the needs of ALL my children than anything else. I feel like it is.lose-lose no matter.what I do.

I love this post. With my first I had a really hard time breastfeeding, I was extremely overweight, out of shape, and my 'girls' were very, very unweildy. As in the specialty bra store did not sell my size. It was impossible to get in a good position to feed my daughter. Then, despite pumping every two hours in addtion to feeding on demand, I never would get any more than an ounce at a session. I finally quit, and never got engorged or anything. I was miserable and felt like a failure. Now pregnant with my second I have been reading up on the condition I have, PCOS, and milk undersupply is a well known problem with women who have this condition. It is really upsetting because I told everyone that I had PCOS with my first, the nurses, lactation consultants, and everything, and no one ever told me. I was set up for failure and to feel like one. My OB thinks it may be possible with medicine to get my milk suppy going with this one, but I am really just thinking about not even trying, because I don't know if I want to deal with the stress of it, in addition to having a newborn and another young child in the house.

Great post. I don't know why we womend have to be so hard on ourselves, let alone each other! But throw up breastfeeding or SAHM vs. WAHM and you can bet someone will have a "throw down" (at least verbally) somewhere....

I'm happy to see other adoptive moms chiming in. I didn't have pregnancy hormones overwhelming me, but the emotions of being a first time mom sure did! I craved phyiscal contact with my boy and wanted to protect and nurture him with the strongest instincts. I considered breastfeeding, but the thought of taking herbs, supplements, using a supplemental system to "fake the nursing" and feed formula sounded so unnatural, that I just went for the bottle with gusto.

And 6 years later, I will wish I could have breastfed him and worry he'll be deficient in some way because I did not.It's not rational, it just is. I think I've forgiven myself for something I couldn't control, yet I feel wistful.

All this to say - You are NORMAL. Try not to be too hard on yourself (says the woman doing the same thing!) We hear you!

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I love this idea. I think are bodies ARE very wise. I think you are RIGHT when our bodies are holding us to some kind of... standard or memory or whatever that was important to our survival. The same concept could also be applied to birth and the feelings associated w/ a birth that didn't go as planned. Nice post, Arwen!

This is the first time I'm reading your blog. I'm sorry to hear about your babies in NICU, I could imagine how stressful that would be. I would also feel some anxiety and guilt if I had to leave my future baby at the hospital without caring for her myself. But you seem to handle the situation well, and from the looks of it, you have lots of support!
As far as the fast food, I'm feeling somewhat guilty because I treat myself to Wendy's every couple of weeks, sometimes more often thatn that. I go through the drivethru to avoid judgement from guests inside! I haven't put too much thought into fast food, when my baby is born. I enjoyed reading your paragraph about fast food and your kids.

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