I’m fairly new to the mom game. My precious sweet pea was born on May 27, just over seven weeks ago. I can’t claim to have a plethora of knowledge and wisdom about motherhood, but already I have tasted my fair share of things that can make a new (or seasoned) mom feel like they’ve failed their child. During the weeks that have passed, I have found myself scouring the internet for articles and blogs that would offer me encouragement, and I found plenty—but what’s one more? I’m writing this for anyone who searched like I did, who couldn’t read or absorb enough, who wished there was just one more something to encourage them. I’m writing this for you.
Evelyn came into this world like a wrecking ball. I’ll spare you the details, but she was born on her side and she injured me pretty significantly. I didn’t care though because I had this beautiful squishy, slippery, squalling little angel in my arms and literally everything but her and her daddy disappeared. I don’t even remember the buzz of nurses doing their routine tasks. I don’t remember the sights or sounds. I just remember her. I remember my husband cutting my sports bra off of me because there was no way to take it off with the IV in my arm. I remember bringing her to my breast with shaky hands, terrified to hold her incorrectly, clumsily trying to show her how to nurse when I didn’t even know how myself. I remember asking for help because her little mouth wouldn’t open wide enough. And that’s when the source of my mommy guilt began.
Her top lip wouldn’t flange out properly. She bit me; she sucked frantically. She bruised me black and blue. We went through over an hour of this before my nurse finally shook her head and said, “Alright, this isn’t working. She’s already injured you pretty badly and if you keep trying, it’s going to be impossible to nurse her in the days to come. Let’s take a break and try a few other things.”
This was when she suggested a nipple shield. Didn’t work. In defeat, I begged her to tell me if my baby would starve, and to be honest. Don’t tell me her tummy is tiny and she’ll be fine for a day or two. Don’t assure me that one or two drops is enough. I don’t buy it. Tell me the truth. “She isn’t going to starve, but you’re not able to extract enough colostrum. With your permission, I’d like to bring you some supplemental formula. She won’t need much, just a few mLs. In the meantime I will help you get in contact with a lactation consultant. They aren’t here over the weekend, but you can bring her in next week.”
First of all, what kind of birthing hospital doesn’t have lactation consultants over the weekend? But anyway….
After talking it over with my husband, we reluctantly agreed.
You see, before she was born, I had an image in my head of how this would go. She would latch beautifully, nursing to her heart’s content. I would finally know what the sacred act of feeding your child with your body felt like. In a few days I would experience the “bowling ball boobs” every mom talks about. I would whine about how much they hurt. It would be perfect. But it didn’t happen that way.
It was four or five days before we were able to see the lactation consultant. I sat in the rocking chair, so exhausted that I was hardly able to focus on what she was saying to me. “Pump every two hours.” “Let me show you how to use the shield properly.” “Make sure she opens wide.” She said a million other things I don’t remember. We tried several times to latch her, and eventually I had tears streaming down my face. It still wasn’t working. “Have her checked for a lip tie,” she suggested. So at her first appointment with her pediatrician, that’s what we did.
“She doesn’t have one,” we were told. “But she still hasn’t gained a single ounce. In fact, she weighs less now than she did when you left the hospital. You need to make sure you are pumping and supplementing or she’s going to get dehydrated.”
My first dose of mommy guilt. I was starving my child, even though I thought she was getting enough food.
Another week passed. Another lactation appointment. Another weight check. Still not gaining. “I want you to see a specialist about her mouth,” we were told. “Pediatricians hardly ever diagnose this properly.”
A few days later we were sitting down with the specialist, watching her examine our daughter. “See this?” she said after she had her assistant take photos of every nook of Evelyn’s mouth. “She has a significant tongue tie. Her upper lip is actually okay, but her cheeks are tied as well. She isn’t able to lift her tongue adequately to nurse, and her cheeks prevent her from flanging her lip properly. Babies begin learning to suck very early in the womb, and the habit she’s formed is a habit that will be hard to break, but eventually she will learn.”
She explained that the procedure was very simple: she would use a laser to cut the ties, and since babies hardly have the nerve development in those areas to feel it, she would mainly cry from being restrained. She warned us that after the procedure we would have a very fussy baby for a couple days. Her tongue would have to learn how to lift properly, and like any muscle, it would become fatigued. We would wonder if we had done the right thing. She gave us her personal phone number to call if we were distraught with worry. “Don’t text me. Call me. I want you to hear the sincerity in my voice when I tell you she will be okay.”
This woman was an angel. I could have hugged her for her compassion. She said we could stay with Evelyn during the procedure (which would only take about two minutes total, and most of that would just consist of getting her in the proper position), but I couldn’t do it. On two hours of sleep, shaky with malnutrition, I sat in the next room and cried into my hands while she screamed, feeling my husband gently stroking my hair.
My second dose of mommy guilt. I couldn’t be with my child when she was scared.
The doctor brought her in, swaddled and whimpering, and told me to try and nurse her. She immediately latched and it was flawless. I rocked her and wept while she finally nursed like she needed to, seeing her fall asleep from her mother’s comfort.
“She isn’t sore yet. You might notice a regression in her ability to latch for a few days, but don’t get discouraged. It could be weeks before she relearns how to move her tongue.”
We thanked her probably half a dozen times before we left. Evelyn’s recovery wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected. She had one inconsolable period of about an hour, but her fussiness was surprisingly minor over the next few days. We were finally nursing, but there was one problem: it had been about two weeks since she was born. My supply of milk was already stunted. Thus began several more weeks of cramming my body full of supplements, pumping every couple of hours, three more lactation appointments, and spending days nursing and nursing and nursing. I even developed an allergy to fenugreek, but I kept taking it. “Keep with it! If you stay consistent, your supply will catch up.” Friends and family believed in me, and it almost made me believe as well, but in the end, it just didn’t happen.
I will never be able to nurse her exclusively. I’m so thankful that I did the work though, because at least for now, I am able to feed her about half of what she needs before supplementation. But we can’t really nurse because she gets confused switching between the bottle and the breast, so I will have to pump. Last night I sat down and had a good cry. I said goodbye to the nursing relationship I had always dreamt of.
Third dose of mommy guilt: knowing I can no longer offer her that comfort she craves.
A million thoughts run through my head every day. What if we had caught this sooner? What if I didn’t try hard enough? What if I am admitting defeat because it’s somehow easier for me to stop trying so hard? I know my sanity is important, and that’s why I have to take a step back and accept what is and what has to be.
I will likely always have regrets. But my child is fed. She’s gaining weight. She’s thriving. And in the end, that’s all that matters. That’s what makes me a good mother.
If things haven’t gone according to plan for you, know that you are still doing everything you can for your baby. Your baby won’t remember your supply issues, or that your birth wasn’t what you hoped it would be, or that you couldn’t be in the room with him or her during difficult procedures. Don’t let the guilt you’re feeling affect the precious moments you can spend with your baby. That’s my fourth dose of mommy guilt: crying in the bathtub several times when I could have been snuggling my daughter. Embrace these beautiful, messy, terrifying, exhausting first weeks and months. You’ll never get them back.