Chasing My Daughter: A Window into Working Motherhood

Chasing My Daughter: A Window into Working Motherhood

Becoming a mother activated a tense, frayed worrier in me that I’d hardly ever seen in myself before.  It didn’t help that my pregnancy was fraught with quite a few scary scenarios that left me wondering if my child and I were going to come out of the pregnancy unscathed (or at all, in my deepest fears).  I had hoped those fears would be healed and become a distant memory after a beautiful, empowering, natural birth to a lusty, healthy baby.  Instead, a concern of mine was gaining steam as my belly grew larger and my daughter’s due date approached.  My body was not a hospitable place for a child and my pregnancy had greatly weakened me for delivery, when I would most need my strength.  This fear wasn’t entirely misplaced.

A traumatic delivery left us all wounded and weak and my daughter was whisked to the NICU.  The next week of my life my soul danced through stages of faith, peace, levity, black fear, panic, meltdowns, and exultation.  Every bit of my body, soul, and mind were ravaged by this experience.  The calm, laid-back mother I pictured myself being morphed into someone trying to keep the bile down and smile through the worry clawing at my throat.  She was only in the NICU for 8 days, but there was so much uncertainty.  What had gone wrong?  No one was entirely sure.  Would she be ok?  They wouldn’t know until the relatively new form of treatment was completed in 4 days.  She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t be held.  I spent those days wanting nothing more than to be with her, just to have her in my arms, reunited with my body where I knew she belonged.  She was torn from me when she needed me most, and my body was barely capable of sitting in the wheelchair long enough to stay by her bassinet for 20 minutes those first days.  From her first days I felt like I could never get enough time with her.  We are always filling the hole of that stolen first week, always trying to catch up.

I always planned on going back to work.  I really love working and I also need to work to pay bills.  My employer has always been incredibly understanding and accommodating of my need to be with my daughter.  They allowed me to bring her into work when that was feasible, work from home, and be forgiving and flexible when I had a hard time saying goodbye in the mornings.  And for the first few hours I’m at work, it’s great!  I know my daughter is well-cared for and I enjoy the adult interaction.  But the rest of my day is spent slowly unraveling and fraying at the edges feeling her little heart calling out to mine.  I think of the look in her eyes when she sees me at the end of a long day, “Where have you been?” they say.  My commute home is torture, how can I get there faster?  I have precious few waking hours each weekday with my daughter and I’m desperate not to miss out on a minute.

And I know I’m not alone.  I’m not the only mom mourning lost hours with my baby.  I’m not the only mom with a one track mind the minute 5PM strikes, who’s making her way to her baby like the world might end if we don’t have time to laugh and cuddle and hold our babies before bedtime.  Because it feels like the world will end.  They are our world.  We always feel like we’re making up for a deficit.  On top of it we’re worn the hell out from working, and then being our best mommy-selves at home (because we have to give them the best we have in the few hours a day we have together), keeping our homes running and functional, and honestly, the impossibility of it all is ripping us to shreds.  When do I take time to rest and care for my body?  I already feel like I short-change my daughter during the workweek, how can I rob her of more time on the weekends?

I’m not here to propose any solutions.  Sometimes I think I have answers.  But truthfully, most working mothers face a brutal and inhuman reality.  We’re all floundering in this unsupportive system and all we can offer each other is “me too” and “it’s so hard, I know”.  But don’t think those words of empathy and encouragement are meaningless.  The chorus of women saying, “me too” is my hope that we’ll find a way to quiet that unraveling worrier inside that feels we’ll never be enough.

 

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5 Easy Steps to Perfect Parenting!

5 Easy Steps to Perfect Parenting!

Because we all know that anything worth having in this life can be attained with 5 easy, well-communicated, vague truths!

Seriously, the truth is that perfect parents don’t exist.  I’m certainly not one, and I feel pretty confident you aren’t either (which makes me really like you a lot more).  The real struggles involved with being the best parent and person you can are much more complicated than can be summed up in some easily digested list.  Real parenting is kind of unmarketable.  No one can walk you through every challenge you face or every weird thing your kid does and how to handle it.  At the end of the day you have to understand your child, yourself, and your circumstances and work with the best information and resources you have at hand.   Unmarketable truths no one wants to hear is my specialty.  So let’s dive right in to the 5 things to remember while you’re being your hard-chargingly imperfect self! *Take all this with a grain of salt from a first time mom with one young child.  I’m sure you mothers of many can and will school me.

1. Love, Love, Love, and more Love

It’s really obvious conceptually.  We’ve been hearing about how important unconditional love is for healthy psychological development and attachment.  But, this is a gentle reminder that love from a parent to a child takes on all forms.  Yes, a lot of it is communicating that love “I love you!”, hugs, kisses, and smiles.  But, love also means saying “no” because something is unsafe or allowing them to work through frustrations on their own because that’s a valuable skill.  Or it could also mean giving them space and alone time to spend time better understanding themselves.  How we love our children takes many forms.

2. Don’t Make it a War

I see so many articles espousing one parenting technique or style and denigrating the others.  They all tell you that you need to pick one and be consistent.  Align yourself with one parenting philosophy and stay dedicated!  First, don’t do this to yourself.  It puts so much pressure on you to be right before you even start implementing a sleep philosophy, or a feeding philosophy, or discipline, etc (you get my point).  This is really impossible, give yourself a little room and flexibility to figure out what’s best under the current circumstances with the kid you have.  You don’t want to be changing things up on them constantly, but kids can handle some change.  Second, don’t put your kid on the other side of a discipline battle.   You are on their side, even if you don’t agree.  We are their advocates, even against their own foolish impulses.

3. Find Friends and Allies

Allies are people who agree with your parenting philosophies, which makes play dates easier and less fraught with potential friction.  It’s also nice to spend some time with people and not have to defend yourself or feel tense about serious differences of opinion.

Friends are people who you have and care about in your life regardless of their viewpoints and opinions.  You need people who you care about AND disagree with.  It’s how we keep perspective.

4. Start Believing in Redemption

I hate to break it to you, but we are all deeply flawed.  Oh wait, I don’t hate to break it to you.  I’m actually at the point in my life where I am just a tiny bit gleeful about the realization that we are all deeply flawed.  This means, that despite our very best intentions some of those flaws are going to rub off on our kids.  And despite our best efforts at damage control it will affect them as they mature.  If you start believing in redemption now you’ll handle those phone calls from adult children much better later in life.  (Also,  if you haven’t forgiven your own parents for stuff, now might be a good time to work through that.)

5. Tell Everyone and Their Expectations to Shove It!

Probably don’t actually tell them this to their face unless the circumstances call for it.  For the most part, people mean very well with their terrible advice and their inappropriate judgement.  We really can do little to stop the unsolicited advice from rolling in.  We can however, refuse to give these voices a forum in our own heads.  Sit down with your spouse, your partner, your parent, or yourself (whoever is helping you raise this little hellion) and talk about what you really think 1) your child needs and 2) you can truly give them.  This is really all that matters.

So there it is.  5 super duper easy steps to being the most perfect parent alive.  Which is what we really all got into this parenting thing for in the first place, right?  To be perfect parents?

 

The Real Reason I Think Breastfeeding is so Important

The Real Reason I Think Breastfeeding is so Important

*Before reading this article please note my prior posts on a healthy acknowledgement that not all moms/babies can breastfeed and that is perfectly OK.

There is a lot of information floating around about the benefits of breastfeeding.  There are all kinds of studies that will tell you that breastfed babies are smarter, breastfed babies are healthier, breastfed babies have lower chances of developing certain diseases later in life, etc.  Most of the benefits that are touted relate to the nutritional value of breast milk and its superiority to formula.  Although the immunological benefits come up as well.  But, depending on where these studies are conducted, some of the studies may reveal more about the long-term well being of children who are raised in homes that value breastfeeding, than the actual breast milk.  I’m not saying that’s the case, but I’m also going to say that we have a love/hate relationship with scientific studies and their results right now.  Not sure what I mean?  Read this brilliant Jezebel article on all the conflicting information you get as a pregnant woman (all citing scientific studies).  It’s the same for anything, people listen to and cite the research that supports their preconceived notions.

That being said, do I think breast  milk is nutritionally superior than formula?  For most kids yes.  Do I think that formula is a life long sentence to ill-health and low grades? No.  Like anything in life, being breastfed is one single influencing factor in a whole host of influencing factors.  So, why are almost all my blog posts about it and why does it matter to me so much that I breastfeed my baby and see other moms breastfeed theirs?  I’m going to warn you, my answer is pretty unscientific and I don’t (*gasp*) have any studies to back me up.

One of the few instincts that babies are born with is the rooting instinct.  There are several mouth reflexes that exist to encourage a baby to seek and find nourishment.  The design of our bodies (and theirs) is that they should root and find their mother’s nipple.  That child has spent the past 9 (or fewer) months inside their mother’s body.  Protected, ensconced, and perpetually cared for in their own perfect little ecosystem.  They come into this world through pain and effort and hard work.  The separation of the mother’s body from the baby’s is a really violent process.  I’m sure there are some that are relatively calm, but even if you had a peaceful birth there is blood and sweat and other bodily fluids all being spent in the effort of removing a part of the mother’s body so it can grow and flourish to be its own independent being.  And now the child is in a world it’s only known by proxy, and the way our species keeps surviving century after century is by developing a habit to immediately seek comfort, nourishment, and warmth at the mother’s breast.  Because both mom and baby need this as a way of sharing her body until they are both ready for their own space.  We come into this world the way we spend the rest of our lives, looking for connection. 

To me, being at a mother’s breast, hearing her heart beat, being held in her arms, being warmed by her presence is such a crucial initial reassurance for a child after the shock of birth.  And I say that as someone who could not provide that for my daughter for her first 4 days of life.  It’s a first indicator to this little person what the world outside the womb will be like.  Once we become pregnant our bodies immediately begin redirecting nutrition and energy away from ourselves and towards growing this little being inside of us.  Unless someone chose to terminate the pregnancy altogether we have no choice in how our body uses resources to grow a child.  We form a bond with this child inside us, but in a strange twist it’s very tentative because it’s inside us, which means we can’t see or touch or hear each other directly.  But, when a child is born a mother is faced with the choice of whether she wants to continue to give of her body to her child.  Breastfeeding is one crucial way (not the only way!) that a mother can do this.  She now has the choice to literally take calories, water, and energy from her own body to sustain her child.  This is really powerful, it’s a physical manifestation of a deep and serious commitment.

Love and connection are not bound by practices and rituals, and especially the love of a mother for her child can never be contained or restrained by one act.  For me breastfeeding is a serious act of love and dedication to my daughter and an oath to be my best as a mother.  This is more important than whatever nutritional and immunological benefits are gained from breastfeeding.  Scientific studies are great, but they’ve never had the final word on anything.  As women and mothers we can tap into a deep and intuitive understanding of what is best for those under our care, and that’s why I choose to breastfeed.

 

 

Breastfeeding: System Failures not Mom Failures

Breastfeeding: System Failures not Mom Failures

I talk a lot about breastfeeding, mainly because I’ve spent the past year plus of my life nursing my daughter 6-12 times a day, so I end up thinking about it a lot.  Which means I’ve read a lot of articles about breastfeeding, I’ve watched all the documentaries and I belong to several virtual and real life breastfeeding support groups.  And of course anyone who is paying attention to trending blog posts and media discussions will see that one of the issues at the crux of the “mommy wars” is breastfeeding vs formula feeding.  For the sake of this blog post let’s put aside the moms who decide in advance that breastfeeding isn’t for them and they aren’t interested in trying.

What we have left are moms who exclusively breastfeed, exclusively pump, pump and breastfeed, breastfeed and supplement with formula, and moms who tried to breastfeed but ended up exclusively feeding their babies formula.  Often moms who have exclusively fed their infants breast milk know that bad information early in the breastfeeding relationship can totally derail breastfeeding and negatively affect milk supply.  As a result, when another mom says she is sad that she “just doesn’t make enough” and needs to either supplement or switch to exclusively formula feeding, a bunch of other moms jump in to see if she is drinking enough water, eating enough calories, feeding on demand, power pumping, getting a good latch, seeing a lactation consultant… etc etc until the message that mom starts to hear in her head is “this is your fault, you could be doing something different and succeed”.  And the truth is that according to research, a very small percentage of women biologically and medically cannot produce enough milk to feed their babies.

However, I would posit that a more important truth is that new mothers who want to breastfeed get either very little information, bad information, or tons of conflicting information before and immediately after their babies are born.  We’ll start with my personal experience and then examine some of the feedback I’ve heard from other moms directly.  I was relatively prepared before my daughter was born.  My mother breastfed and promised to be a resource to me.  I took a birthing class that covered breastfeeding.  I watched two breastfeeding documentaries, one while pregnant, the other a few weeks postpartum.  My obstetrician asked me if I intended to breastfeed once, I said yes, she literally never talked to me about it again.

My obstetrician asked me if I intended to breastfeed once, I said yes, she literally never talked to me about it again.

That’s right.  The doctor who is supposed to be trained in all things women’s health and baby birthing never discussed the potential issues I might face and where to find good/vetted information.  She verified that I had good intentions and then left me to sort through the information I encountered from other moms, nurses, Dr. Google, and well-meaning strangers on my own.  Then my daughter was born and she was immediately whisked to the NICU.  So now I had three lactation consultants and four postpartum nurses coming in every four hours or so giving me different instructions on how often I should pump, what flange size I should use, and how to care for my nipples.  Thankfully I knew enough to ignore some of the bad advice I received in those first three days postpartum.  Fast forward a week and my little girl is discharged from the hospital (hurray!) we go home, she gains weight, everyone says, “great job!”.  Meanwhile I feel like my nipples are going to fall off and I’m using every healing treatment I can find to keep that from happening because I’m so determined that I won’t let anything derail us from breastfeeding a full year.  Finally, I have a full on breakdown around four weeks postpartum and I look online for a local lactation consultant to come and help me.

The first woman who comes to my house is clearly nervous and she’s making me nervous and she’s making my daughter nervous.  She goes through her weight checks and watches us nurse and makes a few suggestions, but at the end of the visit says, “Hmm, I’m really not sure what’s wrong.”  I was NOT a happy camper.  Finally, I ask my pediatrician for a lactation consultant recommendation and I get Lisa.  Oh, what a difference Lisa makes.  It doesn’t take her long to identify a tongue and lip tie, and soon we have schedule a procedure to get it corrected, and while I still had issues for another 6 months, it was enough to get us to one year!

Now, let’s take what other moms have going on.  They have daycare providers who are imposing formula guidelines on them because they don’t understand how breastfeeding is different.  They have pediatricians who don’t understand much about breastfeeding and give them terrible advice.  They have postpartum nurses who are trying to formula feed their babies against their wishes.  They have mothers and aunts who never breastfed and don’t support it and work against them at every turn.  They have husbands/partners who see their breasts as sexual and want them to stop because they seem to have this wrong idea in their head that as the partner they “own” these breasts.

Some of the most harmful misinformation is coming from medical professionals.  When a mom receives bad advice from a medical professional she is put in a position of going “rogue” and going against the advice she receives in order to do what she feels may be best for her and her baby.  Now she feels like she’s taking a risk and the truth is that if motherhood does anything to a woman, it makes her risk averse.  Especially when it comes to her brand new baby.

So, what’s the more important truth here?  The more important truth is that moms haven’t failed to breastfeed, we have a system that has failed to support them in their breastfeeding goals.  We have told them that “breast is best” and they should strive to exclusively breastfeed.  But then we haven’t educated our obstetricians, our pediatricians, our nurses, all of our medical professionals about how to help a woman succeed in lactation.  We’ve set a goal for moms and we have failed to give them adequate support.  On one hand we are supposed to be able to trust the medical advice given to us by those who have spent their lives studying how our bodies work and how to care for them.  On the other hand if you talk to breastfeeding moms you’ll know they’ve had to ignore all kinds of advice from medical experts in order to successfully breastfeed.  And then when they don’t meet that goal, with often really good intentions to help, we’ve essentially told them they are to blame.  We’ve set moms up to fail, and then we put this crushing pressure and guilt on them to make up for the major flaws of our maternal health system. 

Let’s eliminate guilt from our conversations about maternal health.  It’s not helping.  It’s always hurting.  And then let’s focus all the good, constructive energy we have to make the maternal health system better and stop nitpicking our friends, coworkers, relatives about their mothering choices.

 

Women’s Health: Ideals vs. Reality

This isn’t news to any of you I’m sure, but people are always trying to tell women what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies.  Maybe because we house the mechanism for the continuation of our species?  Perhaps this makes people think they have the right to be laying down these absolute edicts about how we look, how we care for our unborn and then born children, how we birth those children, how we attract (or don’t) attract mates.  Somehow it’s all public domain, and of course everyone has strong opinions on whether you are doing it right.

The reality of the matter produces a difficult situation: listening to the contradicting–and often disapproving–messages leave us constantly questioning ourselves.  We don’t need studies from hygiene products’ marketing departments to tell us that this becomes harmful to our self-image very quickly.  When it comes to women’s health there are pervasive ideas about how a woman’s body “should” function.  These expectations produce damaging results when our bodies and images don’t comply with societal norms. Most damaging results of these expectations  is that if our bodies don’t comply with these societal norms, the assumption is that we are somehow responsible.

I think this concept is most obvious in giving birth.  Many women (myself included) want to have a “natural birth”, this means giving birth without any interventions or pain relief.  There are tons of books, articles and websites out there coaching and preparing women to give birth “naturally”.  Many of these sources also blame ill-informed or indifferent doctors and uneducated mothers for the high rate of births that need interventions.  The hope is that if you do all the right kinds of stretching and mental preparation and you have a great birth plan with your doctor/midwife that you will reduce the risk of infant mortality and have a beautiful drug-free  bond with your baby and you will feel like an Earth Goddess.  I strongly believe that the original blueprint for the female body has a really great system for bringing a baby into this world.  But we live in a world full of imperfections.  Our bodies fail us in all kinds of ways from dry skin to anxiety to common colds to asthma (the list obviously goes on and on and on).  Why would we not think it’s realistic to expect imperfections in carrying and delivering another human being?  One of the most stressful physical feats our bodies will ever undergo.  And this seems obvious (to me at least), but the first assumption when something goes sideways with women’s health, is that the woman is responsible.  Needed an intervention when you gave birth?  Well, did you try spinning babies to get your infant in the optimal birthing position?  Did you do this, or that, or this?

Somehow the blame always comes back on us, like we could have prevented this.  Like we should have prevented this.  It’s the same with breastfeeding, pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss, aging, you name it.  If you are a woman and your body cooperated (easy pregnancy, successful breastfeeding, met fitness goals) then it’s easy to think that everyone should be able to attain the ideal, because well you did it, so can everyone else.  The worst is healthcare providers or partners who also witness one woman who was successful and then holds all other women to the same standard.  OR you see that many women aren’t able to attain the ideal and decide we should eliminate an ideal all together in order to level the playing field.  This follows the logic that women have lots of expectations and pressure put on them as it is, why add any additional stress?

I know it’s really unsexy to be balanced and pragmatic, but how about this.  What if we all shoot for the ideal, BUT also educate ourselves and each other about the realistic road blocks we may encounter?  It is good and healthy that we strive to do the best for ourselves and our families, we should be striving for an ideal!  I recently framed my thoughts this way to another mom who was upset at the prospect of having to supplement breastfeeding her child with formula, “Be kind to yourself Mama! You are amazing! Take the pressure off yourself to be perfect, love yourself for wanting to give your baby everything you can, and then continue to love yourself when you reach your limit. We all have to ‘supplement’ in one category or another.”  Humans are complex creatures, and we can house in ourselves the ability to strive for an ideal, fail, reach out for help, but love and respect ourselves for wanting the best.  We don’t have to kill the ideal in order to practice self-love.  What we absolutely need to do is set realistic expectations for ourselves and other women.  We need to assume that others are doing their absolute best until proven otherwise and support them in their goals as best we can.

Today’s women face really interesting challenges regardless of what they want to do.  The social structure that used to house gender norms has been entirely upset.  As a result we have a lot of freedom, but often not much support.  And on top of that, everyone has an opinion on what we should be doing.  It is good that we have healthy science-based discussions with each other on best practices for all realms of women’s health and it’s also good that we respect each others’ preferences and circumstances.  What’s making it harder for us to stand together and bridge rifts is when we project our own experiences onto others and hold them to unattainable ideals AND when we think discarding the ideals all together will make everyone feel better.  Neither of these options will inspire us to reach for the best option and be better to each other.  We can help each other by being honest about the challenges we face with women’s health.  This includes difficulty getting pregnant, miscarriages, terrible pregnancies, traumatic deliveries, difficulty breastfeeding, issues with contraception, and the list goes on.  When a woman you trust and admire puts a face and a heart to one of these issues you are much more likely to be kind to yourself because you remember being kind to her!  We don’t have to avoid tough topics in order to build solidarity and feminine community.

I still believe that the ideal birth takes place without drugs or interventions.  And I can truly never know if I would have prepared better/differently in my pregnancy whether I could have had that ideal.  What I do know is that during pregnancy and delivery my body didn’t do what it was “supposed” to do and it needed help.  I live in a day and age when that help is available (how great is that?) and I took it with both hands.  I could worry endlessly whether I did everything I should have to get the best result possible (and I did for a few weeks after my daughter’s birth).  But at the end of the day I live a life with an imperfect body and imperfect circumstances.  To think I can control all of that is harmful and counterproductive.  Thankfully I had an incredible birth class instructor who prepared us for both for the ideal set of circumstances and the less than ideal set of circumstances.  I plan on trying the whole pregnancy thing at least once more and I’ll shoot for the “ideal” again, but I will also forgive my body it’s imperfections and love myself for wanting the best if it all goes south again.

Love yourself when you succeed, love yourself when you fail, and make space to share your experiences with other women.

The “Type A” Way to Deal with Working Mom Guilt

I am a first time mom of a beautiful 9 month old little girl.  I am also 1 of 3 moms in my entire company, and 2 of us got pregnant within 4 weeks of each other.  The 3rd mom was hired 3 months before I was due, so the working mom/employer dynamic is new for all of us.  I remember talking to the other pregnant mom when I was around 7 months pregnant about childcare.  I had no clue what I was going to do.  The idea of daycare depressed me so much and instead of researching childcare centers in my area I was putting off the decision as much as possible.  My coworker on the other hand had her daycare picked out and her son’s spot reserved by the time she was 6 months pregnant!

Fast forward 5 months, my (generous) maternity leave was coming to an end and I still had no childcare plan in place.  I looked at my sweet little baby who was so happy, but also so helpless and I just couldn’t imagine handing her to a stranger and walking away every day.  So, I went to my employer and asked for some flexibility.  I sent them a proposal replete with research on bringing babies to work and I suggested that I jigsaw together a work schedule that included working from home, bringing my little girl to work, and taking advantage of my husband’s academic schedule by leaving her at home with him.  I never got a formal approval, but I also never got a formal denial.  This is super important, don’t assume that your employers know what you want or what you need.  If you’ve identified a way that you can creatively meet your needs AND your employers’ ask!  The worst that can happen is they say “no”.

So, I started bringing my daughter to work.  I LOVED it.  For those months it worked out very well, she made everyone smile, she was mostly pretty quiet, and when she was noisy they were happy sounds.  I would cover her stroller with a snow cover and she would conk out for 45 minutes to an hour.  Truth be told, I also felt like Wonder Woman.  For once my fatal procrastination had bought me something incredible, 3 extra precious months with my baby.  Around the 5 month mark this arrangement became impossible.  Highly social and easily distracted my little girl couldn’t sleep anywhere but at home and she wanted to be rolling from room to room which was especially impossible with our office undergoing renovations.  I realized that I had to find an alternate solution.

Working Mom
Working from my couch with a sleeping baby on my chest.

Incredibly I found a mom just around the corner from me on a mommy listserv who ran an in-home daycare and was looking to take on another child.  At first I was skeptical, until I found out that she watched our pediatrician’s children too!  Then I met her and her beautiful family and I literally can’t imagine a better place for my daughter to go play.  The older girls call her their “cousin”, and they squeal with joy when they see us coming down the street.  At first I tried to keep it to just 8-15 hours per week.  But, by January of this year I was approached about a promotion, and the official conversation finally came up.  What was I going to do about my schedule and childcare?

At first I was panicked, I wasn’t ready to be away from my daughter for 40 hours a week!  I love being a working mom, I really enjoy my job, but being in my daughter’s life is the most important thing to me.  I sat down with my boss and proposed that I keep 2 mornings each week to work from home and be with my baby.  They graciously accepted under the condition (of course) that it had to work.  I needed to be effective in my position.  So now I’m away from my daughter for 32 hours a week, and those first 2 weeks I hated myself.  I have never experienced anything like that before.  I am generally a pretty confident person, I examine my life decisions carefully before making them, and so I don’t often find times when I dislike myself or my actions.  But, I kept asking myself over and over “If my daughter is spending most of her time with someone else, what makes me her mother?”  I had answers, but none of them made me feel better.  I nurse my daughter, that’s something that only we do, but still that wasn’t sufficient.  I carried her for 9 months, but she doesn’t remember that.  I thought about this over and over again.  I cried at work while I pumped.  I talked to coworkers who were parents and they mostly said, “yeah, it sucks”.  I was so miserable I thought about quitting my job and getting a part-time job somewhere and totally derailing my career.

But, I couldn’t accept any of these realities as acceptable.  I really didn’t want to quit my job, especially after they had been so supportive of me through a difficult pregnancy and then when I refused to put my daughter in daycare.  I also could not imagine living with the guilt that my life choices were negatively affecting my daughter or our relationship.  I kept obsessing over a way to find a solution.  I may not have solved the whole working mom reality, but I did actually do something that made me feel better.

I decided to determine a measurable indicator of success.  I sat down and I calculated the average number of hours my daughter was awake each day and each week.  I then decided that I wanted my daughter to spend at least 60% of her waking hours with me each week.  So, I figured out how many hours that was and what?!  Wouldn’t you know, it turned out that the schedule I had made was already allowing me to spend at least 60% of her waking hours together.

IMG_0009
My little worksheet!

I felt so relieved!  She already was spending the majority of her time with me.  But without that information, that wasn’t how I felt.  I felt like a failure.  When I decided to quantify my success as a working mom, suddenly I realized that I had already achieved the balance I was looking for.

The numbers made me feel better, however my greatest lesson as a working mom is that in order to survive and make the most of every hour of the day I need to be present in every moment.  When I’m at work I need to be effective and present and enjoy the social and intellectual stimulus (which is one of my main reasons for continuing to work in the first place).  When I’m at home with the baby, I try to ignore chores and spend as much time on the floor playing with her and making her my focus.  Once I stopped stressing about the baby at work and about work when I was home with the baby everything clicked into place.  I felt like my time with my daughter was quality and that her emotional needs were being met and I felt like I was contributing quality work at the office.

Our children come to us in a state of total dependence, but their growth is a slow and steady move towards total independence.  I’ve found it healthy to remember that as long as their time away from mom is spent in a loving, caring environment that it can be a huge benefit to baby as much as mom.  My daughter is so socially driven that she gets cranky when she’s stuck in the house with me all day.  And for her that time with other kids is invaluable.  It is so tempting to feel that as mothers we are everything our children should want or need.  But we provide them with the foundation of unconditional love and care that allows them to feel confident in pursuing their own interests, even as early as 9 months.

Every mom has to define success differently based on her relationship with her children, her available support, and her own understanding of her family.  What I want other working moms to realize, is we are probably doing better at accomplishing our goals than we realize.  It can be easy to assume we are shortchanging our employers or shortchanging our children, all at the expense of our own sanity.  We can’t ever do it perfectly, we all certainly drop the ball somewhere, sometimes.  But, if we take a moment to look at what we are really accomplishing every week and every day, I think we’ll find that we’re actually kind of impressed with what we make happen.  We also have to advocate for ourselves!  The American work culture for the most part does not support our needs as mothers and women.  We must demand that it change to accommodate our needs.  For ourselves, for our families, and for our children who may one day be parents in this country too.

Fed isn’t Best, Fed is the Absolute Minimum

Whew, you got past the title because you are either really pissed, or you are super rah-rah breastfeeding.  Either way, please stay with me.

I know it’s popular to say “fed is best” as a way of supporting all mothers with infants and disarming the “mommy wars”.  I have so many problems with this statement I’m having a hard time knowing where to start.  But let’s dive into my first point, which is that fed is not best.  Fed is the minimum that we provide our children.  If we do nothing else, we must feed them in order to keep them alive, because for several years they are incapable of providing sustenance for themselves.  Providing our children the minimal nourishment they require to survive is not the best that we can do for them, it is the minimum of what we should do as parents, seeing as we brought them into this world.  I really don’t know how I can say this any more clearly, I honestly feel the point is so obvious, that to belabor it would be an insult to my intelligence and yours.

Second, this “fed is best” campaign is in response to a “breast is best” campaign.  Short, rhyming statements are intended to help spread the word and stick in people’s brains so that the information is easily recalled.  Every OB/GYN office can’t have a poster up on the wall with a paragraph explaining how breastfeeding is the best nutritional and psychological feeding option for your infant, BUT sometimes due to a whole host of medical complications mothers cannot breastfeed their infants–in which case there are necessary alternatives for feeding, and formula is best for that baby.  We should not need that caveat!  Are we incapable of understanding that if a child is highly allergic to its mother’s milk, the harms obviously outweigh the rewards of breastfeeding, and in that instance, formula is best for that child?  Or that children who are born premature often have  a variety of issues with feeding of all kinds, because they weren’t meant to be out in the world yet, and their mothers’ bodies weren’t ready to feed them, and so breastfeeding may not be an option?  It is implied; it is understood; it is reasonable to expect that when we say “breast is best,” it is for most infants, most mothers, in most situations.  I’ve known mothers who physically could not breastfeed their babies for a variety of reasons.  They did do what was best for their children.  We cannot make blanket statements about every situation and we cannot account for every possibility in a simple statement intended to spread awareness.  This is simply not possible.

Let’s also examine why we need things like “breast is best” and #normalizebreastfeeding.  These phrases don’t exist to shame moms who formula feed. That is not the point!  We need these hashtags and short sayings because as a country, we are recovering from an unfortunate period of our medical history where doctors were telling mothers that formula is superior to breast milk.  As a result, there were generations of women who thought that breastfeeding was disgusting or unnecessary and were not able to guide or educate their own daughters on how to breastfeed when they became mothers.  It is a scientific fact that breastfeeding is a superior option for most babies.  Therefore, “breast is best” is not intended to shame mothers who choose to formula feed, it is trying to get the word out so that more and more mothers will breastfeed!

How someone feels about their life choices is not the most important thing.  We cannot take it upon ourselves to take responsibility for how other people feel about their life choices.  By shielding others from decisions they’ve made and of which they may not be proud, we are denying them the opportunity to improve. Some mothers don’t learn about the wonders of breastfeeding until baby #2 or #3.  That’s ok!  I have been able to exclusively breastfeed my child for the past 9 months and for that I am very blessed.  There is a possibility that with my next child my body will betray me and I will have to supplement.  If that happens, I will still know that 100% breastfed is the ideal.  But we don’t live in an ideal world, and life doesn’t hand us ideal circumstances.  We do our very best with what life hands us.  And if that’s what we have done, then we cannot resent the ideal for existence.  If someone has chosen to formula feed their infant in spite of all the research they’ve read and is very proud of their decision, then I cannot for the life of me see why they would care in the least bit that I am an avid advocate of breastfeeding.  It is not my job to tell them how to feed their infant.  I will always be an avid supporter of breastfeeding while being respectful of the fact that other moms may choose not to breastfeed.  However, I am not going to lie and say that “fed is best”.  Because dammit, fed is the minimum.

June 12, 2017 Update 

I’ve been wanting to revisit this post for some time. I’m leaving the original post because I think it’s important that we all admit and acknowledge that are views are evolving as we understand more of the world and of ourselves. 

I will admit that I don’t think the above post is an entirely balanced and comprehensive view on the subject of infant nutrition.  As I address in my post Breastfeeding: System Failures not Mom Failures, the “why” is important.  It’s not simply that mothers don’t want to breastfeed, although that does exist too.  And as these obstacles exist, the idea that we need to put pressure solely on the mother is not only not fair, it is in reality not helpful. Pressure truly needs to be applied to the women’s and maternal health sectors to provide adequate information and support. And finally, just as I think that “fed is best” is not an accurate statement, in some cases “breast is best” is not an accurate statement. The truth is always more nuanced. 

And finally, just as I think that “fed is best” is not an accurate statement, in some cases “breast is best” is not an accurate statement. The truth is always more nuanced. What do I really wish for? I wish for a world where we have infant nutrition specialists who are neither militant lactation specialists nor formula salespeople, but rather baby advocates. Providers who can grasp the comprehensive needs of an infant and then help the mother make the right decision for her baby.

I still can’t get behind “Fed is Best”, but I can embrace a more complex and nuanced conversation than the thoughts I’ve laid out above.