It has taken me a while to get to this place, the place where I can look back at the first major challenge I experienced as a mom and start to feel a sense of healing and gratitude. It wasn’t always like this. I want other moms to know that if they read this and it’s really hard for them to absorb it. I read many articles and blogs telling me it was “okay” and I didn’t feel it was “okay” until I was ready. You can’t rush the process of learning or healing.
I allowed my challenges with breastfeeding to hold a shadow over my first year as a mother. After my son didn’t gain any weight 30 days after birth I followed doctors orders and gave him his first bottle of formula at his pediatrician visit. I will never forget how quickly he gulped it down and I was horrified at the thought of how hungry he had spent his first month of life. But I was determined to keep trying and thought that maybe I would get back to exclusively breastfeeding.I spent a lot of time obsessively tracking ounces of breastmilk, taking upwards of 20 herbal supplements a day, spending the majority of my waking minutes pumping, and researching myself into confusion to try to make things work. At 6 months when I realized I spent so much time pumping and feeling stressed for my son to get maybe 2 ounces of breastmilk a day I finally let go. As difficult as it was emotionally for me to give up I know that I became a more present and less anxious mother that day.
Throughout my breastfeeding challenges I allowed myself to feel that I had failed even though looking back now, I had really prevailed. On the other side of that darkness was a new light for me. I learned the valuable lesson that my goals as a parent aren’t always about me and my vision of parenting but what is best for my son. Sometimes those things are one in the same and sometimes they are different. Giving up breastfeeding was one of the first sacrifices I have made as a mother and now I am proud of it.
Parenting isn’t always about what I think is best for my child? That is a really tough pill to swallow. I have idealized versions of how I will raise my son and what kind of person he will become. But the truth is sometimes what I want won’t work out or won’t be what’s best for him. And I can say now with humility because sometimes I don’t even always know what’s best for my son. My love for him is profound and our connection is deep but that doesn’t transcend being able to control everything that happens or always having the right answers.
When we become parents we are on the constant search for security that we are doing the right thing by our children. This starts with nourishing them the “right” way and connecting with them the “right” way and morphs into reacting the “right” way to their behaviors or providing them with the “right” resources for their growth. But there are no guarantees that any way is truly the “right” way. So we get ideas and philosophies stuck in our head because that’s what we feel is best and then we get tunnel vision. ‘This is the way I have to parent. Anything else is failure. ‘
At some point during the many hours of pumping I spent and the tears I shed when those bottles contained so little I took a step back. I asked myself a question. Am I trying to force this to work because it is the right thing to do in this situation or because it will make me feel better? I realized my fight for breastfeeding was starting to become more about giving me a sense of security that I was a good mother rather than really being passionate about breastfeeding my son.
We have signed up for a lifetime of the discomfort of uncertainty as parents. For the vast majority of our decisions we cannot truly know if the result we want will be achieved. We are shooting darts blindfolded. We use our values or philosophies as a compass. That’s why we have them in the first place, to guide our decisions. But sometimes when we become so attached to those values or philosophies they can mislead us. We cling to them because they are giving us direction but sometimes you have to find a new path in the darkness because the compass isn’t working. This isn’t because our values are “wrong” but because due to the various circumstances of life they aren’t right for this particular situation.
I think about my own relationship with my parents and the ways I’ve strayed from what they wanted for me: a Ph.D, staying with the religion I was raised with, choosing a career that was more lucrative or respected. Sometimes I’m hurt that I perhaps disappointed them but then realize those choices were about me and couldn’t be about them. And I know that they understand that.
Looking back I realize the fight I fought for breastfeeding was more about how attached I was what breastfeeding said about me as a mom than believing it was the “right” way to feed my son. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of breastfeeding here. Rather, I am trying to point out that sometimes we get so passionate about parenting decisions that we fight through struggles that sometimes we don’t always need to fight. In the beginning of my struggles I refused to adapt. My thinking was guided by “this has to work out or it obviously means the alternative was failure.” How very wrong I was and how very judgmental I was towards myself. Today it’s much easier for me to believe that formula feeding is a great option and doesn’t reflect poorly on me or any other mother. The only regret I have is the happiness and pride I refused to allow myself to experience in the act of giving up those philosophies to do what was best for my son. I remember feeling disappointment and sadness when I gave him his first bottle of formula at the doctor. But I am proud of that today.
So I move on in my parenting journey finding more philosophies and values that speak to me but always remembering that important lesson. Sometimes the direction these values take me won’t be the right path for my son. Sometimes I’ll need to find a different path than what I intended. Love and understanding what is best for him is now my main compass. It takes immense strength to truly put our children above our own values, to realize that what we want for them doesn’t always equal what’s best for them. But love is full of beautiful sacrifices.