New Every Morning
Today is a new day for our country. I recorded the inauguration because I didn’t want to watch it live. I’m not ready for the fear-based political commentary and sheer panic that many are facing today. I’ve had my fair share of panic these past few weeks.
When my son was a few days old, my sister came over to see him and help out around the house. In the evening, we watched The Pacifier because it was clean and mindless, two things I needed. At one point, Vin Diesel’s character kicks down the older son’s bedroom door, and the son comes out of the bathroom across the hall, obviously angry, and this exchange occurs:
Seth Plummer: [Shane kicks in Seth’s bedroom door - Seth exits the bathroom] Oh my god! What did you do?
Shane Wolfe: I was trying to protect you!
Seth Plummer: How? By pulling a shock-and-awe on my door?
I laughed through fresh c-section stitches at this one. The next day, “Pulling a shock-and-awe” became an actual thing in our house, and it’s remained so. When our son has a blow-out, he pulls a shock-and-awe on his diaper. When he downs two ounces, then three (and now, at about seven weeks, a consistent four ounces of formula at a time), he pulls a shock-and-awe on his bottle. When he cries out in dream terrors, he pulls a shock-and-awe on us. His burps are shock-and-awe moments on himself; he groans in confusion after each one.
A few weeks ago, the night before my husband returned to work after his paternity leave, I was feeling my own shock-and-awe moment. I felt afraid to be left alone with the baby. I felt scared that my husband was leaving for eight hours a day. I felt overwhelmed. My whole life had been shattered; just like the teenage boy’s bedroom door, it was cracked in half. I thought, This is my life now. My life revolves around this little being. I’m trapped. I felt like I had lost a sense of autonomy. I texted a friend a week or so later, saying, “Today was a hard day…. I felt a bit like a crazy person and wondered why I signed up for this….I’m dreading being alone with the baby tomorrow.”
My worst moment had to be the morning after that text, when I crawled into bed and thought It would be nice if I went to sleep and never woke up again.
I’m very thankful I didn’t act on that thought. I’m thankful I was able to talk myself out of that space. And after an hour or so of sleep, I was thinking clearer.
I shared my state of being with my OBGYN at my two-week post-op appointment, and she shared her story with me. She was an older mother too, a year younger than me when she had her c-section. She talked about wanting a Starbucks a few days after arriving home from the hospital, so she proceeded to try and bundle up her February-born baby girl. Then she had a panic attack thinking how her baby might catch a cold. Also, what if she needed a diaper while she was driving? Or food? What if she started crying and just wouldn’t stop? She told me, “I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t even go get a coffee!”
Like my doctor, I also haven’t been able to take my son out of the house. But what seemed to be my biggest challenge, the issue that triggered my sense of hopelessness the most, was breastfeeding.
While pregnant, it was my goal to exclusively breastfeed. I attended a class on the benefits of breast milk over formula and vowed to never give my child the man-made product. I researched the best breast pumps and bought a breast milk storage kit so little man would never be without food.
Fast-forward to holding a screaming two-day-old in my arms while I can’t move my lower extremities. His face is red, his eyes and fists are tightly clenched, and I am shipwrecked on the rocks of our reality: I do not, in my physical body, have enough to satisfy his needs. Lactation specialists are running into our room, grabbing my breasts, grabbing his head, and shoving them together. Talk about shock-and-awe. He is gumming, not suckling, my breasts. And he’s so overwhelmed with hunger that he can’t stay still. The panic emanating from the nurses and specialists doesn’t help either.
I feel like I am killing my child.
After a few hours of this hell, a night nurse comes in and offers formula. I break into sobs and thank her; she is a cold drink of water after days in a desert. I sign a release (acknowledging that yes, breast milk is the best, but I’m a failure as a mother so I’m going to feed formula to the child), and here comes Enfamil. The husband feeds baby, and baby takes it in, his true liquid gold. He falls comatose and sleeps for a solid hour. I lay back in the hospital bed, totally run over, spent, and wrung out to dry.
I am only now totally fine with the fact that my baby is a formula baby. I’m no longer resigned to it. I’m no longer pumping and crying at the meager few ounces I’m producing for him. In fact, I’ve stopped pumping altogether; the measuring, the counting, the ugly numbers were tormenting. I nurse him once a day, sometimes twice, just for the bonding experience between him and I, and I think he receives a few drops of milk in the process. I also exclusively use a nipple guard when nursing him, going against what several specialists told me. But the last specialist to come into my room said, upon seeing the plastic shield, “Just use it. Breastfeed, formula feed, it’s okay. Do whatever is best for you and your family.”
That felt like a word from heaven to me.
So did these little cards a good friend of mine mailed to me, little statements of encouragement for being a mom. Here are my favorites:
“Motherhood secret #541: None of us know what we are doing.”
“Motherhood: it’s hard because you’re doing it right.”
“Remember, it’s their day too.”
“Grace is greater than guilt.”
Grace is greater than guilt. I recited this every time I went to feed my son formula, or when I only produced one ounce of breastmilk after thirty minutes of pumping, or when my son cried with hunger after nursing for an hour.
I also no longer feel like I’m a defective mother. I’ve processed this and rest in the reality that, in a way, I am producing enough for this boy. I am tending to his needs to the best of my ability. He is growing, he is healthy, and he is very happy. He’s giggling to himself in his crib right now. We just had book time (this blog has taken several hours to write because he’s wanted to interact with me at different times), and he was wide eyed and laughing at the pictures and sounds of the crinkly pages.
My OB talked about her own struggle with breastfeeding in that post-op appointment. She was nursing through bleeding nipples and pumping as much as she could. But her baby girl ended up in the hospital with jaundice because she was dehydrated. Imagine the guilt she experienced: here was a medical professional with over twelve years of schooling to be an OBGYN, who tells other mothers how to have a healthy pregnancy, and she isn’t able to adequately hydrate her baby. So, she started to supplement with formula. Then, after six weeks, she returned to work, and her milk supply dried up.
I’m returning to work on February 6th. I’m only teaching three classes, three nights a week, but I’m already seeing my milk supply decrease, and I have a feeling it will dry up shortly after I start working. I’m still working through that reality.
Yes, I could pay lots of money to see the one lactation specialist in this area to help with breastfeeding. But ultimately? I don’t want to. I don’t want something that is supposed to be nurturing to stress me and my baby out anymore. I don’t want to sacrifice the time to work through it. That sounds selfish, and maybe it is. But I also know that the pressure I have placed on myself to breastfeed is a trigger for my depression. Pressure in general, the laying on of guilt rather than grace, has compromised my well-being too often through this process. I’m finally starting to regain my identity again, and my baby is benefiting because of it. I am fully present for him rather than going through my day on auto-pilot, full of so much tension and panic. I feel alive again, and I want to remain feeling this way.
I heard this song on one of the first really good days with my son. The refrain “Your mercies are new, your mercies are new, new every morning” has been in my head off and on ever since. And it’s been true for us.
I now look forward to waking up, going into my son’s room, watching him stirr and squirm out of his swaddle, slowly awake, look up at me, and smile, knowing his mother is there to spend a new day with him.