Climbing Out Of The Guilt Pit (or At My Tit’s End)

So far in my experience as a mother, I can think of no greater guilt-inducing plight than that of breastfeeding.

 

Before I became pregnant with Marissa, I had never given breastfeeding any thought. My mother fed me formula as a baby and I ignorantly thought people who breastfed were all hippies. I’m telling you, I really didn’t know anything.

 

I had always been modest about my body, even hiding it from my own mother and sister. Not that there was anything to be ashamed of…I just never learned to feel comfortable about my body or think that it was beautiful. So for that reason, too, the thought of breastfeeding made me a bit squeamish.

 

Of course, as soon as I became pregnant, I started reading voraciously about everything to do with pregnancy and babies and motherhood. I quickly learned about all the benefits of breast milk and the disadvantages associated with formula. I familiarized myself with a whole new vocabulary, including such terms as “latching,” “engorgement,” and “colostrum.”

 

By the time I had finished reading, my whole idea of breastfeeding had been transformed. Even after learning about “nipple soreness,” “breast infections,” and “bleeding,” this mom-to-be was like, “Hey, La Leche League! Sign me up! I’m a believer! Praised be G-d who gave me boobs!”

 

Unfortunately, from day one, my breastfeeding experience was a total nightmare. I’ll spare you the gory details, but after about three months of soreness, bleeding, and sharp, shooting pains…a diagnosis of thrush…support from two dermatologists, two lactation consultants, and my OB-GYN…hundreds of dollars in co-pays, consultations, ointments, creams, and prescription medications…and a lot of GUILT…I was finally “at my tit's end” and called it quits.

 

Here’s what my GUILT said to me:

 

  • “You’re not giving your daughter the nutrition she deserves.”
  • “This is the natural order of things.  There must be something wrong with you if you can’t do this.”
  • “If she develops a weak immune system, ear infections, allergies, asthma, diabetes, or cancer — it’ll be your fault.”
  • “Formula is going to cost us so much money.”
  • “It’s going to take you even longer to lose the baby weight if you don’t breastfeed.”
  • “You’ll miss out on the special closeness mothers feel with their babies when they nurse.”

 

Marissa as content as can be after a feeding

Marissa, perfectly content right after a feeding.

 

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I had invented a story about the underlying message of those books on breastfeeding. The meaning I made up (and later believed) was, “If I don’t breastfeed my child, I’m a bad mom.”

 

Why do I say that I invented the story? Because there was nothing actually written, no evidence whatsoever, that the authors suggested that. They informed me of the health benefits and other advantages of breastfeeding and, yes, strongly discouraged the use of formula. However, I then interpreted their words to mean that if I didn’t follow their advice, I’d be inadequate as a mother.

 

People do this all the time. We make assumptions, interpretations, and judgments based on our PERCEPTIONS of reality. We don’t stop to consider other points of view or other realities.

 

Here is the ultimate story that parents everywhere tell themselves: When it comes to parenting, you’re either doing it RIGHT or WRONG.

 

Where is this written? If this story were really true, then there would be a Parenting Manual somewhere and everyone would know exactly what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their kids. That simply isn’t the case.

 

There are as many ways to parent as there are parents.

 

Why do we continue to believe this story when all it does is disempower us with negative feelings of shame and guilt?

 

Can you relate to these things that many parents feel guilty about?

 

  • Working
  • Taking time for themselves
  • Yelling
  • Being too permissive (letting kids watch too much TV, eat too much junk, stay up too late, etc.)
  • Being too strict
  • Not giving siblings equal amounts of attention

 

…and the list goes on. Now, it’s certainly appropriate to feel guilty when you’ve done something you know is harmful. People who lack the ability to feel guilt and remorse are considered psychopaths.

 

We get into trouble when we get stuck in a guilt pit and can’t climb out, which is exactly what happened to me.

 

The guilt I felt for even wanting to give up breastfeeding fueled my pre-existing anxiety and depression. It blinded me to the fact that I was neglecting my own happiness and was miserable to be around. It inhibited me from being the best mother and wife I could be. Worst of all, it kept me from being able to fully enjoy Marissa and motherhood during those first three months.

 

So, how did I move forward?

 

Climbing Out of the Guilt Pit

1. I stopped believing my made-up story that I had to do things a certain way and I looked at the facts.

 

The facts were:

  • I had tried to breastfeed and had done nearly everything humanly possible to make it work
  • I was in constant pain and was utterly depressed
  • Marissa was thriving as an infant
  • I had been formula-fed and I turned out all right
  • Marissa's pediatrician and my OB-GYN were actually encouraging me to stop

 

2. I asked myself in true Dr. Phil style, “How's this working for you?” 
Clearly, it wasn't.

 

3.  I became open to seeing a new perspective and trying a different way. 

Soon after we switched Marissa to formula, our suspicions that she had a dairy allergy were confirmed. Of course, my initial reaction was to feel guilty. But it subsided when I recognized she would still grow and be healthy (maybe even healthier) without a dairy diet. Raising a child with a life-threatening allergy has many challenges, but I no longer blame myself.

 

4. I realized I had choices and I made them.

When Dalia came along, I wanted to give breastfeeding another shot. All those memory and pain-erasing hormones hadn't completely blocked out my earlier experiences, but I thought that this time might be different. It wasn't. I stopped after 3 weeks. This time, the guilt was fleeting, especially as I enjoyed the freedom to let someone else feed her in the middle of the night while I caught up on much needed rest.

 

Less Drama. More Mama.

 

So…

In what areas of your parenting are you stuck believing that you have to do it a certain way? How can you stop falling into the guilt pit and walk around it instead? What are the different approaches to consider trying in your situation? Please leave a comment below and get in on the conversation.

 

Like this blog? If so, please subscribe to get weekly updates delivered right to your inbox and please share it with your friends! Thanks for reading!

Showing 11 comments
  • Kelly - Project Me
    Reply

    If only I’d read this post back when I was suffering through excruciating breastfeeding.

    I couldn’t believe women could pop a baby on their breasts in a cafe while enjoying a chat with a friends. It was so painful for me all I could do was sit at home in a chair and cry and bear it. I had mastitis with both of my sons and was so much happier when I finally ‘gave up’ and moved on to formula.

    Yes, we do things out of guilt too often. Thank you for this wonderful post!

  • Clare Greig
    Reply

    At my Tits end. Brilliant. What a wonderful post Pam. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Kristy
    Reply

    Pam, such a raw and honest post.

    Whilst breastfeeding is natural, it is also painful and difficult at times and sadly, not too many women share this openly with each other. Hence, the unnecessary guilt and confusion.

    There is so much pressure on parents these days. We seem to take our job very seriously (which it certainly is), but I think we’ve really raised the bar in terms of what’s expected of us.

    Thanks for your honest post.

  • Brooke
    Reply

    Fantastic!
    After 3 weeks of pure agony breastfeeding I found myself back in hospital with Mastitis and damaged nipples. Previously I spoke with midwives, lactation specialists and doctors about the pain and the damage to my nipples and was using shields at each feed to try minimise it. Ending up back in hospital for 3 days with surgeons talking about abscesses and draining my boob I was terrified. All those long nights crying through the pain and trying to bond with my daughter through tears, hoping she would not sense my stress and fear only to become a pin cushion for the local nurses was a nightmare. Like you I had read as much as I could while pregnant and believed ‘breast was best’ then having to resort to formula how hypercritical of me? But sitting her cuddling my little girl who is 6 weeks tomorrow thinking about putting her back on the breast almost brings tears to my eyes. We are so much closer now the fear has been removed, she is healthy and I am on the mend without needing to resort to surgery! Thank you for this article as the guilt at first was overwhelming. Now, it’s irrelevant, we are thriving!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Brooke,
      I’m so happy to hear that you and your baby girl are thriving. Now you can really enjoy one another and bond without any tears of pain. Thanks for your comment!

  • Jenny
    Reply

    Thank you for your honesty.

    I am not yet a mother, but do know a lot of women who have this exact problem. And climbing out of the guilt pit translates across so much more than just breast feeding. It is found in our weight, in the way we act and are treating in society and the way we view ourselves as women.

    Keep on writing, lady! Sending you love & light.

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Jenny,

      Thanks for your insight about guilt cutting across so many areas of our lives. I hope that if and when you become a mother, you remember the guilt pit and don’t fall in! Sending love and light back to you.

  • Beth
    Reply

    At my tit’s end? I LOVED it! It was perfectly descriptive. I was a devoted breast feeder and went through Aliya not latching on, engorgement and wrapping my breasts in cabbage leaves (the sulfur that’s released helps), clogged ducts, sore nipples, you name it. I had the help of a lactation consultant with Aliya and she was allergic to dairy, so I could eat none-no casein, no dairy of any kind. I stuck with it and it worked for me, but even with my difficulties I was not entirely understanding of why friends couldn’t “work through it” and continue nursing.

    I didn’t have difficulties with either of the boys and nursed all three kids exclusively for 6 months, then introduced solids and continued nursing at total of between 12-14 months with each of them, weaning them to a sippy cup–none of them ever had a bottle or formula. I was quite proud of myself, having told myself the same story you did. But as I’ve seen more people have problems nursing, I’ve become more understanding. Everyone has their own journey in parenthood, and there’s enough to feel guilty about without heaping it on about feeding. Maybe breast is best, but formula is better than a miserable mom!! There are many ways to nourish a baby, including emotionally and spiritually. Do that well and provide a formula appropriate for your baby and all will be good. I get it now, didn’t quite back then (it’s only taken 19 years!). Thanks for your great writing, Pam, keep it up!!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Beth,
      Thank you so much for your honesty here and for taking the time to comment. I love what you wrote about there being other ways to nourish a baby. I mean, someone could breastfeed, but be totally disconnected from their child emotionally…I’m so glad you are able to see another perspective now (better 19 years late than never!) xoxo

  • Bernice Strul
    Reply

    So true…. The most important thing is less drama… more Mama And happy mommies make happy children!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Yes, Bernice…and you would know, having happy children yourself and working with so many moms and children over the years. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Comment