Climbing Out Of The Guilt Pit (or At My Tit’s End)
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.”
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?
- Taking time for themselves
- 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.
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.
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