I’m a good mother. At least, not a bad one. OK, I’m a mother, and I am assigning myself adjectives that you may or may not agree with. The fact is, each day, my sons wake up to see the next one. They not only made it through the last day alive, but they spent a few minutes of it reading books, helping with chores, and not saying, “no mama!” in a fit of rage. So you agree now, right? “Good mother” suits me.
The thing with motherhood is that you’re not the only one. You’ll never be an expert in your field. When I had a job, I could talk above people’s heads and say pointless corporate words in succession until their eyes glazed over and I could feel important. But with parenting, you don’t lose people halfway through a story. They get it. Their kid eats and shits and complains too. Nothing you can say they haven’t seen themselves. So as a mother, you never really feel like you’ve “made it” or are good enough.
By far the worst parenting judgment I’ve felt so far is with breast feeding. Full disclaimer here: I tried to breastfeed. I really did. And not just while I was in the hospital and the lactation consultant and nurses were forcing me to. I mean, once we got home, I even whipped my breasts out more than once and my babies sawed my nipples into whittled toothpicks with their razor gums. I had to have something to bite on the entire time, because the pain was worse than the C-section pain.
When I told someone who breastfeeds without problems how bad it hurt when my kids’ turned me into some common dairy cow, she said, “you mean the pain was your uterus contracting, right?” like I didn’t understand where the pain was coming from. The uterus pain was nothing compared to the nipple pain. I quit breastfeeding each of my boys after four days, so they each have an equal shot at being brilliant. I didn’t want one to turn out to cure cancer and brag about how his mother breastfed him longer than his layman brother. No one gets advantages over the other! See, I told you I’m a good mother!
It got to the point with Brandon where he actually pulled a blood vessel through my nipple and a lump had formed in one breast. I know other women have this happen and they persevere through the pain, but to me, my sanity was important in my children’s upbringing. With Holden, I was dreading each feeding, biting on a washcloth or an old work stress ball each time he clamped down, and screaming and writhing in pain. I switched to formula for each of them, but both switches were hard for me. I journaled about it, tears streaming down my face, feeling like a failure. Steve tried to console me and told me life would go on and we would all be fine. He was right. We are all fine. The kids are alright.
It was only last week when I finished reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants that I finally saw breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding as a personal choice, rather than a parenting victory or failure. It’s only today that I can finally blog about it without feeling ashamed and guilty. I will always do what is best for my children. And if having a snarling, angry mother writhing in pain was best for them, sure I could have breast fed longer.
Let’s make a pact: you don’t berate me for not breastfeeding my kids for more than four days and I won’t berate you for letting them suck your tits when they have full sets of teeth in their mouths. Let’s all do what is best for our families and stop telling everyone else our way is the best way.
We made the switch to an all-formula diet. If you’ve ever opened a can of infant formula mix, then you know it smells like someone soaked old vitamins in a bucket of wet leaves, then dried them in a hot car. Also, formula is like forty dollars a can. They keep it locked up behind the counter with the batteries and meth ingredients. That’s how bad people want this stuff!
However, the baby was thriving. I was no longer feeling trapped, spending thirty out of every ninety minutes attached to a Williams-Sonoma Tit Juicer. But I still had an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. I had failed at something that was supposed to be natural.
I was defensive and grouchy whenever the topic came up. At a party with a friend who was successfully nursing her little boy, I watched her husband produce a bottle of pumped breast milk that was the size of a Big Gulp. It was more milk than I had produced in my whole seven weeks — I blame Entourage. As my friend’s husband fed the baby, he said offhandedly, “This stuff is liquid gold. You know it actually makes them smarter?”
“Let’s set a date!” I screamed. “IQ test. Five years from today. My formula baby will crush your baby!” Thankfully, my mouth was so full of cake they could not understand me.
~ Tina Fey, Bossypants