Why motherhood is a constant tug of war, with my own mind.
It’s no secret that motherhood can stir up some pretty confusing and often conflicting emotions. “Mum guilt” is such a well known phenomenon that hashtags relating to it (#mumguilt, #mummyguilt, #momguilt etc) feature over 50,000 times on instagram alone. We all feel it to some extent. Whether it’s going back to work “too soon”, not going back at all, not being able to breastfeed or breastfeeding exclusively and therefore excluding your partner from any opportunity to feed your baby and enjoy that bond it creates, there are literally hundreds of opportunities every day to beat yourself up and wonder whether you’re DOING THE RIGHT THING.
Now, apart from a couple of wobbles, (namely taking my eldest daughter for a walk in a baby carrier when she was 3 months old without appropriate clothing and almost freezing her little legs off, and losing my temper with her when I know she’s only little and I shouldn’t expect so much from her), I’ve managed to rationalise, justify or push to the back of my mind most of the feelings of mum guilt I’ve experienced. This is mainly down to the fact that our little girl is happy, headstrong and generally pretty settled.
So what’s the point of this post?
When our daughter was little, she was breastfed but would take a bottle of expressed milk from fairly early on, and then we started giving her a bottle of formula at bedtime from 6 months onwards. She also slept through the night (for a few months at least) pretty early on. This gave me the freedom to relax while my husband took care of her bedtime routine, go out, or even leave her overnight, so we could go to weddings or social events as a couple, without fear of her waking and me not being there to feed or comfort her. It felt strange leaving this little being, OUR little being, in someone else’s care, but I knew she would be OK, and so would I.
Things have changed for me since our son was born 6 months ago. He, too, has been exclusively breastfed since he was born, but the difference with him is that he’s been much less inclined to take a bottle. I’m sure this is partly to do with the fact I have a baby AND a toddler now and who the hell can find time to pump when you can just feed the baby and cut out the middle man? The problem with not pumping regularly, and I mean, REALLY regularly, from very early on, it that as your baby gets older and as your supply regulates, it gets harder and harder to pump a decent amount, therefore rendering it pointless at best and impossible at worst to even get enough milk for half a feed, let alone enough to sustain a growing baby, who still wakes for 1-2 feeds overnight. So i’ve not left him yet, and I feel guilty about it for a whole host of reasons.
“So why not just give him a bottle of formula like you did with your daughter?” I hear you ask. It’s a fair question, but one that’s a little more complicated in light of our recent life choices.
When our daughter was born, both my husband and I were meat eaters, and dairy consumers too. We had no moral issue (not that we’d acted on anyway) with offering our daughter cow’s milk to drink, so the only guilt I had was the fact that I was giving up one breastfeed a day for my own happiness rather than for hers. However, once we got into it and it meant I could have some headspace it was clear that it was good for her too, because I was much happier as a result.
Before baby W came along, we both made the choice to become vegan and thinking about the reasons we’ve made this choice, I have found it really difficult to rationalise changing his feeding method just so I can go out for a few hours. Most formula milks in the UK aren’t even vegetarian, let alone vegan, so it’s another thing to add to the “guilt list”. This is in no way a judgement of anyone who chooses to formula or mix-feed their babies – we all make our own choices and I have no interest in scrutinising what anyone else chooses to do. We all do our best and I realise I’m lucky to have a choice and that breastfeeding has been relatively straightforward with both of my babies.
It’s fair to say that having a small person (or more than one) can put a strain on your relationship. After all, this is the person I used to have all my most fun moments with. All the holidays, nights out, weddings, birthday parties, date nights, gigs, whatever it was we did before kids, it’s HARD doing it, at least so often, once they come along. It’s knackering having kids (and working, and dealing with all the other stuff that life brings) so fuses are often short and tempers frayed. It’s easy to slip into a routine, especially in your children’s first couple of years of life, of just getting through the day, getting the kids to bed, eating, watching TV and then crashing out without actually spending much quality time together. I know how important it is to do all that stuff, to make time to be “me and him” again, so am I jeopardising everything by selfishly refusing to give up the control that breastfeeding gives me? Am I risking our marital happiness at the expense of my beliefs and my baby’s wellbeing? GUILT.
As much as I try, and I mean REALLY try, to ignore what other people think of our approach to bringing up our kids, because actually, when I’m not having this kind of crisis of confidence, I do feel like I’m doing a pretty good job. BUT it’s really hard when I feel like I have people from all angles telling me I SHOULD be leaving my baby with someone else by now. Phrsaes such as “I’ll look after him for a few hours so you can go out”, “Why don’t you just pump some milk so you can leave him?”, “I left X at 2 months so I could go to a wedding”, and “Just leave him with your parents. If he cries he cries” are all meant with concern and kindness and an interest in my wellbeing, but frankly, all the pressure stresses me the f*** out. Every time I turn down a social event because the thought of all the preparation and thought I’d have to put into it just makes me more anxious than not doing it at all, I feel like someone is thinking I’m being overly protective, or melodramatic, or just a bit of a wimp.
It’s my choice
Above all though, my babies only need this much of me for such a small part of their lives, so why shouldn’t I put them above everything else (within reason) for what will probably be a year, or maybe even less of each of their lives? Especially with our son, because he’ll almost definitely be our last baby, so I’d also quite like to enjoy these baby days (and nights!) and just be with him.
But will this mean that people will just stop inviting me to things? Will I lose friends? Is everyone talking about how much of an overbearing, overprotective mother I am? If anyone knows the answer please let me know (actually, maybe don’t).
In the meantime – to my husband, and to all my friends and family – I WILL be back, I will be “me” again (although it’s a new me, a me that’s 60% mummy and 40% the old me because kids are all-consuming and they DO change who you are and I think that should be something to be celebrated and embraced rather than avoided or feared) and I’ll be back knowing that I’ve done what I think is best for my babies, so I can skip to the pub and raise a MASSIVE glass of wine, safe in the knowledge I’m leaving them as guilt-free as is possible. In the meantime, please bear with me.