An Open Letter to the Mom Who is Struggling
Coming down from a super fun beach trip with family and my sweet kiddos, I've been reflecting on the last time we were at the beach a little over a year ago. My how just one year changes everything, am I right? Our last beach trip was right after Eli was born, he was a mere 3 weeks old. My sister-in-law and I spent that entire beach trip nursing our tiny babies (hers not so tiny and about two months older than E). In the weeks following E's birth and prior to this trip he had lost over a pound and was admitted to the NICU for jaundice for several days. He was struggling to gain weight and I was stuck in the triple feeding loop (nursing, pumping, supplementing)... again. We were waking E every 2 hours during the day and every 3 at night to feed him. During the beach trip, I had hope. He seemed to be nursing well, albeit constantly, and I thought he was gaining weight. When we came back I was thrown for a loop, enter the picture.
This picture was taken after that trip. It looks like a sweet picture of me holding my infant son while he slept, right? Here's what a picture doesn't tell you...
I was heartbroken. My sweet second kid was struggling and I didn't understand why my body was failing me again. I had the same struggle nursing my daughter, who we aggressively supplemented and she thrived. But this time I was determined that my lack of ability to produce was because of the circumstances- me being in school, having to go back when Avery was 2 weeks old, not having the time or energy to try everything (as I look back I realize I did do that- just not to the extreme I did with my second), and poor management. So, I didn't aggressively supplement and instead I just nursed every second of every day, gave him a bit of formula, and pumped. Then did it all over again moments afterwards. All day, every day... for 4 months. My baby did not pass 8 pounds until he was 2 months old.
By the time I took that photo, I was deep in the throes of postpartum depression and anxiety. Why wasn't my body producing milk to feed my baby? Why wasn't he thriving? Were did I go wrong? How could this happen to me a second time? Why has my body failed two kids? Meanwhile, I was struggling to parent a precocious 3 1/2 year old. I was anxious to leave the house because I couldn't triple feed and if I didn't keep my routine then I would never produce enough milk- it would all be for nothing. She spent the days watching TV while I spent the day nursing and pumping. I had very little patience and yelled often. I felt like a horrible mother, on all counts.
I lived this way for 4 months. At one point, I stopped nursing and pumped up to 7 hours a day. I woke up every 3 hours at night to pump and pumped every 1.5-2 hours during the day, I took my pump in the car, I bought other pumps, I rented a hospital grade pump, I went to every nursing group, and I felt like a complete failure.
4 damn months... Why? Because of the expectations I had of myself. Because I felt like I failed both of my kids so I had to make myself miserable to fix it. And because postpartum depression and anxiety is a beast- one that will hold on to you and never let go. It will make you feel like you are nothing and kick you when you're down.
I ended up nursing sweet Eli until he self-weaned at 8.5 months, not exclusively by any means. But when I finally said enough and enjoyed the relationship we had, I started to come out of the fog and see what I had missed. I missed 4 months of my kids' lives. I missed laughter and happiness and watching my kids bond.
This story has a lot of other parts, some that have played a huge role in the way I approach postpartum with my clients but I'll save that for another day.
So to the mother who is struggling, who can't see the light, whose birth didn't go as they planned, who is having trouble feeding their child, to the mother who feels like they aren't enough for their kids or they have failed in some way...
You are enough, you are doing a great job, and you are not alone.