When my daughter was born, I really wanted to be successful at breastfeeding and had avoided all bottles for fear of nipple confusion (a baby would prefer the faster flow and ease of a bottle and will refuse the breast or lose the ability to latch properly). Despite numerous people telling me “just pump and let your husband do a feeding so you can sleep at night”, I did not introduce any bottles for the first six weeks. Pumping seemed like such added work to me. So instead of cuddling my baby in my arms, I should get out of bed and hook myself up to a machine, pump 10-15 minutes… then warm the bottle, then feed her, then wash and sterilize the pump parts AND the bottle. It just didn’t make sense to me. How would that make my life easier? Or say I did all that during the day in between diaper changes and constant nursing to have milk for the night… I would be so uncomfortably engorged at night that I would have to repeat all of this anyway. Anyway, moral of the story: I found this to be bad advice.
But at six weeks, the stark realization that my maternity leave will eventually come to an end (12 weeks sounds like an eternity when you’re pregnant), and that my motherhood utopia was going to be completely ripped out from underneath me; I started to panic. My six week old newborn was still nursing around the clock, my nipples had just started to heal and I had to already start thinking about when I was going to have to leave her. So being the somewhat Type-A responsible person that I am, it was time to introduce bottles because despite all of the denial.. I was going to have to leave this little being that needed me so immensely. I mean bottles were a normal part of having an infant, weren’t they?
This was such a stressful time. She outright refused the bottle and my heart broke in a million pieces. It was another smack in the face, eye-opening revelation. Of course she refused it- that hard, plastic, white (why are bottles never flesh colored?!), cold object looked nothing like my breasts or my nipple. It didn’t smell like me, it wasn’t soft and warm and a place of comfort. The bottle refusal, the thought of leaving her everyday…..everything just started to feel wrong. My intuition screamed at me “this is not the way it is supposed to be“. I just simply wasn’t meant to leave her. I was her mother. Her whole connection to this new world she was now in was me and only me.
But… As I looked at my budget over and over again… there was no way I could afford to stay home. I contemplated selling our cars, packing us all up and moving to the country to live the simple life. But it was all so unrealistic, so I painfully watched my baby scream and cry as we attempted to give her a bottle everyday when all she wanted was the comfort of me. She was smart, she knew it wasn’t the real thing. She knew innately that’s not what nature intended. I would go outside and cry my eyes out, it was torturous. Why was I doing this to her? It felt completely nonsensical. But…eventually after a few weeks of coaxing, she resigned and she accepted the bottle. I didn’t view this as a “feat”, I viewed this with contempt. I felt like I was being forced to do this and breaking her will. Even today, after I’ve been back at work for 5 months… I cannot see anyone give her a bottle. I know that this reaction probably seems ridiculous to the outsider. But for whatever reason, even the thought that she has bottles of pumped breast milk throughout the day breaks my heart a little still. My baby is supposed to be with me. It is how we were designed, what nature intended. She should know no other means of comfort and nourishment than that from MY own flesh and blood.
Despite these strong emotions of attachment I was feeling… when the end of the 12 weeks rolled around, I was starting to go a little stir-crazy. I was out of my mind bored. Not physically bored as anyone who has a child knows, staying at home with a baby/child is no leisurely activity. But I was lonely, unstimulated, and isolated. I was ready to get back to work, to have adult conversation, to have a purpose again and be a productive member of society. I felt guilty for feeling this way. Why did I WANT to leave my baby? Something must have been wrong with me. My “mother” gene must have been flawed.
So I went back to work…and after the first couple days of just trying to find a groove and routine… it hit me: Utter Devastation
I will never forget when I went to pick her up and she was being rocked in my Sister in Law’s arms and I saw red. I felt compelled to snatch my child out from her arms. That was MY baby. How dare her get to be with her all day, and comfort her. This was irrational of course; this was someone I was paying to take care of my child whom I trusted to do so in the same manner I would. I had no right to have those feelings. But again, it was just another awareness to how wrong this all was. I cried daily for weeks on end. Hiding in bathrooms. In coworkers cubicles as they tried to console me. In the pumping room. In the car ride to and from work. I even embarrassingly burst into uncontrollable hysterics in front of my brother in law one really hard day. What if she thought my sister in law was her mother? What if she would be a better mother figure to her than I would be? I yearned for her. I lost my self confidence as a new mom. The guilt ate me alive. I was heartbroken.
After weeks and weeks, yes I adapted- got “used to” leaving her (think about that… I GOT USED to leaving my child behind) but I was never okay. By the time I picked her up, sterilized my breast pump supplies, packed up everything for the next work day, ate dinner… it was time to put her to bed. Yes, I could have done all of this after she went to sleep, but she would only sleep if I was near her, and I embraced that notion with open arms. The weekends would come and I had to somehow manage to do the laundry, clean the house, grocery shop, and fulfill whatever social obligations we had. I was miserable; I felt like I never saw this little miracle that I waited so long for. Something had to change. I mustered up the courage and asked my director if I could condense my work week to four days a week. As someone who rebels against change and does not like to rock the boat to my life, this was a big deal. Completely out of character, but that is how unhappy I was. This situation has made life a little easier, I only cry every once in awhile compared to every day… but I still feel a tug on my heart to be with her; that her place is with me and mine with her. When I’m home, I am exhausting myself to make sure I am spending every second with her, overcompensating to make up for time lost. I question myself daily, “Did I spend enough time with her”, “Does she know I’m her mother”. When I watch her play and make sounds and discover new things, it is a stark reminder of how much I am missing out with her on the days I am away. But I know that I would not be happy being a stay at home mom either. And this is the dilemma I face and I know why. My mother gene isn’t flawed at all. But I am for one thing, perpetually human.
We simply aren’t made to be alone and cooped up in our homes with only our children. We NEED social interaction (with other adults) and mental stimulation. Some stay-at-home mom’s (SAHM for short) have found great balance by joining mom groups or opening at-home businesses or starting blogs to meet their intellectual and social needs but not everyone can afford to do these types of things. Many SAHM’s sacrifice many things when they leave the workforce to be able to stay with their children; for instance, a car. Therefore getting to places alone is an obstacle. And hey, I know some SAHM’s that are completely happy in the modern Stay-at-home mom environment and that’s great but if this were true for all, there would have been no women’s liberation.
I’m currently reading this book called The Continuum Concept. It is fascinating. It was written in the 1970’s by a woman who spent 2.5 years with a South American Indian tribe that was cut-off and untouched by modern civilization. Among many other epiphanies about modern child-rearing she had while living with them she discusses greatly the mother-baby pairs. I noticed one thing in particular right away from her observations: The mothers/women were hardly ever alone. They were surrounded by family; their own mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins, friends. In fact this extended family unit is still pretty common in many cultures across the world. They also had many tasks and jobs to accomplish. Such as traveling for water, food preparation, weaving baskets, making clothes etc. But guess what? Their babies went with them. Wrapped or tied to their backs, they completed their chores and tasks while laughing and gossiping, etc. with other women until they were greeted by their “husbands”. The babies were either newborns and were wrapped to the mothers nursing or sleeping or they were older infants and were carried in different positions observing their mother’s tasks and taking it all in; learning. God, this made total sense to me. This is exactly how I think it is and should be. There was one quote from the book that made me desperately want to somehow transport myself to this time and place.
“the babies were handled like objects so marvelous that their owners felt constrained to put a mock-modest face on their pleasure and pride. “
How befitting of a word: marvelous.
I love my job, I enjoy what I do, I value my peers and enjoy our conversations. I absolutely 100% NEED mental stimulation to feel complete. Maybe I am just a sensitive person. Maybe my history of loss has given me a greater appreciation for motherhood, I’m really not sure. But one thing is missing- and that is my heart and soul; my child. Will she grow up and be fine? probably. Will I? Maybe. But I will always regret missing out on this time with her, because I am all too aware that every moment is fleeting and all the more precious. Maybe in my hypothetical grand children’s generation, things will be different. Perhaps companies will start to adopt the idea that mothers can bring their small children to work and still be productive employees. Or at the very least, maternity leave will be extended so women can spend the time with their babies when they are the most dependent on them. I wish I had the resources now to start this kind of business. But I know we are far away from this mindset, and again I ask myself. How did we get here….
Editors note: Since writing this post, I have made the decision to put my career on hold indefinitely to become a full time stay at home mom come 2016 and explore where this motherhood adventure might lead me. I know in my heart this is the right decision, it just took a little courage to make 😉