Saturday, March 17, 2012

Letting Go of the Guilt

When you first find out you are expecting, you start picturing your life with baby. As time goes on, you start making a plan for the birth of your child. You have this idea of how it will be. Whether it will involve an epidural, or be med free. Home or hospital or birth center. You make a birth plan, or you go with the flow. Same with breastfeeding or formula feeding. You might have a plan, or you might decide you will go with the flow and give breastfeeding a try.
But what happens when those things don't go as planned. What happens when your plan for a non-medicated, vaginal birth ends in a c-section? What happens when you were going to exclusively breastfeed and you end up supplementing or switching to formula. Sometimes, nothing. Sometimes, especially if you are just a "go with the flow" person, you adjust well. Sometimes though, this leads to a huge amount of guilt.
When I gave my son his first bit of formula, it pained me. I felt like my body was failing. As I continued to supplement with formula, I felt that my PCOS had effected my supply. That MY BODY was the issue. For months I felt guilty that I couldn't give my son all the nutrition he needed on my own.
After 3-4 months, I started this blog, as a way to get out my frustrations. I had researched a lot, and talked with a lot of friends. And I had realized something- the system had failed me.
My supply wasn't low in the beginning. NOPE. My son had lost slightly more than the 10% that was "acceptable" but after induction and a c-section, it is likely his birth weight was inflated. Also, I had been in the hospital 24 hours longer than a vaginal delivery, giving him more time to lose weight. A vaginal baby would have been weighed for discharge a day earlier. Had my son been weighed a day earlier, he may have been within the 10%. My milk still hadn't come in. C-sections are known to delay milk coming in, and first time moms milk often takes longer to come in then with future babies. Since my milk wasn't in, it was expected my son would lose weight. But did the pediatrician on staff that day say any of this. No. He simply told me to supplement after 2-3 feedings a day.
When I took my son back in to be weighed 2 days later, he was gaining weight. My milk had started to come in. But, I was too scared that I was starving my baby to simply stop supplementing. Instead, I tried to pump. When pumping would only bring .5 oz a session, I thought something was wrong. I didn't realize that it was normal, especially being new to pumping.
Each time I supplemented, it was time away from the breast. The pacifier, time away from the breast. Swaddling so baby slept longer, made for more time away from the breast. And pumping- well- a pump was no substitute for my son when it came to extracting milk.
Looking back, I realized a lot of the "booby traps" I fell for. When I realized them, what did I do- felt even more guilty. How could I have fallen for them? Why didn't I try harder? Why would that pediatrician lead me astray? Why would I just believe anything a doctor says without researching it?
There were times the guilt consumed me. Consumed my every thought. I had dreams about those moments, both how they were, and how they "should" have gone. The guilt actually began to make me despise my body.
Now, please don't think this was PPD. I loved being a mommy, I loved my son. I was just devastated that body had failed, and then later learning it may not have had I done things differently. It was emotions I had felt before when my body failed me to conceive for 8 years.
One day, I realized I needed to move on when I started crying while feeding my son. I realized it was time to let go of the guilt. Luckily, having gone through infertility, I had already figured out how to do that. It took a few steps.
  1. Own up! You can't let go of guilt until you own up to the situation. Just like an addict admitting they have a problem is the first step in recovery, owning up to your role, if any, is the first step in letting go of the guilt. You were anxious to be induced before your due date, and it ended in a c-section or a NICU stay for baby. You fell for booby traps, or were misinformed about some aspects of breastfeeding. Whatever it is OWN UP TO IT. For me, this meant owning up to the booby traps I fell for, the fact that I was misinformed and hadn't done my own research, and the fact that I doubted my body before I should have.
  2. Accept! Accept that the past is the past. You did what you thought was best at the time. You made a mistake, or you listened to bad advice. Whatever it is, accept that it happened. If you don't own up and accept your role, you will continue to blame others, your body, or just yourself, and you will not learn from it. You won't be able to move on. 
  3. Forgive Others! You can't hold on to rage or anger towards someone and be able to move on. Continually cursing the pediatrician who told me to supplement was only keeping me in the role of victim, and not allowing me to move on. Let yourself forgive those that may have led you to make a decision you regret so that you can stop focusing on it.
  4. Decide a course of action! Decide what you will do differently next time. Decide what you would want to change. Decide how you will handle things next time. If there won't be a next time, decide how you will choose to remember the first time. Will you focus on the things you are upset about, or will you focus on the positive outcome? I have chosen to remember how wonderful it was the times I breastfed my son. To look at how happy I was to have my little man. I have decided to remember the funny moments from breastfeeding, the gentle, intimate memories. Focusing on the positive was a big step for me. Then making a decision that next time I will not supplement simply over a few extra ounces lost, that I will not have formula stashed in the house, and that I will have a support group set up, have educated myself, and have things on hand to help my supply if needed. Making this decision makes me excited to breastfeed. Excited as I was with lil man. I can't wait to have another baby and breastfeed him or her.
  5. Forgive Yourself! I remember going through something in my life, and seeking counsel from a religious leader. One of the things he said was that I needed to forgive myself. That I would not be able to move on until I did so. If you keep beating yourself up over something, you will never get past it. So forgive yourself. You have owned up, you have forgiven others, you have decided what you would want to do differently the next time, so forgive yourself.
Once these steps are done, and really, truly done, you will begin to feel the weight of the guilt lifted. You will be able to move on. Enjoy the things you have, and look forward to the future.

It was important for me to let go of the guilt. Until I did so, anytime the topic of breastfeeding came up, I was on defense. I felt any comment about formula or supplementing was aimed at me. If someone talked about most women make plenty of milk, I was defensive. If someone said anything about anything I was going through being human error, mine or someone else's, I would get upset. Once I let go of that guilt, I could realize, this wasn't the case. Someone saying that breastfeeding was worth the effort was not saying I was not dedicated. A comment about booby traps didn't mean I was an awful mom for that fell for anything. A pro-breastfeeding statement did not mean that formula was poison.

Letting go was so freeing, I felt like a new person. I was able to truly enjoy the remainder of our breastfeeding relationship, even with supplementation.

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