Another installment of the Confessions of Mama Guilt series. This is one mom who I totally want to hang out with and chat over Mexican food and drinks about all mom concerns, questions and issues. Seriously, she seems super fun and of course I love honesty in a mom friend. Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your guilt, worries and advice. I am confident people could relate to these stories!
If that's not the most perfect picture of pure joy and relief I've ever seen ...
(All photos from Sarah Stearns)
When is the first time you recall feeling this Mama Guilt of feeling like you failed, did not do something right, or like others were judging you?
I had major mama guilt about breastfeeding. It started off really smoothly, and I was so grateful! But when Graham was 3 weeks old, I got thrush. It took 6 weeks to clear up, and it made breastfeeding painful (again). And all of the crazy stuff I did to get rid of it! It was exhausting, and took all the joy out of it for me permanently.
I wanted to keep breastfeeding, but it was so miserable and I felt so guilty for wanting to quit all of the time - but I kept battling. When I went back to work, pumping didn't go smoothly for me at all. I was so emotional about being back at work, so I spent many pumping sessions crying by myself in my office!
When I talked to Graham's doctor about how much I was struggling to keep up, she was very judgmental. She told me not to buy formula because I'd be tempted to use it. She said that Graham wouldn't starve if I couldn't produce enough from pumping.
I was so vulnerable during those weeks that I took what she said to heart and felt like the biggest failure because I couldn't keep up with pumping.
2 weeks after I went back to work, we literally had nothing to give him at daycare, and when we gave him formula for the first time, I cried...and then everything was fine.
Graham sucked it right up and from then on, we gave him both breastmilk and formula, and everyone was happier and healthier. I felt like a failure for a while, but switched doctors and realized that I was just doing the best that I could and that was okay.
It really taught me a lot about making choices that work best for my family, and not being impacted by all of the outside opinions.
I had no idea how contentious the breastfeeding/formula debate could be until I was in the middle of it. It was a difficult first test in parenting, but it definitely made me tougher.
Before you became a mom, what type of mom did you think you'd be?
I was really nervous about being a mom. I never felt a "maternal instinct" the way other women had described it, and I wondered if it would kick in when I had a baby. Would I love my baby instantly? Would I find the little things fun? Would I get bored on maternity leave? I was most nervous that I'd be nervous all the time! How ironic :) I am a worrier by nature, and I thought I'd never be able to stop worrying.
I'm still new at this (14 months), but I have surprised myself with my patience, appreciation, and love I feel for my son. I didn't know if the maternal instinct was in there, but it turned on the second I met Graham. I think because I work full-time, I appreciate every single second I have with him, and the JOY I feel by being his mom is more than I imagined. I am still a worrier, and I can't seem to shut that off. I work hard to not let it rub off on him, but I do worry about him constantly.
With worrying often, why do you think you worry so much? What contributes to it? What helps you get through it?
I think the really simple answer as to why I worry so much is that I feel like I have so much to lose. I feel like I'm so lucky with my family, and the thought of losing them is what gives me the most anxiety.
I have dealt with anxiety for a long time, and I was SO scared that I would be too scared as a parent. I have had some paralyzing moments (especially in those first few weeks), but I feel like I have found some ways to deal with it.
The things that help me are: therapy, yoga, writing and talking about my fears with my husband. He knows me and is so much more level headed than me, so he can say, "That's not going to happen" and I believe him. I also try to be kind to myself. I know that I worry because I love Graham, and I want him to be safe and happy and healthy.
A part of it is just protective instinct, so when I feel some of that anxiety coming in, I talk to myself kindly. I just say, "You love Graham so that's why you're worrying. you're not worrying because something is actually wrong." It sounds so silly, but it works!
How do you know you are a good mom? If you don't feel like you are one now, when will you know you are? What needs to happen to make you feel like a good mom?
This is such a tough one! I think I am a good mom because I love my little boy and try my hardest to do what's best for him all the time. I just love him. I cherish him and hope to make his life as fun, safe and silly as possible.
I think loving my husband in a kind, respectful way, and showing Graham what a strong, healthy relationship looks like also makes me a good mom. We are better parents when we are good to each other.
What is your advice to another mom who experiences this mama guilt over breastfeeding, a birth experience that did not go as planned, worrying about a sick baby, etc.? What would you have wanted someone to say to you back during that difficult time?
I had an unplanned C-section that took me a long time to recover both physically and emotionally from - it really shook me.
Whenever I hear of any woman going through that, my heart breaks for them and I want to find them and hug them and tell them that it will be okay.
I want to tell them that they will feel like themselves again, and it will just take longer than they thought.
I would tell them to accept help. I would also tell them that it's okay to grieve and feel sad about what they went through. Kind moms said these things to me and they helped me so much -- but in the end, the only thing that really helped was just some time and being kind to myself.
The only thing I would add is that one of the biggest things I've had mama guilt about is being a working mom. I bring Graham to an in-home daycare with a stay-at-home mom who I love - but it's hard not to feel badly some days because another mom is taking care of my son more hours in the day than I do.
I really wrestle with this a lot, although it has gotten easier. I work out of financial necessity, but also because I love my job and am proud of the work that I do. But I have many, many days where I feel guilty that another woman is holding him, feeding him, playing with him. I am lucky to have found someone that I trust completely to do all those things...but it still stings sometimes.
Thank you, Sarah, for such great responses. You seem like a devoted, dedicated and super fun mom. Just seeing these pictures I can tell Graham is your whole world!