I am a terrible mother, or so I have been led to believe in countless message boards, email threads, mommy groups and blog posts. I am a terrible mother according to many women. I have been called selfish, irresponsible and even guilty of child abuse. One woman, childless at the time, pointedly told my husband that I clearly “didn’t have a desire to bond with my daughter”. I have been told that my daughter is likely to become obese, riddled with allergies and ear infections, and she will become a junk food fiend. I have been told that I have stunted my daughter’s intellectual growth and she will fail to reach crucial milestones. I have been told that my daughter is more likely to grow up to become a drug addict, and that I should have reconsidered even becoming a parent.
I didn’t breastfeed my daughter. I just couldn’t.
It’s not that I couldn’t physically perform the act of breastfeeding, because I’m sure I could have worked it out with the help of throngs of neighborhood La Leche resources and supportive women. I’m sure I could have experienced the thrill of achieving the perfect latch and I would have relished every tender, nourishing moment, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter because I wanted so badly to be a good mother, but the crushing insomnia I suffered for the entire 9 months of pregnancy were making me unfit to be such a mother. I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter because I suffered from debilitating, panic-inducing anxiety for my entire pregnancy after being weaned off of anti-anxiety medications while trying to conceive. I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter because the pregnancy was so trying on my skinny frame that excruciating pelvic separation rendered me literally unable to walk without agonizing pain. I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter because I didn’t have the glowing, delicious pregnancy you read about in the all-natural birthing books, and I felt lost, terrified and guilty. I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter because my delivery was so traumatic that I am still having nightmares about it 3 and a half years later. I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter because when I took that first peek into her gigantic, vulnerable eyes, my heart overflowed with love but my brain filled with crippling fear and self-doubt, and I worried.
I worried my anxiety would carry into the postpartum period. I worried I would have a panic attack while out in public with this tiny, fragile being. I worried that my overtired, hallucinating mind would be unfit to care for this most precious gift: and that worry was of the soul-crushing kind, so I made a choice.
I MADE A CHOICE. For MY family. For MY daughter. Not YOURS. I made a choice to be the best mother I could be for MY CHILD.
When LJ was born I joined a local mom’s group that was organized by birth month and year. LJ was colicky and I was a train wreck, but the frantic email exchanges we all shared were comforting in those first 3 months. Still reeling from the “new” and the exhaustion, we had yet to meet up as a group in person, but this cyber gathering of roughly twenty women became a much-needed support system. A camaraderie that every new mother needs. I relished checking my inbox during those brief moments of peace and quiet, when the baby was swaddled up in my wrap and sleeping soundly, and I was afforded the opportunity to chat with grown-ups. One day, I casually mentioned the fact that I wasn’t breastfeeding LJ, and the emails suddenly stopped. Just like that, my support system was gone.
I had been quietly and swiftly removed from my local mommy group. Poof!
You know what’s funny? My daughter, age 3 and a half:
- is as confident and independent as she is loving and compassionate towards others.
- blew through every baby and toddler milestone way ahead of time.
- is a healthy weight; has never set foot in a fast food restaurant and gobbles fistfuls of kale.
- has never had an actual ear infection.
- is not allergic to anything. Not one thing.
She is my little ray of sunshine and love and happiness and NOT because of what I fed her for one year of her life, but because of how I am raising her: because of the values I instill in her mind and the hugs I dole out every minute. It KILLS me that I feel driven to defend myself and prove to anybody how amazing my child actually is.
So, to all the moms who have vocally and virtually condemned my mothering choices: I’m sad for you. I’m sad for you and worried for YOUR children, because if you, as an adult, find it so simple to bully, judge and hurt other women so effortlessly: what kind of values are you instilling upon YOUR kids? You’re mean.
Oh, and to the moms who kicked me out of the local Park Slope parenting group for not breastfeeding?