I think it started as soon as I started telling people I was pregnant. I hadn’t felt so much peer pressure since middle school. Suddenly, my life became open to all kinds of advice and criticism. Simply because I was growing a tiny embryo, everyone decided that they knew what was best for me. Some insisted we needed to find out the sex of the baby while others were adamantly opposed. We had to buy certain baby gear and set up the nursery a certain way (how come no one told me that he wouldn’t even spend time in there?!). Everyone had an opinion about everything. Some people even pressured me to get an epidural – as if it were their body going through the labor.
As any mom can tell you, this pressure doesn’t end there. It just gets worse once you have the baby. Breastfeeding or bottle feeding, crib-sleeping or co-sleeping, babywearing or putting the baby down, working or staying home. It is never ending. And of course, I received about that I really needed to let my baby cry himself to sleep at five months old or else he would still be sleeping with me when he’s eight.
Everyone knew best.
But the truth is, I knew best. Or rather, we knew best. I have to give my husband a lot of credit here. He often has better instincts than me, and this was especially true in those first few days of my baby’s life.
Even now that my baby is 18 months old, I still feel a lot of pressure to raise him a certain way. Maybe the pressure is even worse now because while co-sleeping with a 6 month old is one thing, but an 18 month old is another. And breastfeeding a toddler! When people do express support for me breastfeeding a toddler, it is always under the pretext that we both assume that there might be something wrong with breastfeeding an 18 month old.
I have felt lucky because I have surrounded myself with pretty un-judgmental people. Those within my inner circle, the ones who I truly care about, don’t judge me. Sure, there are some people in my life that I can’t control, but I can usually control the information I give them. I still get unsolicited advice sometimes, but I found that having confidence in our decisions really helps. And part of that confidence comes from having educated and supportive people in my life.
I work in health research and I have had great support from my co-workers, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. Others aren’t so lucky. My friend was telling me the other day that none of her husband’s co-workers’ share a lot of the same philosophies and beliefs as my friend and her husband when it comes to families. This is fine, except the co-workers give the husband advice about how to get the baby to sleep, like, “Just give her a bottle, lay her in the crib and leave. She’ll eventually go to sleep.” All of the other co-workers agreed. All of their five month olds just put themselves to sleep and sleep through the night. That’s great, except my friend breastfeeds and she doesn’t want to leave her baby alone in a crib with a bottle. Yet suddenly, they started to wonder if they were making the right decisions. They know they are, but it is the little things like this that make parents question themselves. And this is why it is so important to surround yourself with people who make similar decisions or have similar philosophies. Sure, it is healthy to question things, but our culture doesn’t always support the healthiest decisions.
While I try to find support in many of my parenting philosophies, I knew the odds would be stacked against me with breastfeeding. I heard it is hard in the beginning and it sometimes hurts. Plus I might get thrush or mastitis. My mom didn’t breastfeed and some of the other women in my life didn’t either. Fortunately, my sister did. I was young when I was exposed to her breastfeeding my niece, so I already felt like it was something I could do. Not everyone is so lucky though. Some people go through their whole lives without seeing someone breastfeed in real life.
I sought breastfeeding support while I was still pregnant. My husband was on board with whatever I chose to do, so that was a relief. I found a hospital that was supportive of breastfeeding and is seeking to become Baby-Friendly Hospital-certified. I spoke with a doula that confirmed the lactation team was incredible and the hospital staff would do everything to help me breastfeed. (By the way, a doula is another great source of support).
Next, I chose a certified nurse midwife instead of an OB-GYN. I interviewed several OB-GYNs and was seriously terrified when I left their office. One even rolled her eyes when I told her I wanted an unmedicated birth. I left my midwife’s office after my first appointment elated. She talked to me for an hour, asking me what I wanted from my pregnancy and birth experience. She encouraged me to read the The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. She was simply amazing. During the day of my child’s birth, she was there to greet me in the morning, she was with me for various periods throughout the day, including when my water broke and when I got my epidural (yeah, my unmedicated birth didn’t pan out), and for all three hours of pushing. She hung around after my baby was born to make sure I was okay, and most importantly, she showed me how to breastfeed. I finally went to my room around 2 a.m., and she went home shortly before that. Going with a midwife for my pregnancy was one of the best decisions we made.
During those first few hectic days (okay, weeks) home with my new baby, I called the lactation consultant hotline several times, including late at night. They always called me back and they always had perfect advice. That hotline number was like gold to me. I wouldn’t have made it without them.
Then I had to deal with the pediatrician. I was told to find a breastfeeding-supportive pediatrician, and when I interviewed mine, she was like, “Obviously, breask milk is best.” I thought this wouldn’t be a problem. That is, until I got thrush and they wouldn’t treat Gavin because he didn’t have the symptoms. However, if you read any documents about thrush, you’ll know that the baby often doesn’t have symptoms. They told me I was misdiagnosed, that my midwife and lactation consultant were wrong, and that I was blaming my baby for my own breastfeeding problems.
I never went back. Eventually, I found a doctor who not only trusted me as a parent, but also supported me. He is actually my family physician. I never could find a supportive pediatrician.
Beyond all of this, I actually found a lot of support online. Whether it was reading blogs or posting on message boards, I could always find another mom who had similar struggles and made similar decisions. I even made real life friends from these online interactions. And now, I’m writing a blog with one. 🙂
So where are you finding support? Hopefully we can offer some kind of support through our blog, but I also hope you are finding some support outside of the virtual world.
If you are pregnant and hoping to breastfeed, I encourage you to seek out breastfeeding mentors. They might be a friend, a sister, an aunt… find someone that you can turn to when you need to feel normal as a breastfeeding mom. Someone that can tell you that you are doing a great job. Also, seek out medical professionals that are knowledgeable and experienced in breastfeeding. Have a trusted lactation consultant and healthcare provider for you and your baby.
I often feel like I need someone to just make me feel normal – like I am not totally screwing up my child’s life. Well, and if I am, someone else is in the same boat. I found that a lot of people often keep secrets about their parenting decisions. They will whisper that they co-sleep or breastfeed past 12 months. Just being honest with those around you might bring out the support you need. Then again, it might just bring more unwanted advice.
I finally confessed to my mom that I put Gavin in my bed and fell asleep when he was about five days old.
“I did that all the time. You guys always slept with me,” she said. I was shocked. Suddenly, I felt slightly better that I wasn’t the worst mom in the world.
I’ve actually tried to be loud and proud about my decisions to breastfeed, co-sleep, and many other things because I hope it brings some kind of support to others. Even if it is just breastfeeding in public – maybe another mom will see me and feel okay the next time her baby gets hungry at the mall.
If you are having problems finding support in your life, you might join a mom’s group. Meredith wrote about starting a babywearing group, or some of the following organizations hold meetings, and maybe you can find a like-minded mom.
I think every parent feels alone sometimes. After all, we are all parenting different children, and sometimes it is hard enough to just get our spouses to agree with us. Chances are, though, you are doing great.Like what you read? Buy me a coffee! Thanks for your support!