I think most people would agree that moms are strong women, and how could we not be, considering all the changes we go through by having babies? We are altered- mind, body and soul- by bringing new life into the world, and I believe it is all for the better! When I think of my own mom, I think of how selfless she is, and how she would do anything for me and my brothers. That selflessness is a hallmark feature in the other moms I look up to, but becoming a mom myself has shown me how thin the line is between self-sacrifice and the dreaded mom guilt.
I’ve never met a mom who hasn’t experienced mom guilt on some level. The pressure to “do it all” and be everything for our kids can come from high expectations we place on ourselves, but how do we handle it when the pressure comes from others? Since becoming a mom, I’ve noticed the subtle ways we can be pushed to overlook our own needs completely, disguising it as caring for our kids. It sounds something like this: “Well, all that matters is he (the baby) is happy and healthy!” Thank goodness, everyone who has said this to me has been right; my baby boy is as happy and healthy as can be, but is that really all that matters?
Before Rex was born, I was dead-set on breastfeeding him. Formula feeding was quite literally, not even on my radar. After he was born with extensive ties (one lip, one tongue and two cheek ties on each side, to be exact), I was crushed that breastfeeding didn’t go as planned for us. First of all, there was my own physical pain that came with the ties (ouch!), then there was the exhausting, round-the-clock pumping while waiting to schedule the revision procedure with our pediatric dentist, on top of all the normal things that come along with post-partum. When what I thought was the baby blues lingered past those first weeks and I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety, I made the extremely difficult decision to stop pumping.
It was hard. I felt like I had failed at doing the one thing I expected and had planned to do for my child. I know that everyone who said something along the lines of “Well, all that matters is he is happy and healthy!” only meant the words to be encouraging. They saw I was hurting and they wanted to help; “Well Rex is perfectly fine so everything is all good!” Except it wasn’t all good; not for me. I was quietly wrestling with giving up a huge part of what I thought motherhood would be for me. I felt selfish. Why can’t I just get over it and be happy since Rex is clearly fine either way? Should I have sucked it up and kept going with the pumping, even though it was waging a war on my mental sanity?
At the time, the guilt I felt was unreal. I was extremely tough on myself and saw it as “taking the easy way out”, rather than continuing to fight for something that could help Rex. But slowly, I began to heal and started to see that prioritizing my mental health in that moment was the SAME as caring for my child. It wasn’t putting my needs before his, it was recognizing that what I had planned was not was going to work best for us. It was taking care of myself, so that I could be a healthier version of me and care for him better.
Having gone through what I’ve been through over these past months, there are a few things I have learned and wish I could encourage every mom with. First and foremost, you DO matter! You’re doing the important work day in and day out, caring for your kids and showing them unconditional love, BUT that doesn’t have to come at the cost of your own health and well-being. Second of all, it’s okay to feel upset about things not going how you imagined. Even if on this alternate route, your child is as happy and healthy as ever, you are still allowed to mourn what you thought it would be like. Third of all, you are still your own person. Your identity is not anchored solely in being a mom. You can feel your own feelings, think your own thoughts and make decisions that prioritize you, if in the end that’s what makes you healthier and better for the people around you.