My heart has been so full the last few days. So full, it is growing heavy and overflowing into this probably nonsensical blog post. I'm starting to wonder if mommy blogs grew out of the fact that we experience this overflowing phenomenon often and so we pour it into the ever accommodating vessel of the internet.
The last couple of days have been hard in the typical, I-have-two-small-children sense. Nolan hasn't been napping well and has been waking up more at night. When he is overtired, he won't nurse, which stresses me out, and is a huge topic for another day. In addition, Cal has an ear infection, which he has toughed out remarkably well, except that sometimes (six or seven times a day) he bursts into noisy, snotty tears and needs to be held, and it is inevitably right when I have gotten the baby to sleep but have not yet put him down. To top it all off, Scott has a really bad cold and hasn't been able to sleep at night, so he has been miserable as well. So I've been tired, and feeling burdened.
I've been snappy and frustrated, disappearing into the vortex of social media embarrassingly often. I've succumbed to self pity. And, because guilt is my conjoined twin, I've felt horrible the entire time but continued to do it.
Motherhood is difficult for me, on an identity level. When Cal was born, his birth went very differently from how I'd imagined it (epidural, pushing without sensation, sweet baby placed on my chest. Clearly I'd never been present at a birth). He was healthy, and the complications I experienced were relatively mild, but I emerged from it shaken. Dealing with my difficult emotions about the experience coupled with sleep deprivation and breastfeeding difficulties made my transition into motherhood very rocky. For a long time, I didn't feel like a mother. I felt like the caretaker of a child that I loved so much it cracked my heart open, but I didn't feel like I had the right to that love. I hadn't been able to safely bear that child, I hadn't been able to nourish him with my body, and mine wasn't the first face he saw after he was born -- in fact, it was nearly an hour after his birth that i was able to see and hold him for the first time. The fact that I was unhappy contributed to my feelings of unworthiness.
With time and prayer and getting to know Cal, I was able to (somewhat) overcome those feelings that I wasn't good enough to be his mom. I still really struggled with the fact that I couldn't breastfeed hime exclusively, especially when he started to get frustrated with my low supply and eventually refused to latch on anymore, before I was ready to stop breastfeeding. I also had a hard time once I went back to work, feeling guilty that he was asleep by the time I got home on the nights I worked and feeling like I failed him because I wasn't with him every day. But I started to feel like a mom.
With Nolan, it has been better in so many ways. Being able to have a VBAC was an incredibly healing experience for me. (I absolutely do not mean to say that if you have a c-section, you are in some way deficient. I don't believe that is true at all. But for me, when I had struggled so much with how my c-section went, it was really healing to have a different birth the second time). Being able to hold him immediately and feel happy after he was born instead of broken was so amazing. Breastfeeding has been slightly better, but as Nolan has grown, he too has become impatient with my low supply and turns his head or cries sometimes when I try to nurse.
Last night with the sleep deprivation and other small challenges piling on my shoulders, his refusal to nurse was the final straw for me. This morning I've been thinking about why it's such a challenge for me and so important to me. Many people have told me that in my situation they wouldn't still be nursing. Scott wondered aloud a few nights ago if breastfeeding had stopped being a benefit for Nolan and was now a detriment. While I still haven't decided how I'll continue yet, I realized this morning part of why I care so much.
I have imposter syndrome.
I've never gotten over the feeling that I don't really have the right to be their mother. I think for me, breastfeeding was always this ultimate nourishing act, and because I can't do it, I've always felt like I'm not really a mother. When I'm able to nurse my babies, I have this physical, impossible to deny tether that reminds me -- yes, they are yours. Yes, you have a right to them.
Obviously, this is ridiculous. Breastfeeding doesn't make or break motherhood. And motherhood doesn't come from these early, pivotal moments -- it comes from the minutes and hours of holding little bodies, feeding them -- regardless of how -- clothing them, listening to their stories, wiping their tears. And I don't think of other people as deficient -- it was just this standard I set up for myself.
As I was pondering over all this, I started thinking of this mom I met in the mother's lounge when I was home for Christmas. She was in my parents' ward, the ward I grew up in. By the time she came in, I was giving Nolan his bottle, and I started explaining to her that I nursed and gave a bottle because I feel the need to explain why I am in the nursing lounge when I give a bottle. We ended up chatting for several minutes -- she also had to give her baby a bottle, because she had been in the NICU. We exchanged some milk production increasing tips. It was validating for me to talk to someone else who struggled with breastfeeding and was still trying. In addition, I felt grateful that Nolan had been healthy and born past his due date, rather than too early and struggling for his life like this sweet baby. The experience made a big impression on me because I felt so validated and like I had made a connection. Yesterday, I read a Momastery post about how as women we need to love each other -- even those we just meet (and oddly, that post is down today -- I don't know why, but I do know I needed to read it yesterday). And that is how I felt. I just loved this girl even though I didn't know her, because we had shared one difficult experience and I felt for the other difficult experiences she had that i hadn't shared.
Anyway, yesterday while I was in my social media vortex, I noticed someone else from my parents' ward had commented on something she had posted. We're not friends on Facebook or anything but she had told me her name when we were talking. I was intrigued by the blog post and clicked on it (oh how easy it is to Facebook stalk people...) and it turns out that she had a surrogate daughter that was just born. I read more of her story and it turns out that she had struggled with infertility and wound up having two embryos to transfer. She had one, and a surrogate had another, and they both wound up working. So her second daughter was just born.
This had me thinking more about imposter syndrome. Obviously this little baby was born in a very nontraditional sense, but she is every ounce her daughter. And it is so beautiful, so incredible to me that this woman had this experience. I'm also reminded of one of my friends who had trouble getting pregnant, who expressed to me that when she did get pregnant, it wasn't how she'd imagined. She'd thought of cute ways to tell her husband, but because of her fertility treatments, they found out with a phone call. Her birth experience wasn't what she pictured either. And I also had the chance to chat with another friend yesterday, who has two little foster babies. She didn't bear them or breastfeed them, but they are more her children than they are the children of their biological mothers. She is the one who cares for them -- feeds them, talks to them, loves them, holds them.
All this to say to myself, I suppose -- that yes, motherhood has physical aspects. Pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding -- they are all common experiences of motherhood. Experiences that most people have. Experiences that are painful to miss out on, for many reasons. But they do not define motherhood. They are not a list of conditions to be met. So while I certainly haven't overcome all my demons, I'm hoping that I can remember that despite my failings, I'm not an imposter. That even if some of my dreams regarding how I mother are not meant to be, I am still mothering. That I give other people grace, and I should give myself some too.