No more baby helmet! Just residual mom guilt

And we’re done with the DOC Band!

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Bring on those hats!

It was actually a little anticlimactic, to be honest.  Officially he was supposed to wear it for another week, but we asked for our last adjustment appointment to be our “graduation” appointment so that we wouldn’t have to drive 45 minutes each way again just to get pictures taken. So they adjusted the band, gave us a little certificate, and sent us on our merry way.  We were thrilled to not have to go back and they were thrilled to never see my face again.

But then, just under a week later, Jacob started getting red spots that took about five hours to go away, which meant we’d outgrown the helmet and were done early.

Which we celebrated by…questioning our decision to remove the helmet.

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Well, that’s how I celebrated.  My husband had zero qualms about being done early because either dad guilt isn’t a thing or it’s much milder than mom guilt.

As adamantly opposed as I was to the idea of a second helmet (and yes, I still think that’s a money grab in many cases), Jacob DOES still have a flat spot.  So am I being selfish for wanting to be done?  But on the flip side, it’s a DIFFERENT flat spot than the one the helmet was correcting, so did I cause this new one by helmeting him in the first place?

The reality is that no one but me (and I suppose other moms who have dealt with flat heads and are now hyper alert to them) is ever going to notice that his head is anything but perfect.  While I now have flat-head-dar and look at the shape of everyone’s heads (it’s terrible.  I look at my students and am like, “wow, you should have had a helmet!”), there are people who I looked at every day for years without ever thinking “Wow, your head looks like the east building of the National Gallery!”  

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Pre-helmet, Jacob’s misshapen head was noticeable.  It isn’t anymore unless you’re really TRYING to find imperfections (and looking at him directly top down.  He’s got a tall daddy, so I’m thinking that won’t be the case for most people for the majority of his life).  By all accounts, the helmet was very successful in reshaping Jacob’s head.  And what it didn’t fix will most likely round out by his second birthday on its own.

So I guess what it really boils down to how to live with the mom guilt.

Pre-baby, it was just guilt.  Which I suppose comes with the territory.  I am Jewish after all, and if our people are known for anything, it’s guilt.  You’re welcome.  (See what I did there?  I learned at the knees of the masters!)

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I automatically assume everything is my fault no matter what.  I should have tried harder.  Been better.  Gotten more people out.  Yes, I was born decades after the Holocaust, but damnit, I should have done more!

So now that the helmet is done and his head isn’t a miraculously perfect round orb, I need to find a way to let it go.  I’m trying to tell myself that that’s the lesson I’m supposed to learn here.  A couple of people said to me, after I went public about the situation with Jacob’s head and neck, that we get the baby we NEED, not necessarily the baby we WANT. On the surface, that sounds terrible, because of course I WANT Jacob!  He’s the absolute best part of my life.  

But I get where those people were going because I think I needed to learn that I can’t control everything.  And if I can’t control everything, then not everything can be my fault.  Some things just happen and I need to learn to roll with it.

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That’s really a struggle for me and was part of why the inability to exclusively breastfeed Jacob was so devastating as well.  I had found something that I couldn’t control.  My mother called me arrogant when I expressed that to her, and she’s not wrong.  But up until motherhood, I lived a life where I was largely able to say I was going to do something and then find a way to make it happen, come hell or high water.  Failure simply wasn’t in my vocabulary.

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For example, I said I was going to dance on stage at a Bruce show. And I did.

It’s been humbling to have to change that without seeing it as failure. In my mind, Jacob was supposed to be the Galahad to my Lancelot (yes, I know only like three people got that. But I took an Arthurian legends class in college and it was cool.  And I’m a nerd. Get over it).  He was supposed to be perfect in all of the areas that I wasn’t.  He would have no flaws.  And while my mother will tell you he’s the most perfect baby ever, I’m still freaking out that he isn’t crawling yet.  And still blaming myself, because if I’d caught the torticollis earlier, wouldn’t he be?

Back to everything being my fault.

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But I’m learning.  If eventual baby number two* isn’t gaining weight with breastfeeding alone, I’m not going to stress about supplementation because I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t control that.  And that, as much as it felt like it was the first time around, it’s neither the end of the world, nor my fault.

*I am not pregnant.  I am not planning on becoming pregnant any time soon.  I have a nine month old.  I’m tired.  I do want a second child in the future, but if you read into this to assume that that’s coming soon, I may slap you.

I definitely know more now about keeping baby number two’s head round as well.  I know the signs of torticollis, but the reality is that that may be unavoidable too.  I had low amniotic fluid the first time around, which is again out of my control.  But an earlier diagnosis, if that is an issue again, could be key in the flat head battle.  I know to reposition, I know more about tummy time, I know to wear the baby more.

I also know that if future baby number two needs a helmet, we’ll do it. And I’ll do my best not to beat myself up about it too much.

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Who fat shames a pregnant woman? The same people who use the word “moist” (gross!!!!)

It’s amazing how boundaries disappear as soon as people realize there’s a tiny person growing inside of you.  Is it because they feel like the announcement that you’re pregnant is also an admission of “Hey! I had sex!” so they think you’re open to talking about ridiculously private things?

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I honestly don’t know why it happens, but I do know that as soon as the placenta forms, people lose any semblance of a filter.

Now with my students, I get it.  They’re excited and curious and want to learn.  It’s still creepy when your high school students come up and rub your belly.  Especially the boys.  I had a kid who would literally get up, and I’d think he’d be going to sharpen his pencil.  Oh no.  He would just walk up and rub my stomach.  While I was teaching.  We had to have a boundary talk.  Multiple times.  But kids are excited and curious once they find out that you’re pregnant.

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It starts immediately though, like well before you’re showing.  I did my cutesy Facebook pregnancy announcement at the start of the second trimester (I’m such a rule follower.  God, I kind of want to slap myself right now), and all of a sudden people were ridiculous.  

Our super cutesy pregnancy announcement

I ate two donut holes one day–not donuts, donut HOLES.  Munchkins, if you will–from the English department office and another teacher said, “Guess you can let yourself go now that you’re pregnant, huh?”  Another teacher called me “wide load” that week and several coworkers rubbed my COMPLETELY FLAT belly.

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Nope.

Then came the fat shaming.

Yes, I got fat shamed while pregnant.  

People started asking me how much weight I’d gained so far.  The answer I SHOULD have given?  “None… of your business!”

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Instead, because I never come up with a snappy comeback on site (and I’m honestly not nearly as snarky in real life as I am in my blog.  Believe it or not, I live in genuine fear of actually offending anyone.  If I say something too mean in real life, odds are pretty high that I’ll apologize and cry), I tended to stammer out the correct amount.

Before I go further, let me explain–I’m a gym rat.  Or at least I was, pre-baby, when I had time to go to the gym.  But I’m still an exercise junkie, I just do it at home or while pushing a stroller right now.  So I worked out until three days before I gave birth (and only stopped that early because I was in the hospital for two days before Jacob was born), and gained exactly 25 pounds (my doctor recommended I gain 25-35 pounds, so the bare minimum of the healthy range).

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“Wow, that’s a lot!” was a frequent response.

“Really?” a few said.  “I only gained three pounds when I was pregnant.  You’re already higher than that!”  (These people are liars, btw.  I remember their pregnancies.  They gained more than three pounds. They looked like manatees toward the end, just like every other pregnant woman does.)

Or, my personal favorite, “Oh, that’s not so much.  It just looks like more on you.”

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If every woman is hearing this kind of thing, I’m shocked that there aren’t more murders committed by pregnant women.

But to be honest, I would take the fat shaming ANY day over the awkward questions you get after the baby is born.

Those tend to fall into two categories (other than the ones from students, who have no shame asking about ALLLLL the gory details and who all think that since Kim Kardashian ate her placenta that that’s like a thing that all mothers do.  Um. No.). The “Are you breastfeeding?” and the “Was it a vaginal delivery?” questions.

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To be fair, I don’t think there’s anyone who can appropriately ask you those questions.  Like I guess my mom can get away with it, and I wouldn’t actually care if my friends asked.  But they don’t ask those questions.  And there are zero non-doctors who can say the word “vaginal” without making me cringe.  But the people who choose to ask those questions are so grossly inappropriate that it’s horrifying.

Who asked me those questions?  Weirdly enough, everyone over the age of 55 that I encountered.  It’s like those were the popular questions to ask people in the 1970s, so they go around doing it now.

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One of my old high school English teachers (a man, no less!) asked me if I was breastfeeding.  A long term sub in my building asked me about the delivery (I can’t keep typing “vaginal” without retching.  It’s worse than the word “moist.”).  A friend’s mother-in-law asked about both at a two-year-old’s birthday party.  And so on.  I’d list more, but I don’t want to call people out if they’re actually reading this.

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And while I wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone asking me about such personal bodily functions under any circumstances, the fact that I struggled so much with breastfeeding made these questions painful.  I didn’t want to explain to people that I wasn’t the world’s greatest breastfeeder because everyone made me feel like I should be.  Being asked that was like being asked, “So are you succeeding as a mother?” And if I gave an honest answer, I felt like the people asking were going to think that I wasn’t.

I do know that no one asked awkward questions or made me feel bad about my weight with bad intentions.  But if you’re one of the people who asks new or expecting mothers those questions, it’s worth remembering that some people are struggling with breastfeeding and don’t want to talk about it (and the others are probably the ones whipping their boobs out constantly, so you don’t need to ask that question). Some people had emergency C-sections that completely went against their birthing plans and don’t want to talk about it.  And some people have struggled with eating disorders and body image and are having a hard time with gaining pregnancy weight.

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Also, all of that is rude.  It’s not your business what my child is eating, what part of my body he came out of, or how much weight I’m gaining.  #sorrynotsorry

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Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy

Breastfeeding is hard.

There.  I said it.

You know what?  I’m gonna say it again.  Breastfeeding is REALLY freaking hard.  In fact, it deserves the other f word because it’s so hard, but I like having my teaching job so that I can afford all the cute baby stuff that Jacob needs, so you’ll have to settle for freaking.

Everyone out there makes you think breastfeeding is the easiest, most natural thing in the world.  It may be natural, and I’m sure for some women it’s easy, but going around preaching that it’s the simplest act on the planet is a recipe for disaster for other women.

I was never worried about breastfeeding.  My mother always talked about how great she was at it (no, mom, that wasn’t remotely traumatizing as a kid to hear about that constantly.  Not at all.), and as I take after her in all regards (seriously, we’re the same person, it’s freaky), I figured it would be a piece of cake.

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The hubby and I took a breastfeeding class and were the least concerned people there. (Partially because hubby finds everything hilarious.  The teacher mentioned milk ducts at one point and he drew a picture of a duck with boobs labeled “milk duck.”  I married a child.)  Why was everyone else there worried about breastfeeding? It was easy, right? The teacher certainly assured us that it was.

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How hard can it be if even a rubber ducky can do it?

“Every woman has the ability to exclusively breastfeed her baby,” she told us—a line that would come back to haunt me with harrowing feelings of guilt and failure.  She advised us to throw out any free formula that we received ahead of time—the formula companies prey on new mothers, she told us, and mail out formula when you register for gifts, just hoping that you’ll get discouraged and use it instead of breastfeeding.  But EVERYONE can do it, so you’re being lazy if you use formula.

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I dutifully went home and threw out the Enfamil starter pack that had come in the mail. I wasn’t going to be a lazy formula mom.  Uh uh.  Not me.  No way.  Breastmilk all the way. I’d even eat all organic food and nothing processed so my baby would be getting the best quality breastmilk.  He was going to be the next Einstein and it would all come from my boobs.

Fast forward another couple of months.  Jacob was born two weeks early because my fluid levels started dropping in my 36th week.  They hadn’t been super high to begin with, but I drank double my body weight in water daily for the next couple of weeks and figured my levels would be better at my next appointment.  They were not.  In fact, they were so much worse that I was sent to the hospital at just under 38 weeks, kept on IV fluids for two days, and then induced.  I’m only sharing that detail now because I’m 99 percent convinced that the low amniotic fluid levels were related to low milk production later.  I’ve found zero research connecting the two, but I would put money on some doctor finding a correlation someday.  Please comment if you had something similar!

After a fairly uncomplicated birth, we had a beautiful baby.  Granted, his birth weight was probably somewhat inflated after those two days of IV fluids, and all newborns look vaguely like aliens, but he was perfect in every way.

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The lactation consultant came into the delivery room, saw that not only was he already latched (I paid attention in breastfeeding class after all), he was already eating.  She pronounced my latch flawless and was out of there in under two minutes.

Another lactation consultant came in a day or two later (that hospital time is a blur. I think the nurses monitor when you fall asleep and pick that exact moment to come in and wake you up), advised me to keep his head more in the crook of my arm, agreed that I had an impeccable latch, and went on her merry way.

I was an earth goddess, breastfeeding my baby.  All was well.

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Except it wasn’t.  When we went to the pediatrician for our second visit, Jacob was still losing weight.  And when we went back two days later he should have been gaining weight, but he wasn’t.

“I think it’s time to try supplementing with some formula,” our pediatrician said.

I promptly burst into tears.  She comforted me as best as she could, throwing around phrases like “low supply,” “not a big deal,” “happens to so many women,” etc.  But all I could hear was, “You failed your baby and now he has to have formula and won’t be as smart or healthy and it’s all your fault.”

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Much heartbreak, an insane amount of pumping, medication, and the world’s worst lactation consultants ever (I’ll blog about that another day—they literally told us to hire someone to watch the baby so I could spend five-to-six hours a day pumping to increase supply) later, we added in formula supplementation, and Jacob finally started gaining weight.

I continued breastfeeding and supplementing with formula after until just after six months, when he started completely refusing to nurse.  I’m still pumping to get him whatever benefit there is from the tiny amount that I can sneak into his bottle, but I’m fully aware that the pumping is entirely because of mom guilt and to keep my feelings of failure at bay.guilty

Even now, when he’s seven-and-a-half months old, eating solid food and above the 80th percentile for weight, I’m ashamed of the fact that he subsides on mostly formula.  I feel like I failed him.  I’m sitting here, writing this, and a tiny little voice in my head is saying, “Maybe you shouldn’t publish this.  Don’t let people know that you failed.”

Except I didn’t fail.  He’s above the 80th freaking percentile for weight.  I think his thighs are bigger than mine now.  He’s the happiest, healthiest, best baby in the world (as my mother will stop you on the street to tell you. Seriously, if a random woman stops you on the street to tell you that, say hi to my mom). And while there is some ambiguity about whether my low fluid levels caused low milk production or whether it was Jacob’s disorganized suck that tanked production, the reality is that it doesn’t matter.

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That’s the real point to this post: (yes, it took me 1,000 words to get there, and yes, I’m about to get major hate mail from the “Breast is Best”ers, but I don’t care) feed your baby and don’t let anyone (other than yourself) make you feel guilty about how you do it.

I barely left the house for the first three months because I was convinced that if I skipped a breastfeeding session it would cause irreparable damage to my already-low supply. And I wasn’t comfortable breastfeeding in public because Jacob wasn’t good at it, and I’m just not a whip-my-boobs-out-in-public kind of girl.  I was terrified that people were going to judge me if they saw me feeding him formula, so I tried to only feed him in private.  I refused to talk to anyone about what was going on because I thought that they would judge me.  I cried more over breastfeeding than I have over anything else in my life.  And I felt utterly despondent because, as a huge control freak, nothing I did could fix this.

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But guess what happened when I finally came clean?  Absolutely no one cared.  Actually, that’s not true.  Once I talked about it, people told me all about how much trouble they’d had too.  The low supply, the clogged ducts, the agonizing over not knowing if the baby was getting enough to eat, the infections, the tears, the guilt.  I wasn’t nearly as alone as I thought I was.

I realized how horrible it is to tell people that “Every woman has the ability to breastfeed her baby,” and that formula is for lazy moms, and I grew increasingly angry at that attitude.  If every woman could do it, wet nurses wouldn’t have existed and no one would have invented formula.  I’m so grateful that I live in an era where all I had to do to feed my son when my body couldn’t was go to the grocery store.   

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Saying that every woman can do it is a blatant lie.  And it’s a harmful lie because in those early months, when sleep is scarce and women feel isolated at home with a newborn, adding in feelings of failure makes everything so much harder than it needs to be.

When eventual baby #2 comes along (don’t get any ideas, it’s not happening yet!), I plan to breastfeed him or her.  But if it isn’t working this time, I’m not going to let the baby’s weight get too low or cry (too much) because I now know that formula isn’t the devil and some things are out of my control.

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If breastfeeding was easy for you, cool.  Congratulations.  If it wasn’t, you’re not alone. And if you need to hear you’re doing a great job when it feels like you aren’t, drop me a line. Because mamas, as long as your baby is eating, you’re doing a great job.

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