|Janes’ letter was written with sadness. “I’d like to know how to conquer the dreadful feeling when you think you are a disqualified, careless and loveless mother”. After two years since the birth of her first child she is still struggling with what happened to her and her infant. Now, thinking about the possibility of having another child, she seems overwhelmed by her emotions. How did Jane come to see herself as careless, loveless and disqualified? It was not from the horrific experience you might be imagining. She was unable to breastfeed.
Jane, like many mothers wanted to breastfeed her child. Struggled hard, and finally had to let go of that ideal. She was forced to turn away from the perfect food she had planned to give her baby, and with it came mother’s guilt.
Moving from a period where breastfeeding was taboo, we have come along way to rightly educate, encourage and accept breastfeeding as the healthiest choice for infants. As nature’s perfect food there are few arguments against it’s usage. Why wouldn’t a mother choose the best for her child?
With this kind of knowledge, how can a mother who is unable to provide her infant with breastmilk not feel like a failure? The feelings are multiplied with the knowledge that breastfeeding is a natural process, that it offers a bonding opportunity between mothers and infants, and that is helps the child’s immune system. There is a perception that these mothers did not try hard enough, that they didn’t look for help… that they gave up. The truth is that many mothers go to extreme measures to breastfeed their baby. They often put themselves through a painful and frustrating ordeal in order to give their child the best.
Megan also had a difficult experience. “He wanted nothing to do with breastfeeding” she wrote. “I was so determined to make it work that I lost site that he was getting very little to eat. His pediatrician was very pro-breastfeeding, but helped me realize that the little guy had to eat and that I was not a lousy mother for not being able to make breastfeeding work.” Despite reassurances Megan still worried that every cold and sniffle was a result of not having nursed her son long enough. Mother’s guilt.
A balanced attitude with flexibility is a key to surviving turmoil in most situations involving our children. Breastfeeding is no exception. There is a self imposed pressure to follow the plan that was laid. It can be difficult to accept change in that plan without seeing a failure in ourselves. Unfortunately too many mothers see the inability to breastfeed as an early detection system that they are failures at being a mother.
“I was amazed at the strength of will that enable her to turn away from a source of food and be so determined about it – lips clamped shut, head turned away, back arched, every muscle saying ‘I don’t want that!’.” Shelly was forced to give up breastfeeding due to her daughter’s failure to thrive. A turbulent time as she explained: “It wasn’t easy for me emotionally. You have to get over the feeling the baby is rejecting you, not just your milk. I felt that if she couldn’t or wouldn’t nurse from me directly it was an invalidation of my mothering skills or instincts.”
I believe as mothers we must be accepting and prepared to change our plans and ideals. As much as we want to be in control of our lives often it is how we deal with the unexpected, the unplanned, and the unwanted, that define us as a person. As mothers we are not given super human powers. If we expect to try our best in raising our children that is one thing, but by expecting to only be the ‘very best’ we set ourselves up for the impossible and… mother’s guilt.