There’s a reason I haven’t written anything in months.
When I found out I was pregnant again, Willow was only 8 1/2 months old. I had several reactions, most of which involved multiple expletives and excessive crying.
I don’t want you to feel bad for me. I’m okay. But I wasn’t at first. I couldn’t have felt more unprepared to relive the pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding process. Didn’t I JUST do this?? How am I going to do this? I was terrified.
The truth is, I just hadn’t gotten over the trauma I experienced when Willow was born. I’m still not sure if I have. It felt like a relatively fresh wound and it was about to get opened up again. It feels fresh enough that now, a year later, I still feel a twinge of embarrassment writing about it here.
Here’s where we get to the real issue. During the moments when I was not crying or worrying or just generally feeling afraid, I started to wonder: am I a bad mother? Does this mean, really, at the heart of everything, that I’m just selfish? And selfishly – am I going to lose myself completely?
I tried to remind myself what a miracle this was (because it is). I tried to tell myself how lucky we were that it seemed unlikely we’d ever struggle with the heartbreak of infertility. I repeated things to myself – how I was young, how I was healthy. How this baby would be born into a loving home, how we were able to provide a good life for this baby. How in a few months, or maybe even fewer, I would get used to the idea. Better yet, that in time, I would be happy. Excited. But having to remind myself of these things just brought me back to the voice telling me: “bad”.
I’ve never really thought that I’m a bad mother. Not really, truly. But it pushes you further than you ever though you could go, and the results aren’t always pretty. I have had some very ugly moments of frustration, anger, impatience, and selfishness. It forces you to confront things you don’t like about yourself. It forces you to be selfless, and that can be very, very hard.
So, was I ready to become even more selfless? (“Is that even possible?” asked the whiny, despairing voice.)
About a week after the positive pregnancy test, my lovely friend Julia asked me to sing at a small benefit concert for The Humane Society. While happy to have the opportunity to sing, I knew this would present a small challenge as I’d be singing our signature collaborative song, Hummingbird Heart – which, in case you didn’t know, is about being pregnant. I told myself that I’d sung the song enough times to do it without feeling overwhelmed by my current situation. I was right, and the song went off without a hitch. We then settled back into our seats to watch the rest of the program.
A group of composers had been asked to present two songs: one original, and one that inspired them. The last thing I expected was for someone to sing Baby Mine from Dumbo as their inspiration song. Dumbo fits into a group of movies that I’ve avoided since childhood for various reasons – in this case, because it’s too sad. I sat there listening to a song I’ve tried to forget and struggled to hold in sobs – not because I was sad (thank God, I thought to myself), but because I finally felt how desperately I wanted to protect the poppy seed-sized life inside me.
I’d like to tell you that I reconciled the idea of baby #2 right then and there, but it took more time. A lot more time. And that’s ok. I had experienced a moment of genuine selflessness, and that was something I needed badly.
Next I moved on to logistics, all of which returned me to the bad/selfish/guilty realm. Did I want to give birth naturally again? FUCK NO. A thousand times, NO. (Bad.) What was it about me that couldn’t handle it? (Weak.) Was I willing to put my baby at risk with an epidural? (Selfish.) Would I attempt to breastfeed again? My gut feeling was that I really didn’t want to. (Bad! Weak! Selfish!)
But here’s the thing. After six weeks of struggling with Willow – the traumatic birth and then her inability to breastfeed – I made the very difficult but lifesaving decision to switch her to formula. Yes, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt, but that started to ebb as soon as I felt myself coming back to life. So here are the questions I’ve continued to ask myself: Is Willow healthy? Is she happy? Is she thriving? The answer to all of these is a deafening YES.
YES doesn’t even begin to cover it. I am madly in love with my daughter. That’s not something I could say in the beginning.
That might sound horrible or sad (or BAD), but let me explain. This is the gift that switching to formula gave me. For a long time, for multiple reasons, I was made to feel (by myself and by the media) that giving up breastfeeding was a huge mistake. I don’t need to (or want to) get into the issue of “mommy wars” or “lactivists”, but let’s just say it’s not easy to be a formula feeding mom without feeling judged constantly. What I have chosen to focus on is my truth: that formula feeding allowed me to enjoy being a mom, and it allowed me to fall in love with my daughter. Of course, I loved her from the moment I met her. Don’t doubt that for a second. I needed help allowing myself to fall in love.
I apologize for the detailed formula feeding tangent, but it brings me to how I now feel about getting an epidural. I scoured books and watched multiple documentaries in preparation for childbirth – I know the risks of an epidural. But – after the birth experience I had – is it worth it to live in fear until my due date? Does that help me or my baby in any way? NO. If the idea of attempting to breastfeed again fills me with dread, is it worth it? There’s enough guilt lingering in there (still!!) to prevent me from giving a definitive NO, but I can say almost definitely not.
Something I have finally been able to accept is that being a happy mom is one of the things that makes you a good mom. In fact, I think it’s one of the more important things. I wasn’t doing Willow any favors when I was attached to a breast pump and weeping. She belonged in my arms, being fed. It didn’t matter how. I won’t be doing my new baby any favors by being terrified of birth and breastfeeding. All babies need to be loved and fed. I can do that. I can make choices that will ensure I can properly care for my babies – and that makes me a good mom.
There’s something else I want to say. I don’t EVER want my children to feel like my suffering was their fault. I need them to know that. I’ll do whatever I can to prevent them from ever feeling that kind of guilt.
I am absolutely thrilled to be having another baby. I know how common it is to hear all sorts of clichés about motherhood, but I cannot tell you how much pure joy Willow has brought into our lives. Her cheery disposition, her easygoing attitude, and her eagerness to laugh have made me a better person. Now we get to welcome another new, perfect little human being into our lives, and I know she will teach us even more.
By the way, it’s a girl. 🙂