I have a wonderful husband. He has grown incredibly in the last year and a half, since our son was born, and has been so supportive with the recent birth of our daughter. It’s a hard quality to find, and I oscillate between extreme gratitude and guilt. And maybe a little jealousy because, let’s face it – it sucks when someone can so blatantly show you your shortcomings by just being a decent human being, let alone an outstanding father.
Both my babies have been/are extremely fussy nursers and, as we like to say (as I laugh to hide the tears), allergic to the world. I breastfeed, and wouldn’t likely switch to formula even if I could (I don’t really have a strong opinion, except that I personally don’t like formula and would rather nurse). There seems to be a consensus among doctors (and baby websites) that food, aside from cow’s milk (or possibly soy), will not result in colic. I know, however, from the experience of many a sleepless night and a screaming babe that food is certainly a trigger for their colic and allergic reactions (my sister has also found it true with each of her 10). For both children, my diet had to be stripped to bare bones. This, after nine months of giving up your body, the trauma and pain of labor and now the demand of a breastfeeding infant – this is not an easy feat. It is easy to fall into selfishness (“A little bit of milk won’t hurt, right?”) and self-doubt (“Maybe I should just give them formula, they always seem to be in so much discomfort”) and, well, selfishness again (“I should just give them formula, damnit, then I could have that milk!”*).
*selfish for ME. If you use formula and you’re comfortable with your decision, go, mama and do your thing. I trust you’re doing what’s best for you and your child.
With my son, I was definitely less inclined to yield to the parameters of my diet, and managed to super-sensitize him, which resulted in a bad case of reflux for the first three months of his life. I am trying to be more careful for my daughter’s sake (and my own sanity!), and while difficult, it has gotten much easier. Ironically, reading up on the Dr. Sear’s Total Elimination Diet (TED) has greatly expanded my options, and I live on a moderated version of it and the BRAT (Bananas Rice Apples Toast) diet. The list of things I can eat is quite a bit shorter than the list I can’t. Luckily, my husband is a great cook (on top of everything else}! Unluckily, he’s just as frustrated with the limitation my diet puts on the ingredients he can use (and in the newborn days, creativity can be in short supply).
This problem is not a widespread reality of most nursing mothers (I cannot imagine the luxury of eating the way my nursing friends do! Oh, to have a glass of milk and peanut butter on toast, let alone ice cream!), but from my research it is a problem,with so little understanding and less help. If not for my sister’s guidance, I might not have survived the first year with my son. Many women do not have that kind of insight and support – and I can only imagine how much worse that makes the entire experience (especially when your pediatrician is assuring you that no, food could not possibly be the problem).
My husband has come up with some easy, delicious recipes lately that I will share in future posts, because trying to find hypoallergenic nursing recipes while you’re giving so much of yourself away is incredibly difficult. Even if you attempt to research it beforehand – and, if you’re like me, and a little stupid and selfish – you tend not to, because you want to believe that maybe, maybe, this time will be different and this kid won’t be so bad.
But the easiest way to help yourself while you’re nursing such a fussy little tyrant? Get out and enjoy yourself and remember what it’s like to be a person again. Not a mom. Not a wife. Not even a friend, if you’re an introvert like me and friends can be stressful; no. Just get out and remind yourself what it’s like to be a person.
I wish I had known the magic restorative quality of getting out, even to sit at a coffee shop and enjoy the sounds of no babies, in the early days with my son. I believed I had to be with my son all the time in order to be a good mother, and to assuage my guilt over the frustration I felt for all his colic and reflux. I felt guilty for wishing to be away from him for awhile, so I wouldn’t even try to go anywhere for real. I can count the times I left him alone with his father to go do something for me on one hand in his entire first year.
I’m not making that mistake with my daughter. If anything, it only plagued my relationship with my son and, unfortunately, made me resent him for far too long, and hate myself for it. I’ve been out twice without my children in the six weeks of my daughter’s life and I feel so much better for it. I have more patience, more time, and no, I don’t feel guilty. It’s important to be ourselves as well as parents and spouses, so that we can show our children what a balanced and happy person is.
I read that so many times during my son’s first year, and it’s only really sunk in now (as opposed to simply gilding my guilt anew). Finally, I realize we all need – nay, deserve a break. My husband sometimes goes and grabs lunch by himself at a nicer restaurant or coffee shop and sits and works for an hour or two. That’s his occasional escape. We all need one. Children are supposed to be the gold stars of motherhood, but it’s hard to appreciate them when they are screaming in our faces for seventeen of the twenty-four long hours of the day.
So give yourself a break, and don’t feel the least bit guilty for it. Hopefully you’re like me and have a husband to force you out. If not, though, at least take a walk for yourself and sit in the peace on a park bench somewhere. Listen to the trees, and breath, maybe pray a little. It will get better, and you will be better for it. Promise.