In Defense of Mothers Everywhere

It's been awhile since I've posted, though it's not for lack of topics, I assure you. This was composed weeks ago, but I was shy to share as it is sure to elicit some less-than-enthusiastic comments. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I have to admit we have had a difficult seven months. Because of this, friends, family and strangers alike have felt obligated to share their "advice" about how to solve Juna's issues. Often in the same day, I am given conflicting advice about infant care. Apparently, Juna sleeps too much and too little, eats too often and not often enough, is too big and too small. My decisions have been questioned on vaccinating, breast feeding, exploring formula, sleep training, attachment parenting, baby wearing, schedules, cloth diapering, t.v. exposure, and solid feeding. It seems that people have very specific ideas about the "right" way to do this whole mothering thing, and they are anxious to share it with you!

One of my favorite articles reminding me that I'm an awful mother was the post circulating on Facebook last month regarding the "cry it out" approach to sleep training. In it, the psychologist author insinuates that her "poor vagal tone" and "poor memory" are the result of parents who let her "cry it out". She categorizes her parents as "harsh," "depressed" and "emotionally unsupportive," which I'm guessing has more to do with her issues than anything else. Because if you do your research (and I am nothing if not overly researched), you will find that just as many doctors recommend "cry it out" as an effective sleep training method as those who don't. This method is not a cold-hearted, maniacal scheme to get your kid to sleep all night. Most parents do not toss their children in the crib, say "see ya later, sucker" and spend the rest of their evening drinking martinis and eating bon bons while their helpless infants scream into the night. Usually, parents are so sleep deprived and overwrought with worry over the lack of sleep their infant is getting that they use this approach as a last resort. What these anti-cry-it-outers always fail to recognize is sleep is one of the most important aspects of raising a healthy infant. It is during sleep that the baby's brain grows and reinforces lessons learned during the day. We are so quick to judge these parents, and label them as uncaring, without considering that these families might need our understanding. 

We are one such family. Are you making a judgment right now? Well, don't! After months of trying the "no cry" methods, which for us meant holding a screaming baby for hours until she fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion, we were advised by our pediatrician to use the Ferber method of progressive waiting. Or what some others call "cry it out". We were so hesitant to try this, as I have read the latest research about how crying raises cortisol levels and negatively impacts brain and emotional development. You can imagine how great that makes me feel as the mom of a formerly colicky baby. We finally decided that Juna was spending hours crying anyway, so we might as well try it! Thirty minutes of on-and-off crying (including two checks during which we console her) and we had a peacefully sleeping baby! She's been putting herself to sleep with little-to-no crying ever since. Make no mistake: this was not a cure-all for her sleep problems. She still wakes during the night to eat (or sometimes to talk or play), which I happily accommodate knowing she will be able to fall back asleep on her own once satiated. I've been feeling guilty and ashamed about this for months. It clearly worked well for our family (Juna has always been independent for such a tiny lady), but with the Mommy Mafia breathing down my neck about "abandonment issues," I have a hard time justifying our choice. 

Another hot-button topic in the Mommy community is breast feeding verses formula feeding. I am a very proud breast feeding mom, especially since it was incredibly challenging for us at first. But being a nursing momma is not always convenient, as there are very few places that provide comfortable areas to feed your baby. I have stood in stinky bathroom stalls so as to not offend anyone who is uncomfortable around breast feeding. Strangely, it's more acceptable to show off your breasts in a revealing outfit than while nursing your child. To preserve my modesty, it is recommended I cover up with a blanket while we feed. Next time you're out in public enjoying a meal, try eating with a blanket over your head. Juna doesn't appreciate this, and I'm guessing you wouldn't, either. 

So, here I am, up on my breast feeding soap box. Enter allergic colitis. 

Remember Juna, of the colic that wouldn't go away? We noticed a significant improvement when I quit eating dairy, but at the end of December, she was still exhibiting some mysterious symptoms. After a few visits with a pediatric gastroenterologist, it was concluded that Juna has allergic colitis. Which means, she's allergic to something and we're not sure what. I went on a crazy diet eliminating all dairy, soy, nuts and eggs, which for a vegetarian is no small feat. We weren't seeing all her symptoms improve, and frankly I was starving, so we decided to try a hypoallergenic formula for a week to see how Juna would do. 

Juna wasn't super excited about this change, and there were many tears (mostly mine) as we attempted to get her to take a bottle of formula. The physical struggle of getting her to accept the formula was nothing compared to my emotional struggle at having failed my daughter. It has been drilled into our heads that "breast is best," but how does that make women who formula feed feel? Terrible, I tell you! That simple phrase implies that women who use formula, whether by choice or necessity, do not want the best for their baby, which is ridiculous. I have a few friends who have to, or choose to, formula feed, for various reasons, and feel ashamed about it. 

Why are we making mothers feel guilty and embarrassed about the way they feed their child? In hindsight, I am so happy we had that experience with formula, though it ultimately didn't work out for us (turns out, Juna was way more allergic to the "hypoallergenic" formulas than she was to me). I am much more understanding of mommies who struggle with their formula feeding, and see that those moms face just as much, if not more, criticism than breast feeding moms! I was a formula fed baby. My mom had to go back to work only two weeks after I was born to provide for our family while my dad was finishing dental school. She couldn't pump bottles for me while teaching fourth grade. I have always been healthy as a horse. I also have an amazing relationship with both my parents, despite the fact they let me "cry it out" once or twice. I have never once questioned their intentions as parents: they have always done their absolute best, and have raised three healthy, well-adjusted and happy adults. Guess what? I don't even remember my infant years, and I'm certainly not going to blame any of my "problems" on that time in my life. I do remember two loving, committed parents who would do anything for the good of their children.

This is only the beginning of our journey, and I'm guessing that as Juna ages, we will be faced with more useless judgment and criticism. In case you think I am perfect, let me dispel that myth. I am guilty of getting caught up in parenting "shoulds" and "I'll nevers". It is hard to ignore all the amazing information available to us on the subject of childhood development. However, sometimes too much knowledge holds us back from being open to other perspectives. Instead of vilifying parents for making choices that are right for their individual family, let's provide compassion and support! I would wager a guess that most parents are ultimately caring and loving, and trying their best to raise happy people. I am doing my best. Mistakes will be made, but my intentions are good.

This week, maybe seek out a new mom you know and tell them they're doing a good job. They will appreciate that more than you know.