Before my son was born I prepared to be a perfect mother. I knew exactly what I was going to do—I was going to breastfeed exclusively and co-sleep. I was going to build an art corner full of stimulating colours and textures and completely avoid screen time until Kindergarten. I was going to puree all of my own baby food and cook everything from scratch. I was going to sign my child up for exciting activities and take him on amazing adventures in nature regularly. It was going to be glorious.
Then he was born. After a beautiful birth that was everything I had hoped for, my son arrived in my arms. And within two days all of my best laid plans had gone to hell. Co-sleeping was impossible. His tiny baby noises kept me awake so that I was getting no more than twenty minutes of sleep at a time. Three days after he was born he was in a crib in his own bedroom. But sleeping arrangements were only the beginning. Breastfeeding was a disaster and it has had long term effects on my self-esteem and confidence as a mother.
I was determined to breastfeed. It was the thing that was most important to me. My body refused and I felt betrayed. I produced milk in unbelievably small quantities. Three or four swallows and I was out. I tried everything to increase my milk supply. I hired a lactation consultant, I hired an acupuncturist, I used prescription medication and herbal remedies, I pumped every three hours even during the night to produce less than an ounce of milk, I breastfed on demand, I got donor milk from the BC Women’s Milk Bank because I was so determined that formula would never pass my baby’s lips, and I quickly fell to pieces. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating well, I was utterly exhausted all because I knew that I HAD to get this right. The day I had to give my baby formula because he was starving was one of the worst of my life. I felt like a complete failure. I didn’t live up to my own standards and it was a tough pill to swallow.
I had to swallow similar pills again and again as my ideals were crushed by reality. It turns out that television is a savior during those grumpy afternoon hours. It turns out that in the midst of severe postpartum depression, making your own baby food isn’t really feasible. It turns out that developing and overseeing a creative project every day is impossible.
It turns out that I might be an average mama after all and I’m slowly coming to believe that that’s okay. We are all given a message that motherhood is a journey of self-sacrifice. The standards that constitute “good” motherhood are unreachably high. We are living in a world where being an average parent means being a bad parent, but trying to go above and beyond the call of duty every day was draining and destructive to my health. Three years of battling postpartum depression followed the birth of my child, and I’m sure that some of it was a result of unrealistic expectations for myself as a parent. With each perceived failure I sunk deeper into depression, certain that I was screwing up my child for life and dooming him to a future of mental illness all his own.
The truth is that while I’m just an average mother, my son thinks I’m something else entirely. When he was born I was at the center of his universe. I was his north star. I was his safety and his comfort. As he grows he gains independence, but it’s still me he comes to when he’s hurt or sad or angry. It’s still me he seeks out at night to provide him with warm milk (he doesn’t care one bit that it came from a cow and not my breasts!), a cuddle, and a story. It’s still me who has the magical ability to reduce his pain and provide a safe haven from the harsh world. In his eyes I’m not an average mom.
I’m his mom and that means that I’m the best mom in the world.
I wish that I could see myself through his eyes more often because he sees the glorious person I always wished to be, the person that I am if only for him, even when I fail again and again.
Andrea is a mom to an energetic and hilarious three year old boy. In addition to the work of homemaking and motherhood Andrea freelances as a photographer and writer, and volunteers as blog editor for Pacific Post Partum Support Society. If there are free seconds she also likes to cram in about a million small craft projects that will eventually overwhelm her home. Her happy place is curled up in bed with tea and a book. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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