Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hedra, Part Two

I only wish I actually did ask for help every time I struggled.

Last reason I don't like the Super-Mom thing - I've been there. I bought into the Super-Mom title just a little. First time mom equals insecure, much of the time. From that first-time perspective, everyone else knows what they're doing. Everyone else looks like they have it together. I felt like I was just kind of making it up, and hoping it was close enough, and hoping more that nobody looked too closely and noticed that I was faking my confidence half the time, and the other half I just got lucky.

My competitive streak combined with that made it harder for me to ask for help. I wanted to be a better mother than my own mom - who is a decent mom, all in all, so that was a high bar. She never had help. She never had books, or resources. She didn't have a spouse who thought this was a core job for her. She never had medical reassurance, social backup, or La Leche League. She was doing this in the 50's and it Just Wasn't Done. Me? To compete, I had to do it equally alone. Sorta. At least I shouldn't ask for help, you know? Because to be a Real Mom, I had to be a Super-Mom. I had to do it alone, prove I was worthy. Prove I was better. Bad combination with the insecurity, there.

I have four kids, two older than the twins, so you'd think that I'd have figured out by the time I had the twins that if I struggle, I need to get help. Call me a slow learner.

With my eldest, I struggled - cried through feedings for five and a half weeks until he figured out how to not clamp down too hard on my breast. I asked my friends to check his latch. I asked the midwife (who was also a friend) to check his latch. But I was deep-down terrified of calling a lactation consultant. If I asked a Professional, that was admission of failure. I could ask peers or non-specialists without trouble, but calling in qualified support? That would be proof that I was not a Real Mom, and certainly not a Super-Mom. I couldn't fail, and asking for help equaled failure.

I still shake my head over my stupidity on that. Not only did I pay for my stubborn insistance that I needed to do this All By Myself, but my son did, too. It turned out that he had an oral aversion with devensive behavior from being suctioned roughly at birth, which was why he was clamping down. If that had been managed and addressed as an infant, he might not have ended up in a feeding clinic with aversive feeding at five years old. He will always have a different relationship to food than the natural and welcoming relationship he could have had, because I was determined to be better than my mom. That's a painful admission. I may be smart, but being stubborn about earning my label was dumb.

Skip forward four years, and I did it again. I suffered through bad latches and blisters for four months. See, I'd earned my badges of 'breastfeeding mama' and 'Super-Mom' by nursing my eldest for more than three years. I knew how to do this, and I was NOT going to give up my hard-won label by calling for help! Instead, I poked around the internet until I ran across a method for allowing an infant to set their own latch instead of helping too much. I tried it with him, and ta-DA! It worked. He just got confused when I helped too much. By choosing to not hold his hands out of his own way, and not shove his face into his food, I got good latches from then on. He needed to be in charge of the process. Great! See, I really am a Super-Mom.

Sheesh. I want to go back in time and smack myself in the forehead. I know some of the need for the label was driven by that deep-down flicker of insecurity. First, over being a first-timer, and second, over the first time parenting siblings. But isn't everything a first when it comes to parenting? The learning is constant, so clearly the new experiences are, too. Having the label of Super-Mom was salve for all the times that I struggled and blew it. The label gave me something to cling to.

And then I started learning about labels, as I learned about siblings. Hmm. Maybe this label wasn't such a good thing. I learned not to apply labels to my kids (mostly - I still struggle with that), and I learned how damaging and limiting they can be.

But it took another three years to figure out that they were just as bad applied to me. Eventually, even 'Breastfeeding Mama' started to feel uncomfortable. It put a line between me and anyone who had tried and struggled and had to stop. It put a line between me and those who were afraid to even try. It put a line between me and every woman who had not had enough supply. It stole common ground from all of us.

At that three year point, I had the twins. I didn't have time, energy, or the luxury of holding onto a label. I called in reinforcements. I called in my family for help, I joined the multiples club, I called on friends - I'm going to need help, I can't do this alone. I can't even do it with my usual support system. The excuse of multiples made that a little easier, but it was only an excuse. Being a mom is hard. We all need support. We evolved to parent in community, not alone or in pairs. Support for breastfeeding is part of that.

At least this time, when I reached the point where my pumping supply (I was working) was not keeping pace with the needs of two babies, I only hesitated for three days before I called the lactation consultant. She had some good advice for me, which I really already knew, but which I did actually need to hear from someone else to be willing to follow it. I didn't want to add another pumping session in the morning. But with the allergy history in my family, adding solid foods to fill the gap at 4 1/2 months was not the best plan.

In the end, I was laid off from work and got to stop pumping entirely. That helped, but that actually wasn't what made the difference. What made the difference was that I got over the label, so I could just be a mom. A mom like every woman who has ever had a child is a mom. I'm a particularly lucky mom in some ways, and a completely blundering and dense mom in other ways. I have some talents, and some blind spots, like everyone. By just being a mom, I could ask for help without waiting for it to be too late.

So please don't call me a Super-Mom. I'm a mom. Just like you.

1 comment:

  1. Why is it so hard to ask for help? I'm finally (FINALLY) getting over it and asking for help when I need it. I hope I continue to do so! Because you are so right, we are social beings who are supposed to do this parenting thing together!