As a former La Leche League Leader, with five children who are now ages 16 – 30 years old, I would like to share with you breastfeeding mothers a few simple things I have been able to figure out so far on my journey, and I think I can break them down into three simple rules to live by:
1. Honor yourself as you honor others.
2. All big things can (and should) be broken down into small steps.
3. Be mindful: be here now.
Mothers of babies and small children can feel “touched out” and overwhelmed by the needs of their little ones and partners. I remember it well! That primal and satisfying “skin-to-skin contact” that is so important to babies and mothers on so many levels—hormonal, emotional, psychological—is an ingenious way that Mother Nature keeps mom and baby close and connected. (It’s also great for father and baby.) Babies understand the importance of this connection so well, that many of them are virtually glued to mom’s breast or hip the entire day, and roar in protest if mom so much as thinks of shutting the bathroom door between herself and baby. If mother has more than one tot, she gets double—or triple– the skin-to-skin contact. Toddlers and pre-schoolers typically wander off to explore and play, and do not sit in mother’s arms all day (unless sick), but they may still return often for hugs and kisses or a little cuddle or nursing time. Lots of prolactin may be flowing, keeping mom in that sleepy-patient-satisfied kind of state of mind for most of the day. However, for many moms, there does come a time of the day—typically just about the time her partner may be coming home, perhaps around dinner time—when she may feel the need to peel baby off and take a shower or take a bit of time with no one requiring anything of her, for just a few minutes, if you please.
It’s at that time that her partner may have some hopes or expectations of affection, attention, conversation, etc. The new mom may feel frustrated that the demands just keep coming. Or she may feel guilty that she is just not able to give anything to a loved one who has every right to hope for a sign of connection from her.
I have found that many very giving and self-sacrificing mothers become resentful as they feel there are too many demands on them, they are being taken for granted, and that no one considers their needs. Here is where Lesson Number One comes in:
Honor yourself as you honor others.
The old adage says that people will treat you the way you teach them to treat you. This goes for partners, relatives, friends, and it goes for older children. Babies, of course, are pure need in the beginning, and don’t yet understand anything of this. However, if you feel that others put too many demands on you, ask yourself: How am I putting too many demands on myself? If you feel others take you for granted, ask yourself: How do I take myself for granted? If you feel that no one considers your needs, ask yourself, In what ways do I not consider my own needs.
This way of thinking puts a spin on things. It does seem that the world holds up a mirror to us, and treats us as we treat ourselves. You will find, if you start honoring yourself, if you are intentional about having reasonable expectations of yourself, if you appreciate yourself and your own efforts, that others in your life (partners, friends, older children, other relatives) tend to follow suit.
Just as you meet the needs of others, you may give yourself permission to ask that some of your needs be met, as well. Your partner can hold baby while you shower, or take a little time to do whatever you need to do to re-energize. What other examples do you have of needs of yours that are not being met? How can you get those needs met? Who could help? How will you ask?
On to the next lesson:
All big things can be broken down into small steps.
Another old adage, a favorite among moms, is: “When all else fails, lower your expectations.” You are probably not going to be able to accomplish as many items in as short a period of time as you did pre-baby. As obvious as that sounds, it’s a stumbling block for many moms. You are moving at a new rhythm now, and it is called baby-rhythm. You will be interrupted often and insistently. You will begin a simple task, and return to it again and again before it is done. Can you be at peace with this? If you can, you will enjoy your life.
We live in a society that values super speed and great volumes of accomplishment. If you are respecting the rhythms of your baby, if you are answering your baby’s needs, you will have to make a values decision: do you want to achieve the tangible accomplishments that the world can see? Or do you want to learn this new way of being in the world, moving at your baby’s rhythm, and discovering a different kind of satisfaction and peace?
Whatever it is you want to do: clean a closet, write a novel, create a website, organize a playgroup… you name it… it can be done in many small steps. It can be broken down.
Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, tells about the author’s brother when he was in grade school, and his dilemma when he had procrastinated beginning a big project and then had to finally start to write all about the birds of North America. His dad comforted him in his anxiety and gave him this advice: You will do it: bird by bird. That is also the author’s advice to anyone who would like to write a book. You don’t write it all at once. You break it down into small parts.
What is it you would like to do? How would you break it down into small parts?
Be mindful. Be here now.
Everyone tells you. The little old ladies in the grocery store, your older sisters, people on the street. They all tell you: “Enjoy this time, dear. They grow so fast!” So you already know.
The actress Valerie Harper, who is quoted in a celebrity gossip magazine this month, says, “If you aren’t here now, where the hell are you?” According to the article, she is dying quickly, and it seems she has come to that sense of immediacy and appreciation that so many people reach when they see that there is little time left. And in a way, that is all of us.
When you are nursing that baby, don’t waste time being upset that the living room is a mess. Your living room can be as clean as you please someday, but this is your one chance to hold your baby in this moment. This moment will not come back. How precious it is. When you have to stop a project to attend to an urgent call for “Mom!”—take a deep breath, and let yourself enjoy this moment.
I think of all the moments that I have had with my babies, and later children, teens, young adults. There has been sweetness and sadness, pain, confusion, laughter and healing. Our lives have not been perfect. I have not been perfect. Far from it! And honestly, that is okay. I forgive myself for my own imperfections, and I am on friendly terms with life. How lucky, how blessed I have been and continue to be to have my children in my arms and in my life. What a privilege it truly is to be “MOM!!”
Joy Davy is now a therapist in Hinsdale, Illinois, specializing in parenting challenges, postpartum depression, and new mothers’ issues. For 12 years she was a La Leche League Leader. She breastfed all of her 5 children. You can see her website at http://www.joydavy.com