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Self Mutalation

December 5, 2006

Before I actually gave birth to my first child I could not conceive of myself as a mother. It seemed weird, foreign and impossible to imagine. The premature birth of my first child made the experience all that more surreal and his long hospital stay coupled with a long uphill battle to nurse and hold him made the intital stages of new parenthood more confusing and overwhelming–in hindsight. I hear so many people say, after I have recounted my experience with my son in the NICU, “Gosh, I could never handle that” or “WOW, you must have been so overwhelmed”. At the time I think I just was in action mode. I had never expected to immediately love him as much as I did. The longing for him, to smell him, to hold him, to know that I could actually take care of him was so overpowering there really wasn’t much time for anything else. I cried a lot in the NICU. At one point one of my favorite nurses went to my husband and told him that she thought I was depressed. I cried too much. I was not handling things properly or well. He told me later he explained to her that he has seen me through many crisis and that I am very strong and just cry a lot and that I never cry in life over really anything but when the shit hits the fan, that is how I cope. I cry. I cry while I do the dishes, or take a shower, getting dressed, driving in the car, while eating. I just cry. And then it is over. I don’t really cry anymore about it.

While my son was in the NICU there was so much I could not control, predict or judge. One day he would gain weight and then the next he would not or worse he would loose weight. One nurse would be judgemental and upset over my insistence in breastfeeding and another would be so understanding and sympathetic all adding to that roller-coaster feeling that made me feel like I had to cry.

I had felt the world split apart a couple of times before in my life so I knew what that felt like. My sons prediciment was not permanent. He would come home and we would be a family. I agonzied over why this had happened. I had failed him already in so many ways. I could not grow him and I could not keep him in. My midwives assured¬† me that no reason was found and I would probably never know why this happened. I felt that I knew that somehow my son had already sensed my inadequaceys as a parent and was just wasting away due to this lack in everything. I continued to fret over every single thing that went wrong and took all so personally. The only thing I did not take personally was that he forgot how to nurse. He learned it again. But in everything else I felt I was failing him because he was not the “gerber baby” I thought everyone had–atleast the one described in books. Waiting for my skinny, blond boy to grow and realize he was in fact born and take him home was agonizing but I did not doubt he would do well. He was doing well despite his IUGR and slow weight gain. I knew when I wasn’t handling things well because I have had a lot of practice with some serious shit and my lack of faith in god allows me to know that that shit just happens and once this one thing is over, more and different shit will happen. It feels random and disorganized and I am use to it. That is life. Regardless of what is spinning around me I am still the same. That is a comforting and depressing feeling all at the same time but that is reality for me.

I had no idea to know that the overwhelming experience in the NICU would be the precusor for many self-doubting moments as a mother. I confess that when my husband told me of the observation and judgements of the nurse I stopped and thought, “Maybe I am crazy!”

After attending my first few La Leche League meeting I met so many mothers worried about how their babies were eating, sleeping, developing and NOT doing all of those things also. I distinctly remember a woman talking about her baby and worried because he had not gained any weight since he was six months old and he was now almost a year and he just didn’t eat much solid food and she was so worried. I looked at her and her baby boy who weighed a whopping 29 pounds at six months and was now 10 months old and still weighed 29 pounds. I thought, for goshs sake—–WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT????? I think my son weighed 29 pounds at about 3 years old. I am thinking “perspective woman, some perspective!” She became one of my really good friends and I love her dearly and I think she made me realize we all have our own shit that tortures us. We worry about our child’s health, their eating habits, sleeping, talking, walking and everything in between. As if we had some control over much of it. It is true that we can provide healthful meals often but that is no guarantee that they eat it. We can create a nice routine and comforting bedtime rituals but that is no guarantee that your child will sleep well. We can breastfeed until they are very old but they still may get sick or not grow well.

The constant worry about them and the notion that we are not good parents is terrible. We are not good parents because we worry. We worry and beat ourselves up ritualistically because we doubt ourselves. Somehow the failings in health or failings in something in our children feels like a reflection of our ability as a parent. I suffer from this doubt as well but I refuse to give in to the belief that I am good mother because I worry. I am just a good mother. Sometimes great and sometimes just good enough to squeak by. I worry because there are deep insecurities in me that don’t want me to enjoy or take credit for the children I have created. I do feel that the self doubt may help you to continue to strive to be better but that can also be dangerous to your psyche. Sometimes I am doing all I can and bad shit happens. There are ups and downs and sometimes it gives you a headache and sometimes you puke from the whirl of it all. The bad stuff that happens is not an inadequacy in my abilities and contrastingly while the good things that happen are not just accidents. I make it all happen and maybe that is what is scary. Too scary to deal with. I wish I were the Amazing Kreskin and could predict the future with a fancy turban and index cards like Johnny Carson but I am just plain old me.

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