When I was 29 years old, my then husband and I decided to start a family. I conceived the very first time we tried. Five weeks in, I met with my doctor who confirmed the pregnancy, and not even 24 hours later, I miscarried. Seven months passed and I was pregnant again, but this time I was determined to do everything “exactly right.”
Though miscarriage is a natural human experience, it was my belief that I had caused this to happen. With retrospect and wisdom, I now know this was not at all true. However, the experience awakened me to take an immediate and very honest overview of my lifestyle and wellness habits (or lack thereof). During that period of my life, I was running my own fashion company and spent a tremendous amount of time traveling overseas. My sleep/wake cycle was radically off, I was living in hotels and eating room service, and I did not have a mindfulness practice or carve out time for exercise. It was nonstop, around-the-clock work.
With my second pregnancy, I was introduced to yoga. I made sure to take my daily supplements, sleep sufficient hours, eat all the right foods, walk regularly, and stop eating sushi and drinking caffeine. But above all, I learned to listen to my body and honor its needs for the very first time. I credit my journey into motherhood with improving my health and teaching me to respect and love my body in a way I had never done before.
Thankfully my pregnancy was seamless and straightforward with no complications. I took birthing and breastfeeding classes, read all the books, and put together the most impressive birth plan, not once considering the alternatives because I had no reason to explore them. I was going to have the perfect labor and delivery, and parenting was going to be a breeze! (For those mothers reading this post, I can just see you shaking your heads, and you’d be right to do so!)
Thinking I had everything planned
When my water broke 10 days early, I was admitted to the hospital. I was having difficulties, and the baby had to be monitored closely. Without going into too many details, the short end of what would become a very long labor is after 36 hours I had an emergency C-section with two epidurals. Um, someone didn’t exactly follow that very impressive birth plan I created! But I was ready to get on with it and have my beautiful, healthy baby boy latch onto my breast to nourish him.
I could not deliver him into this world the way I had anticipated, but I was relieved he was here with us and found myself ready to let all the rest go. But no – it didn’t stop there... I had zero milk production!
Lactation nurses came in and out of my hospital room around the clock to help me pump while someone else fed my baby formula from a bottle. I felt like an absolute and complete failure. My body was in agony. I was sleep deprived, but even worse, my morale was down in the dumps and I would intermittently break down into tears, feeling anxious, depressed, and disconnected from what I was expecting would be the most incredible experience of my life.
Attempting to adjust to unmet expectations
This very dark state lasted for more than a month. I left the hospital not feeling bonded with my child and did not think I was fit to be a mother. It had been drummed into me so loudly by doctors, consultants, and my care team that a vaginal delivery and breast milk was optimal and healthiest for both the baby and me. But not once had it been explained that should things not go according to my birthing or parenting plan, there were always other means by which the baby could thrive. The plan had been so black and white, and no one mentioned the spectrum of colors in between nor how intuitive parenting would be and that there were no definitive answers. Parenting is a bio-individual experience, just like the food we eat, the exercise we do, or the professions we choose. What works for one may not work for another.
Between feedings, my son napped while I attempted to pump what I could and wash and prep bottles for the next feeding. There was literally no time to sleep in between. One day, absolutely exhausted while trying to feed my starving baby droplets of breast milk, I lost it. I placed my screaming child in his crib, sat down on the floor, and sobbed alongside him. At some point, I fumbled for my phone and dialed a very special friend who already had two children of her own. She happened to be out to lunch with a group of her mom friends when getting my call and listened to me between sobs complaining about my perceived lack and ineptitude.
When I finally stopped to take a breath, she very calmly said, “Sara, I want you to listen to me very carefully and I am only going to say this once. A happy mom is a happy child… Your baby needs you to be without stress or this will be more damaging to him than a bottle of formula! The only right way is what is right for you. You need sleep and your child needs to eat. Regardless of what the experts say, your kid is going to be perfectly okay – but only if you are!”
My friend then proceeded to pass the phone around to each of her friends, who had their own stories about motherhood and all ultimately figured out what worked for them and their children based on trial and error, genetics, personality types, lifestyle, budget, partners, and scheduling. I recall one mom telling me her first child was breastfed exclusively for two years, but by the time she had her second baby, she had to go back to work and could only breastfeed for three months. Both of her children were equally healthy.
Embracing a dramatic shift in mind-set
That very same day, I packed the breast pump away, fed my baby a bottle of formula with absolute delight, took a much-needed nap with him, and never looked back or doubted myself again. I was a lot more relaxed, and there was a significant change in my son’s demeanor, too. He went from having constant meltdowns to giggles and smiles. What I learned from this critical life moment was that it is important to listen to those with knowledge and education and to learn as much as we can in preparation for a life-changing event, such as becoming a parent. Ultimately our own experience and wisdom have to guide us on our path, whether it’s about childbearing, healthcare, or nutrition.
There is so much pressure and judgment placed on expectant moms about breastfeeding, what they can or cannot eat while pregnant, how to labor, which bottles to use, what diapers to buy, and whether to use drugs during childbirth that it can become incredibly overwhelming for first-time moms. There simply isn’t enough dialogue around those who may be limited in resources nor enough support for those who have physical disabilities. It is imperative we consider that every situation is unique and there are multiple healthy and creative ways to problem-solve motherhood.
I will forever be grateful to my friend and her crew for talking me out of a dark place and into the light. Motherhood will always have its ebbs and flows, and while everyone will think they have the “right” answer, know and trust from day one that as long as the mother is doing what feels right and creates happiness, the child will be happy, too!