Even When it Makes You Feel Like a Failure!
I’m a doula. I know a lot about breastfeeding. I know how to help a baby latch shortly after birth, I can answer any question you have, I could fill pages and pages writing advice for different scenarios and concerns.
What I can’t do… is make enough breastmilk to sustain my [rather robust] children. I had milk supply issues with all three of my children. I knew EXACTLY what to do to fix it – I had given this advice, I had coached women through these solutions and I had seen it ALL WORK… for them.
With my first child, you might say I was completely oblivious, but not for a lack of knowledge – I had all the information, but I trusted my instincts and believed that everything was, and would be, GREAT. We slept, we ate, we smiled.
Pregnant with baby #2, I began to reflect on my experience with Mia. With a bit more experience as a doula, I realized that I had low milk supply. DUH! What an idiot, I kept thinking… I’m a doula and I didn’t realize that I hadn’t been making enough milk. It hit me like a ton of bricks – I felt like a fool, I had walked around all this time with a stupid, naïve smile on my face. I felt like a fake and a phony – had I tricked everyone and myself into thinking I knew what I was doing, as a mother AND as a doula? How could I have been so stupid?! NOT AGAIN, I decided! I knew the problem, I knew the solution and I was going to fix it. My complete and utter disappointment, both in my body and in my mind, combined with this nagging SHOULD (a common theme in my life, expect to read more about this in future blogs) is a perfect recipe for self-doubt and insecurity. I felt like the flight instructor who can’t fly a freaking plane!
The problem with self-doubt is that it spreads, quickly and can be difficult to contain. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in many ways I began to question everything I had done as a mother up until that point.
I am, to a fault, a logical, linear thinker… if x then y; I earned nearly perfect scores on every math regents in high school, I KNOW how to solve equations, and I definitely know how to solve this equation. I should be able to get an A on this test. Writing this now, thinking back on these breastfeeding experiences I want to scream “WHAT THE F*CK!?!” I know this, this is the exact test I’ve studied for.
My postpartum period after Jake was great. Sort of. It was great in a lot of ways. I felt great physically and I felt lucky and appreciative - of the support I had, of the friends and family I had - and yet, I WAS STILL FAILING! It took 18 amazing and wonderful and agonizing days for Jake to make it back to birth weight. I felt stupid and I felt like a failure. My knowledge, my plan had failed me and in return, I had failed my son.
I was annoyed, I was frustrated, I was confused… but mostly I was sad!
My saving grace was being surrounded by love, support and encouragement. People who could remind me that there was no wrong decision as long as my babies were loved. Nearly four years and another baby later I think I define failure differently. I think I hold myself to high standards, yet I maintain a sense of kindness for myself – one previously reserved for clients, friends, family and my children.
What I learned about myself in this time is that I only failed myself. I didn’t fail my son, I didn’t fail my profession, I wasn’t failing my clients. I knew the benefits of breastfeeding and THAT became the singular goal for me… But I also know the benefits of being loved and cared for by a calm and happy mother. I learned that it wasn’t so black and white – life is not an equation to be solved. As a mother it isn't about our weaknesses, we instead must focus on flourishing in our strengths and our love for our children. It is that love and those strengths that will guide us and our children, and in this experience I have gained invaluable knowledge as a mother and a doula!