Dear New Mom,
I’m speaking to you and to you only. Because I’m one of you. I’m just shy of 25 years old, I’ve spent most of the past 7 years babysitting and nannying other people’s kids, and I thought having one of my own would be easy. Labor and delivery went great. Brought the baby home, that also went great.
But then things started happening …
Friends started making comments on Facebook reminding me how I could do it better, or how I’m doing it wrong. I started seeing “shares” on social media of how babies died suddenly after their vaccinations or after mom put cereal in their bottle … as I was feeding my baby cereal. A week after her first round of shots.
I see post after post, tip after tip, information after information … all of it saying one thing:
I’m a bad mom.
I cry to my sisters, my mom, and my dad. They all tell me to shut up that I’m doing great.
But then one more person says something. One more person comments in a “helpful tone” or I see one more post about how breastfed babies live longer than formula fed babies. Or how formula contains arsenic and leftover soil from nuclear bomb testing sites. (Made that last one up … ) I’m told she can’t sleep on her side. She can’t sleep up to 40 minutes after she ate or she could choke on spitup and die like some drunken frat boy – but don’t lay her on her side or stomach! I’m reminded of how babies can’t have this, and is she holding her head up now? She should be. She isn’t? Oh you should have that looked at. She could have autism. She smiles a lot, have you had her hearing checked? She might be deaf. My friend’s baby died in his sleep two years ago right after she gave him Tylenol. Don’t give the baby Tylenol. Oh … you use Enfamil formula? You know they found rat poisoning in that four years ago? Yeah like 3 kids died or something like that. Don’t give her a bath in the sink. She shouldn’t taste solids before 6 months. Don’t you DARE give her peanut butter before 2 years of age. What do you MEAN you let her try a sweet potato! Do you understand that swaddling prevents SIDS? I don’t care if she pulls her hands out and screams when she’s swaddled – she could die, Kelsea! The baby food might say organic and preservative free, but they spray the containers with preservatives. DON’T LET HER SUCK HER THUMB! DON’T LET HER SUCK ON A BINKY! DON’T FEED HER FROM THOSE BOTTLES! RICE CEREAL KILLS BABIES!!!
STOP THE MADNESS!!!!!
This is my plea. This is my outreach.
My daughter is 3 months old. In the past 3 months these things have happened:
1) She fell off my lap and landed on a dog. Who then looked at me and judged me because I dropped the baby. She didn’t cry. Just grinned. It was like a ride or something.
2) She has been vaccinated.
3) She has had rice in her bottle. She has had rice cereal.
4) She has tried a sweet potato, sucked on a few jelly beans, and had a little lick of chocolate.
5) She has had formula, breastmilk, and expressed milk. Mostly formula. And now entirely formula.
6) She has been bathed in Johnson & Johnson – EVERY SINGLE NIGHT since she was 1 month old.
7) She has cried herself to sleep.
8) She has slept on her stomach.
9) She has been licked all over her face by the dogs.
10) She has coslept.
11) She has slept in her crib. And her bouncy seat.
12) She refuses to sleep on her back. Unswaddled. Only sleeps her side.
13) She will not sleep without her fuzzy blanket.
14) She pulls it over her face. Despite countless efforts to make her stop.
15) Sometimes she has to sit by herself and cry while I wash bottles, the dishes, vacuum the floors, or other things.
16) She drinks generic formula, name brand formula, and once she has tried organic formula.
17) I always make sure to get her face a little wet during baths.
18) She has received Tylenol twice.
19) She has drank out of a bottle that was only rinsed and not scrubbed and sanitized – exactly three times.
20) I have picked her binky up off the floor and popped it back in her mouth. Without rinsing.
21) She loves Baby Einstein and Rugrats. She watches them both daily.
22) Sometimes I give her “away” to her dad and go hide in the shower for 20 minutes. Even when she screams.
23) I drank coffee and wine/beer when I breastfed.
24) She has been on a schedule since she was 4 days old.
I am happy to report that my child is still alive. Even through all of my reckless parenting. Even through being a bad mom.
She still thinks I’m hilarious. She still smiles at me. And she sleeps through the night. Gains weight. And grows.
See from the outside I look like a bad mom. From the outside I’m doing it all wrong.
But you don’t really know the whole story.
My child has slept through the night since 5 weeks. (Even though I do not!) I am not sleep deprived because my baby doesn’t sleep. I am sleep deprived because I am constantly checking on her because the world has convinced me my child will die of SIDS. At 5 weeks I started feeding her “AR” formula for her last bottle. This “Acid Reflux Formula” is just regular old formula with some rice starch in it. I didn’t do this so I could sleep longer. I did this because a normal 5 week old is waking up at least twice a night to eat, and my child refused. Cardinal Rule: Don’t wake a sleeping baby. I felt like crap having my 5 week old sleep through the night and then wake up starving hungry every morning – at 7:30/8AM! So I started giving her the rice formula.
Something amazing happened … She didn’t die.
As a new mom I’m sure you’ve heard it all. You have tried to go the right route, only breastfeed, don’t do this, avoid this, don’t do that, avoid that … you’re tired and overwhelmed and feeling like a massive failure. You wake up and check on your sleeping infant at least 4 times a night, because again the world has inundated you with the idea that the crib is a death trap and it is out to suck your child of their life. SIDS is lurking around every single corner in your frame of mind. You cannot escape it.
I know that our grandparents always scream at us and say things like, “Shoot! We drank and smoked while pregnant and drove in cars with no seatbelts! We rubbed whiskey on the teething gums!” But the reality is – they really DID do those things and SOMEHOW our parents survived. Somehow! Now I am by no means advocating that you give your kid whiskey, smoke and drink while pregnant, or not buckle your kids up. What I am saying is we live in a world full of fear and full of prevention and full of “don’ts!” but very few of …
“You’re doing a good job…”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff…”
“Who cares if the house is dirty…”
“Who cares if the baby eats jarred food…”
“Don’t worry if you feed the baby formula!”
We are plagued with worry, fear, and worst of all … guilt. Guilt that if we don’t follow the books, the opinions, and the ideas of all that we are somehow failing and we are riddled with an all consuming guilt that (wait for it…) AFFECTS how we parent! Instead of being a hands on mom who goes with her gut and with her instinct and what she feels is right for her and her baby we allow the guilt to override and consume us and somehow make all of our decisions for us.
Here’s the brass tacks … I don’t give a rats ass how you parent your child. I don’t care if they share your bed, if they’re breastfed, or if they’re eating peanut butter before the age of 2. And you shouldn’t care what I’m doing with my kid or what anyone else is doing with theirs!
As a fellow new mom this is my plea for you – don’t allow the opinions of others or the books dictate how you take care of your child. If your baby is happy, healthy, growing, and developing … does it really matter what everyone else thinks? Stop allowing the guilt to remove your effectiveness. Only accept opinions and suggestions that you ask for. Do what works for you and for your baby. The rest is all just a blur.
Sidebar: For all of those who suggest, “make helpful comments,” and input advice here and there don’t think we hate you. Don’t think we are annoyed with you. But please do realize that what worked for you with your kids is by no means a roadmap to what works for another family. Kindly suggest when the opinion is asked for. Don’t scare us, don’t guilt us, reach down somewhere inside of you and remember how you felt as a new mom. Remember the nights of no sleep because of worry or fear. Remember everyone telling you over and over what you should and shouldn’t do. Remember the guilt. Remember how overwhelmed. Then step back and remind the new mom that she’s doing a great job. Ask her if she would like help with the baby so she can get an uninterrupted shower. Send her a card of encouragement. Remind her that this too shall pass.
Now if you’ll excuse me … my little obnoxious human is screaming at me and I have to shut her up with some nuclear bomb laden formula. Then feed her rice cereal thinned out with tequila. (Sarcasm Font.)
I’m going to parenting hell.
UPDATE 6/26/13: This post has received significant attention today, and we appreciate all of you readers and commenters! With that said I feel that I should mention a few things. This post was written two months ago and great news! My kid is still alive! I fear that the message behind this post is being inundated by people assuming I am encouraging my type of parenting on others. This is not the case. As I stated how you raise your child is your own right.
My child is not abused. She is so happy and so healthy. And we have a good thing going here. Our mother works as a director in a division of Child Protective Services. I don’t take lightly the accusation that I abuse my child as I have heard HORROR stories of actual abuse. Please be cautious using that word. The weight it carries can be detrimental to many. As far as allowing her to “cry it out.” You should note that as I am married to a man in the military I’m on my own most of the time. I don’t whine about this as there are many women who do this whole parenting thing on their own. However, I AM married and I do rely heavily on my husband in sharing parenting duties. Because he works such long hours sometimes it is impossible to rush over to every cry my daughter has. I keep her well-fed, diapers changed, and burped – but sometimes those dishes do need washed. And she had to learn to fall asleep on her own, because when she goes to bed I don’t. I am the owner of a small bakery, and I still have a home to manage (almost) entirely on my own. The “cry it out” period lasted roughly a week. I am the proud mother of an almost 6 month old who falls asleep when I lay her down awake at night, will chill out on the floor with her toys while I wash dishes or make phone calls for work, and sleeps 12+ hours a night and 4-6 hours a day. (I will toot my horn about that!) The Ferber Method is not embraced by all, and I get that. But in this house it’s what we use.
Many have commented that my choice to vaccinate is poor as is my choice to formula feed. I believe electing to vaccinate your child is your own decision. It isn’t something to be debated publicly. It is a choice my husband and I make, and there should be no judgment there. In regards to formula feeding… I breastfed and pumped for the first 3 months of my daughter’s life. Nine (yes, 9!) days after I gave birth to her I was in a car on a journey to move across the country as my husband serves in the military. Even though I had just given birth it was no excuse. We had to move due to his new orders. I pumped and breastfed as much as possible. Sadly my milk supply dropped due to significant stress as well as the move and I was never able to get it back up – despite many tries with herbal supplements and teas and gallons of water. Furthermore I had to switch contraceptives as I was having a bad reaction to what I was put on. Choosing to switch entirely to formula BUMMED me out. And the conversation I had with both my husband and my daughter’s pediatrician resulted in tears. I did not want to give it up. And my hope is that with #2 I can breastfeed and pump as long as possible.
I love my daughter. More than I will ever be able to put into words. The point of this post was to remind women like me that the discouragement and pressure we feel from others cannot wear us down. It was to encourage others around me that despite their choice to vaccinate or breastfeed – it’s ok!
As far as the jellybeans and chocolate – I should mention both only happened once. Both were just little licks. And her gut is doing great. It’s full of yummy, homemade baby food and covered in a ton of kisses from her mom. Who cherishes her more than anyone can fathom. Please also note that I don’t feed my daughter spoons of peanut butter. She’s clearly far too young for that. I choose to stay away from foods the pediatrician tells me to. Though surprisingly the list grew much shorter as the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that introducing new foods does not increase the chances of allergic reactions, but avoiding certain foods to a certain age is beneficial in the event of anaphylactic shock. These foods mainly being eggs, honey, and peanut butter/nuts. Your pediatrician can help you determine when those foods should/can be introduced. (Clearly I am not uneducated as some comments may lead you to believe.)
Many of these comments broke me. They made me cry a little and feel somewhat of a failure. But then I was reminded of something my mother always said … (She has 7 children. All of us healthy, happy adults.) “I raise my children to be people. To be human beings that respect and love others.” And in the end that’s what this is. Not jarred baby food, breastmilk, or formula … It’s raising tiny humans and teaching them how to be people. Human beings that respect and love others. And my hope is when my daughter is 25 years old and faced with insurmountable piles of judgment and hostility she stands up and remembers what I taught her … Not what I fed her.