Friday, March 26, 2010

Guilt be gone

As parents, we all feel guilty about something. We want to do what's best for our children, but on the few occasions where that doesn't work out, the guilt inevitably settles in. For the longest time, I've carried around a tremendous amount of guilt over breastfeeding. More specifically, I was convinced that my inability to fully breastfeed Jack had led to his febrile seizures; that something I wasn't giving him had caused them. In my heart I knew I did the best that I could for him, but what if that wasn't enough? What if the little bit of my milk he received didn't protect him? What if my failure caused my child to have these awful episodes when his temperature rapidly spiked?

While Charlie's febrile seizure was scary & stressful, it gave me a gift. I was able to finally see that whatever causes these boys to have seizures was not something I had done, or not done for that matter. It wasn't a measure of my breastfeeding failure. Charlie, a fully breastfed baby, gets them too. thank god. Not in the sense that I'm thankful he went through all of that, but thank god something happened to lift the guilt I felt over Jack.

This guilt had been building for 3 years, to the point where if someone would talk about how amazing & powerful breast milk was, I would quietly break down. I know the benefits and love that it worked with Charlie. But each time I heard or sang the praises of it, a voice in the back of my head would say "and because you didn't do this for Jack, he has a seizure every time he gets a fever. you suck". Why is that voice so powerful?

In an attempt to assuage my guilt, I asked my mother-in-law what she thought of my theory. I knew that if there was truth to it, she would acknowledge it without crushing me. She told me there was no connection. That even if by some small chance there were, I pumped enough to give Jack the same important nutrients that I had given Charlie.

It didn't help. I thought for sure she was trying to spare my feelings & somehow convinced myself that this was guilt I would just have to live with. It even made me dread the thought of having a third child. What if I couldn't breastfeed them & they were sentenced to the same risk category as Jack?

Charlie's seizure changed all of that. I no longer look at Jack as the kid I "didn't breastfeed". I look at him as my teacher. He is my child who taught me enough about seizures to survive Charlie's episode without panicking. The one whose experience allowed me to overcome the fear & deal with the situation from a medical perspective. The kiddo who made me more determined to breastfeed baby #2. And the one who I still strive to do the very best for, even if the first time around I make mistakes.

It's amazing how much better I feel as a parent now that the guilt is gone. The voice is silenced, for now. And while I'm sure it will be back the next time I question a decision, I now know there are no absolutes. If you try your best and are open to the idea that different things work for different kids, that voice reminding you of your failures loses it's power.

4 comments:

Babs said...

Guilt over things done in the past, especially things done by parents with nothing but loving good intention, is such a waste of time! Parenting continues for a lifetime. We have sooo many opportunities to do well by our children as they grow and develop, and I know that you do all you do out of deep love for the kids, and your joy in being their mother. The most constructive approach to a situation we look back on with regret is to realize that obviously we've grown, or we'd never have known that the way we did it first wasn't what we'd do today, if given the chance.
I had such similar experience as a Mom, as you know. I wish I'd been smarter, more prepared, etc, the first time around, but I wasn't. It took the experience of having and raising my first child to help me learn where I could do better the next time, and the next. I know I got better as time went on, but that doesn't mean I was ever perfect! I always did the very best I could for the kids, though, and I think they know that.
I remember having this conversation with friends when my second one was a little guy, and one woman saying, "Yes, I always say it's too bad your first one can't be a paper doll to learn on." I'm still not sure how I feel about that, but I get it. And I know that by just forgiving myself my shortcomings, I was a better parent to all of my kids as our family grew. And you, Aly, are already wayyy ahead of me.
I love you!

Jill said...

Well, if there is a silver lining in one of your kids getting sick, you've found it! Glass half full!

For what it's worth, I use you as a mothering model in lots of ways. You are a very sensitive, loving Mommy and those boys are lucky!

Aly said...

thank you guys :)
xoxoxo

Amanda Berkey said...

I'm so happy you have shed this guilt and you're view of Jackson as your teacher is very healthy. The most compelling reason I wanted to become a mother is to learn and grow to new heights that I don't think were possible before. Your Jack is a healthy and vibrant kid and he is teaching you, just as you teach him. And your mother-in-law is such a blessing for you. I love her reminder to you that parenting is a lifetime event!!