Mum guilt

I have been thinking of writing a post about mum guilt for some time, but I keep putting it off. Partly because I don’t have all the answers (far from it!) but also because it’s something I struggle with time and time again. But I have felt particularly burdened by it in the last week or so, so thought it was time I say SOMETHING, as something is better than nothing.

I think this is something that all mums feel right from the very beginning – possibly it is something to do with hormones, but I think there’s something in our culture that really ratchets this up to a high level. I can remember being in the hospital a few days after having Scarlett, having read all of the leaflets the midwives give you about breastfeeding your baby and how formula is essentially poison that will not allow their gut to form properly. That was all well and good but my milk hadn’t come in yet and there was this three or four day old baby who was screaming her lungs out day and night because she was hungry. Eventually the midwives almost insisted I give her some formula, whilst simultaneously handing me leaflets about how dangerous it is to do so. The guilt started… and it hasn’t really gone away two and a half years later.

I gave her formula. This time I had a planned c-section. I didn’t swaddle my first baby. I did swaddle my second baby. I moved her into a forward-facing car seat one month before I was supposed to. I gave her some chocolate. I let them watch TV. I gave my two-year-old a slice of pizza for dinner. I left my two-year-old in front of the TV so I could cook and not give her pizza for dinner. My laundry basket is piled high. I left the baby crying so that I could do some laundry. I didn’t sterilise that dummy before giving it to the baby. I gave the baby a dummy in the first place. I never lost the baby weight after my first baby. I dieted whilst breastfeeding my second baby. I sat the baby in a Bumbo. I introduced solids before six months. I’m behind on the housework. I’ve not had a proper conversation with my husband because I am too tired from making sure I’m not behind on the housework. I went back to work. I only went back to work part time. I didn’t cut a grape in half one time…

It’s endless. It’s exhausting. And it doesn’t achieve anything!

This is the image that set me off this time. You may need to click on it to read it properly. It is meant to be warning mums off the ‘advice’ to leave your baby to cry, as if you keep picking them up you’ll spoil them. That sounds reasonable. Obviously we want to respond to our babies when they cry, and that has to be a good thing. But then the smaller print mentions that not leaving your baby to cry creates positive associations that lead to good brain development. Great. But what if you do leave your baby to cry? What if you don’t always cuddle them? It left me feeling really guilty about all the times I’d left Harvey crying so I could just get dinner in the oven. Or go and hang the washing out. Or because I was supervising Scarlett in the bath. Is he going to have hampered brain development because of it?

I felt like even this post designed to encourage mums has left us (or at least me) feeling guilty, when really we are doing the best we can. We try and try and try until we are locking ourselves in the bathroom while our kids are crying, just for five minutes of quiet. But everything around us is telling us it’s not good enough. It feels like every time we come across something that makes our lives easier (TV, wet wipes, ready meals, Bumbos), the government tells us that we shouldn’t be using them. And so the guilt continues because we do need something to make our lives easier, or because we have stopped using them but did use them at one time, or because we have stopped using them and are finding it harder now. It feels like there is so much pressure from every angle to eat organic, cook from scratch, be perfectly skinny, be fashionable, have a spotless home, have a job, have well stimulated children, and also keep a smile on our faces, and if any part of this slips, the guilt stabs at us.

Sometimes it feels like even the Bible is perpetuating this, or at least Christian culture. Every time I read about the wife in Proverbs 31 I feel guilty that I’m not getting up at daybreak, spinning my own yarn, trading in the market place and being called blessed by my children. But that’s not where we should be focusing. Sure, we can aim at these things, but the Bible isn’t a moral guide book full of people to copy. The more I read the Bible the more I realise that it is full of flawed people who have mixed motives at best. Except for one, the one who the Bible is really about. Jesus. We can read all the rules in the Old Testament, and we can look at Jesus’ life in the gospels and we know that we fall hopelessly short of God’s standards for us. But that’s OK, because Jesus kept the law so that we don’t have to.

If we have put our faith in Jesus, we can know that God looks on us and sees not our filthy rags, but Jesus’ perfect righteousness, which he freely gives to us. Mums, run to Jesus. Know that he died for your sins so that you don’t have to bear the burden of them any more. And remember that not feeding your children on kale and quinoa is NOT a sin. We don’t have to strive to be that Pinterest-perfect mum that inside we long to be. We just have to do our best. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Breastfeeding

Apparently last week was national breastfeeding week, and I meant to write a blog post then, but time got away with me – as it so often does! I am a bit obsessed with breastfeeding. I became fascinated in the process I guess when my friends started having babies, and even more so when I became pregnant in 2015. Since then there has been less than six months when I haven’t been either pregnant or breastfeeding, so it’s obviously on my mind a lot! There is so much I could say, but I’ll try and keep it just to the really interesting bits!

Let me start by saying that I am firmly in the camp of ‘fed is best’. Breastfeeding, especially initially, is HARD! I had problems getting started with both my kids (despite having read all the books – turns out there’s nothing like actual experience… who knew?!) After an emergency C-section and a week in hospital after I had Scarlett my milk just would not come in, so we ended up topping up with formula (which I ditched when I got home, because frankly I’m too lazy to wash and sterilise bottles!) After I had Harvey I had all kinds of different problems and it was really painful for six weeks. I almost gave up so many times. But I’m glad I didn’t! But, if you are someone who has bottle fed – I get it! Feeding your babies is best! Do what you have to do to keep everybody happy! But, that being said, here are some interesting things about breastfeeding!

Interesting things

Did you know that the breasts of a nursing mother analyse the saliva of the baby, and if it picks up that the baby is getting an illness, the mother produces antibodies, which then get passed into the milk and help the baby to fight it off? I think it possibly also stops the mother from getting the illness too – I have certainly noticed that I don’t seem to get colds while I’m breastfeeding! Very useful if you’ve got someone tiny to look after!

Another thing – breast milk has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-pain and anti-inflammatory properties! Wowsers! That means it’s great for treating loads of ailments that might affect a baby, from conjunctivitis to ringworm. True story: I squirted some on a mosquito bite that was driving me crazy a few weeks ago – instant relief!

The magical stuff also adapts to the baby’s needs in other ways – it contains more and more calories as the baby grows so that he doesn’t need to drink more and more milk to keep him satisfied. I remember feeding Scarlett in the early days, and she would often take 40 minutes to have her feed. I remember thinking that if that was how long it takes to feed a tiny baby, imagine how long she would feed for by the time she’s five months! But it doesn’t work like that – thankfully! As babies grow they get more and more efficient at feeding and so actually spend less time there – unless you’ve got one of those babies that just likes to hang out on your boob!

There are SO many more fascinating things about breastfeeding, but I won’t put them all here. I also can’t be bothered to go through and find scientific evidence to back these things up (have I mentioned, I have two young kids?), but there are loads out there that are easy to find, if you are into that sort of thing! But I would like to go on to say that I think these facts (and many more) tell us a lot about ourselves.

Very revealing

No, I’m not about to start writing about breastfeeding in public (though I may touch on that in a bit, if the mood takes me). I think that all of that stuff I’ve just written reveals loads about human beings. Firstly, I believe that this all points to the fact that we are created. I just don’t see how such an intricate process could have happened by chance. All of the things work out so perfectly that I think it just has to have been designed. Even down to the fact that in the early days, breastfeeding a baby means you have to spend loads of time sitting down – right when your body really needs to be recovering after giving birth.

And yet it doesn’t work perfectly – it can be painful, there can be problems (hello mastitis! You’re not welcome here!) which goes to show that the world is not as it should be. The Bible tells us that the world we live in is fallen – back in the garden of Eden, people sinned against God, bringing a curse, meaning that things don’t work how they were originally meant to. (Don’t worry – one day God is planning to restore everything to an even better state, and you just need to trust in Jesus to secure your place!)

Immediately after the fall, Adam and Eve became ashamed of their naked bodies, which also has a bearing on breastfeeding. We feel the need to cover up! Whether we should ‘hide’ this act or not is something I’m not going to go into, but it is interesting that we feel embarrassed at bearing certain parts of ourselves to others, just like the Bible shows will happen. It is also fascinating to me that in a society where there is cleavage emblazoned across every bill board and TV advert, we get a bit squeamish about mums feeding their babies. In our glorification of sex, have we forgotten the primary purpose of breasts? Also, as an aside, why don’t people get all huffy about men revealing their bum cracks when they bend over? Surely that is far more offensive to look at than a bit of boob going into a hungry mouth?

What God is like

I think that breastfeeding also reveals a bit about what God is like too. He is kind, he looks after us – that is clear from the way he designed breastfeeding to work, both for the mother and the baby. But also through the times that breastfeeding is mentioned in the Bible. Yes – it really is! Here’s some for you:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” Isaiah 49:15.
Could I forget my baby while you’re breastfeeding him? No way! But I am more likely to forget him than God is to forget his people. Wow!

And what about the story of Moses? He was put in the original Moses basket and sent down a river to safety when Pharaoh wanted the Hebrew babies killed. Pharaoh’s own daughter found him and decided to keep him – but she needed to feed the baby, she need a wet nurse. And, in God’s plan, who did she get to come and feed the baby? Moses’ own mother! God could have got her to find any other woman in the country to nurse the baby – events would have worked out the same if it had been anybody else, but no, it was Moses’ own mother who got to look after him,  which can only have been for the purpose of showing God’s great kindness.

There are more, but I think these two are such strong pictures that I’ll leave it there.