“I am sorry Melody, we have to ask you to leave the nursing program.” I was 22 years old, the year was 2006. This was not breastfeeding nursing, which I am doing a lot of now! My instructors were referring to the bachelor of science nursing program. I had spent two years excelling academically but barely making it in practicum. I carried on until my instructors were convinced that I could no longer provide safe care for patients due to my anxiety and poor judgements and I was out with an F on my transcript.
Ever since then I have had a fear of failure when interacting with health care professionals, even in a therapeutic setting.
“Looks like your progesterone is low.” One professional said when we were looking to get pregnant. Failure. Not good enough. Unstoppable messages in my head. Bio identical progesterone suppliments helped my hormones but my mind ran the same hurtful story over and over.
“Your belly looks a little too small. We should do an ultrasound.” The midwife said. Failure. Not good enough. The ultrasound showed a perfectly healthy average size baby but I winced every time someone said “you’re so tiny!”
When Elaina was born I cried, “Freedom!” No more body exams.
“She has dropped 10% of her birth weight. We don’t want it to get any lower.”
“How many pees and poos? What colour? How often are you feeding? How long? She has only gained 10 grams a day for the last two days… it needs to get better or…”
Failure. Not good enough.
The midwives were simply doing their due diligence in monitoring the health of my child and they gave me lots of encouragement along with sharing their concerns but it was the concerns that stuck in my head like glue. Every time they pulled out the scale I held my breath and trembled a little.
In reality, it wasn’t life or death. if Elaina didn’t end up gaining enough weight we would simply supplement. A little burdensome for my non detailed oriented mind. Cleaning, sterilizing, heating, measuring… not my cup of tea but certainly doable. My husband Forest was raised on breast milk and formula and he is a healthy functioning member of society.
Anxiety is not logical but it is real. When I finally sat down with my journal and some deep breaths I was able to hear the messages deep in my heart, the lies.
If Elaina doesn’t gain enough weight right away: You will fail as a mother. Somehow you will lose your baby. You won’t succeed. You won’t be able to take care of her. Someone else will have to take care of her. You won’t be able to breastfeed anymore. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Illogical statements but very powerful ones. In the past, thoughts like these have made me run away from life. I ran away from my job in China and then I kept running from life for the next year. But I learned something while giving birth to Elaina. I couldn’t run from the labour pain. I couldn’t run from the scale. I had to, have to face it. Motherhood, unlike a school program or a job, is permanent. Even in the very sad circumstances where mothers leave their children or when children have to be taken from their mother the identities remain the same. She will always be a mother and they will always be her children.
I wrote in my journal, My milk is not my identity. Elaina’s weight is not her identity. Important details but these are not who we are. “Do not be anxious….Is not life more than food? Your Heavenly Father knows you need these things.” (Matthew 6:25,32). We are His beloved daughters.
One thing with breastfeeding too is that the more anxious and stressed you are the less milk you produce. I had no choice but to relax and simply do my best. And so lots of skin to skin, a visit with a Lactation consultant and a few emails with her afterwards, a little bit of reasearch… (not too much research though, The internet can be scary) and lots of prayer and good food.
Tuesday morning I got a text from the midwife: “Good gain! Over birth weight now. Let’s book her 4 week appointment.” Passed! “I feel like my breasts have been audited.” I said with a laugh to Forest. “Now you know how I feel at work!” He replied.
One challenge overcome. Today’s challenge was Elaina screaming in her car seat. But I am learning that challenges do not mean failure. Health professionals expressing concern does not mean failure. One step at a time. Onward and upward.