Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Own Worst Enemy

There she is, a serious first grader with stick-straight hair in braids and little legs swinging under her desk.  She has a dreamy, far-off look until she starts and realizes that she's missed some of the teacher's directions.  After looking around the room at other kids quickly cutting, she gets her own scissors out.  Hmm, she thinks and her forehead wrinkles when she sees the pieces cut by the classmate next to her.  Those fuzzy lines are so ugly.  She begins to cut around all the lines with painstaking precision, in a world all her own.  After she finishes two of the pieces, she looks up.  Most of the students are putting the finishing touches on sorting the cards and gluing them on another piece of paper.  One more card cut, and the teacher is tapping her desk, reminding her that it doesn't have to be perfect and all the others are finished and wouldn't she please just ask a friend for help and cut out the cards the most efficient way like everyone else?

Fast forward 22 years and I'll tell you right now: a lot hasn't changed with the fastidious daydreamer who often makes things more difficult than they have to be.  I still feel like that lost little girl when I get bogged down in my perfectionism.  In fact, when Boo came into this world I steeled myself for many internal battles about just letting things go.  There are tendencies of mine that I've had to temper to make motherhood - and breastfeeding in particular - a better experience for me and my sweet girl.

Perfect is in the Eye of the Beholder
I came home from the hospital after a couple days and was determined to follow the advice of every pregnancy blog I'd read: take things slow and prioritize my needs and Boo's (which, happily enough, intersected quite a bit: eat, sleep, repeat).  But once I started to do that, I looked around and noticed thousands of things I needed or wanted to do: take newborn pictures, organize artifacts from the hospital, write down her birth story, finish 29 thank you notes.  Suddenly these unfinished "to-dos" weighed on me and though I resisted pushing myself too much, that weight frustrated and overwhelmed me.  I compromised by choosing a small portion of a small thing to accomplish each day (e.g. "write one thank you note") and promised myself not to stress if it didn't get finished.  This is a magnificently messy season in my life.  The more I work to counterbalance my craving for a sense of accomplishment, the more I appreciate each nursing session as time well spent with my girl.

Zebras and Pterodactyls
My hyper-awareness of others has always hampered my progress and shredded my self-esteem.  When Boo was a newborn she began to nurse for 45-90 minutes a session.  We lived on the couch and my nursing basket was a lifesaver.  I was content to cuddle my sweet girl (and catch up on three seasons of The Office - thank you Netflix!).  I talked to other moms and their experience was different.  They were out taking walks every day, shedding those postpartum pounds, deep cleaning their flipping floorboards - uh, excuse me!?  Suddenly I felt trapped.  I looked down at Boo just sucking away.  Did I have defective breasts?  I looked at my greasy hair and snug-fitting yoga pants.  Was I too lazy?  I looked at my floorboards, probably for the first time in my life.  Was I doing it wrong?  It took a great deal of discipline to remind myself that this was like comparing apples and oranges.  Actually both of those things are similar.  It was more like comparing zebras and pterodactyls.  Every mother's postpartum process is different and babies don't compare notes about how much they should feed when they exit the womb.  Once I let go of the compulsion to compare I could turn my attention to feeding on cue and trust Boo to tell me when she was hungry or when she needed to be close to her mommy.

. . . _ _ _ . . .
Goodness gracious, this one was the worst.  I typically look at a task and see what I can do to make things easier on others.  If things are hard for me, I try to problem-solve by myself.  Let me be clear: this doesn't work postpartum.  Don't think twice about letting your husband take on extra chores around the house.  Go ahead and speed dial your mom while sitting in the glider with a screaming baby velociraptor who wants to chew your nipples off.  You shouldn't have any qualms about calling your lactation consultant (hi Anne!) and firing off incoherent questions at her.  Is this a bad time? You're on vacation? How wonderful for you.  Now about these bloody nipples...  Shout SOS at the top of your lungs whenever you need to.  Do not wait until it's convenient for your spouse/mom/friend/LC.  Many of them have been where you are and want to help you.  Don't just let them - ask!

There are parts of me that are simultaneously beautiful and restricting.  Perfectionism is crippling but high standards are empowering.  Independence can be isolating but interdependence reveals true love and compassion.  As I think about my pregnancy, labor & delivery, and postpartum experience, I've realized that one of my greatest strengths (and fatal flaws) is my laser focus (tunnel vision).  This stubbornness helped me get past my reluctance to ask for help and come to terms with lowering my standards for myself.  This didn't make breastfeeding easy.  Believe me, there were still challenges.  But my determination to breastfeed gave me the strength I needed to just let things go so I could focus on finding success in my breastfeeding adventure.

And Boo?  I love watching her grow and learn new things every day.  Oh, and based on her reckless enthusiasm for destroying toys, I have a sneaking suspicion she won't be the quiet first grader who gets in trouble for taking too long with ridiculously labored cutting techniques.  Whew.

How about you?  What are some ways you've been your own worst enemy when it comes to breastfeeding?  How did you overcome obstacles you set up for yourself?


  1. Laura, I could have written this post myself. Perfectionism is a bear... I'm thankful though that motherhood is teaching me patience and to not compare to others (hard as that may be).

    1. Rebecca I'm glad it resonated with you! It is definitely an ongoing struggle...but I'm getting better at it day by day!