Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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Mommy Guilt

Guilt is like a shadow; it follows you everywhere you go. I didn't expect the guilt I felt after Cati was born and I've gotten somewhat used to always feeling guilty about something when it comes to my parenting. Guilt fades in and out and changes swiftly. Feeling guilty about not being able to nurse Cati has morphed into feeling guilty about all the sweets the child eats. The guilt can be consuming if you let it and, oftentimes, I try to push the guilt aside so that I can focus on the here and now.

What you don't know is that a lot of the guilt you had with your first child comes back when the second child is born. The difference is that the guilt doesn't linger as long. With Cati I felt so guilty about not being able to nurse that I carried that guilt with me. I vowed to nurse Elina, to tape her face to my boob if need be. Elina was born and a combination of things led to nursing not being a possibility. Nursing is a complicated dance and there has to be two willing partners. Elina wasn't willing and all the will I built up wasn't enough to combat her unwillingness. My emotional well-being won out and I decided I would rather pump than spend the first few weeks/months of life with my new child hating every waking moment I spent with her because I knew those waking moments would be filled with the battle at the breast. My guilt lasted three weeks, five days. Exactly how long I tried to get her to nurse. The moment I decided to stop forcing something that was making me push away from my daughter, was the moment that all my guilt disappeared. I expected to feel guilt like I did with Cati but instead I felt relief. I didn't nurse Cati and I am not nursing Elina. With how guilt works I probably would have felt guilty if it did work out because then I would have thought about my experience with Cati.

What you also don't know is that you feel guilty about other things when your second child is born. When I let the guilt flood my brain this what I feel guilty about:

Not knowing what makes Elina special. Cati is special because she is my first. Everything was new and exciting with her. She made me a mother and is the first person to call me mommy. Elina IS special because she is her own person but I still find myself searching for that one thing that is all of her own. Things with Elina are new because they are new to her but they aren't my firsts. The most I get is that Cati is what started our little family and Elina is what completes it, but even that doesn't do her justice.

Comparisons. This ties in to the above. I hate to do comparisons and I find myself doing them often. When did both girls start smiling? When did they start rolling over? Are these comparisons innocent now? Will I be able to stop making these comparisons when the girls are older so I can focus on the beauty of two distinct individuals? Not only do I feel guilty about the comparisons that I make, but I also feel guilty about the comparisons the girls will make. I took 12,000 pictures and videos of Cati during her first year of life; I've taken 700 pictures of Elina and a third of those have Cati in them. Will Elina compare these numbers and think it means I didn't love her as much as Cati?

Split attention. I feel guilty that Elina rarely gets undivided attention from me and I feel even guiltier that she rarely gets undivided attention from Alex and I feel even more guilty that she doesn't get undivided attention from the both of us at the same time. I feel guilty when Elina's laying on the floor hanging out, trying to roll over, or doing tummy time and I'm sitting in front of her with Cati sitting in my lap. Shouldn't I be holding Elina while Cati plays? What if she doesn't know who I am because I'm always with her and Cati? What if she thinks I'm Cati's mom but not hers? Is that even possible?

Decrease in patience. I was always in awe of myself and my ability to have patience with Cati. Now that Elina is here, I don't have as much patience as I used to with Cati. I let her tantrum, I walk away, I yell. Does she think of this change as me not loving her? I always talk to her afterward and tell her I love her, but is that enough? She's seeing a side of me she didn't have to before because I had more patience and free hands.

Not enough love. I love my girls immensely and would do anything for them. I try to give them hugs and kisses whenever I can and I am constantly telling them how much I love and adore them. And yet I wonder if that's enough. Do I have enough love in me to show them so that they will never doubt how much I love them?

Feeling maxed out. I hate that I have days where Cati just wears and tears on me that I feel like I have little mothering left in my to give Elina. Luckily, right now her needs are basic and she spends chunks of time in the sling so even when I can't mentally be with her I am physically with her. But what happens when Elina's older? Is this something that works itself out because at that point the girls will have different needs and we will have grown and adjusted to those needs together?

The Perfect Pair. We wanted two girls. We would have been happy with a boy but we really wanted another girl. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything because I have two girls. I hate when people either give me a look of pity once they find out Elina's a girl or when they ask if we are going to try for a boy. Why aren't two girls good enough? Then it gets me thinking, should I feel guilty about not having a boy? Should I feel guilty about never even wanting a boy? Whoever said that the "perfect" pair was girl-boy anyway? To me, my girls are the perfect pair and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Then there's always the guilt of simply managing it all: woman, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend. Being a woman is hard. Being a mother is even harder because you're playing in a game with high stakes and you can't afford to lose. You are creating and raising a new human being who will hopefully become a good person. There is guilt in every aspect of motherhood and for as much as the guilt brings me down, it serves as a reminder that I really do care. If I didn't care I wouldn't feel guilty, right? And on those days when the guilt is about to consume me I think about three things: my hope for the future, the unprompted "I love yous" that come from Cati, and the smiles that show up each and every time Elina sees me. My guilt will always be there. It's a matter of not letting the guilt overtake all the good that is present. 

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