I wasn't quite going to write this post so soon, but I have some time right now so what the heck.
In my last post
I alluded to the recent bout of guilt that has gripped me in the first six months of motherhood. Specifically, I mentioned that I had "the immense guilt that comes with being a mom, and the guilt that comes with trying to keep everyone else in the world happy at the expense of yourself".
In my post before that
, I had also referenced my worst-mother-in-the-world symptoms, that I suspect a lot of new moms go through. I was asking people to please keep their comments of the positive and constructive nature, that "the very last thing on the planet that I need right now is some anonymous commenter telling me how I am putting my child in danger or how I am a horrible mother or whatnot. I do a PLENTY good enough job beating myself up."
I would like to elaborate on both of these subjects - my guilt, and my feelings of inadequacy as a mom, and how the two intertwine.
Starting with guilt.
When Amanda was only four or five days old, I mentioned to my mother that when Amanda cried, I felt guilty, because as her mother shouldn't I know how to comfort her? The fact that I couldn't figure it out IMMEDIATELY and stop her from being upset made me feel guilty, guilty that my child would have to experience one second of any emotion other than joy. My mother basically said "Welcome to being a parent." She said that hand in hand with being a parent, especially a mother, comes a great deal of guilt. She said she still feels this guilt today, even with three grown daughters. "You can't take all their pain away all the time, but you feel like it is your job to, and so the guilt just comes automatically." But, she assured me, just try your best and do what is right for Amanda. You can't ease ALL her pain every second. Try NOT to feel guilty about that. You'll drive yourself crazy.
I definitely think she was right, about everything. Especially the driving myself crazy part. Please keep in mind that there is a logical part of my brain, firing signals way in the back of my head, telling me constantly to stop doing this to myself. BUT...I cannot help it. This is an example of a typical day with Amanda, as far as the guilt goes:
I have guilt when I get her up in the morning and change her out of her sopping wet diaper - guilt that she spent half the night soaked, even though the alternative would be to wake her up
in the middle of the night to change her. Stupid, I know, but I feel bad.
I feel guilty about every decision I make throughout the day with regards to her. Did I play with her too long and wipe her out? Or not enough, not giving her the proper amount of attention?
If she takes poor naps throughout the day, I beat myself up, thinking there must be something else I could have done differently to get her to sleep better. And on top of that I feel guilty that now she is overtired and cranky, both for her sake and for the fact that Anthony gets to come home from a long day at work and be greeted with an overtired, cranky baby. (I have told him as much, and he has confirmed that which I already know - if she doesn't nap well, it is not my fault. I can't help it though - I have guilt).
On the contrary, if she naps all day I feel guilty. Guilty that she slept the day away, didn't play enough, that maybe now she'll be up all night and keep both of US up all night. This, too, is ridiculous, because this has never happened. No matter how much my daughter sleeps during the day, she ALWAYS sleeps ALL NIGHT.
Do you see where this is going? See how I am (unintentionally) driving myself nuts?
I have guilt over EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY decision I make about her, every single day. No matter what decision it is, I agonize over whether I should have done the alternative. Even when my decision appears sucessful, I then question my motives. (Did I put her down for a nap because she was tired, or because I was? If it is the latter, then HOW DARE I?), etc etc etc.
It is utterly exhausting, and completely irrational. Yet I don't know how to stop doing it.
If she develops a diaper rash? Entirely my fault.
If she scratches her face with her fingernails? I am a horrible mother for not cutting her nails before this happened.
I feel guilty if she starts screaming because her gums hurt. Ridiculously, I feel guilty that I didn't anticipate the pain, like somehow I should have known five minutes earlier so that I could start to preventatively soothe her.
I feel the worst guilt ever when she gets sick or comes down with a cold. After all, it MUST be my fault. Something I did caused her to get sick, whether I over or under dressed her, or whether I brought her out somewhere in public where she picked up the germs.
I think by now you understand what I mean about the guilt. I know, in the back of my head, that it is crazy to feel this way; that all I am doing is making myself nuts. I know that I cannot control EVERYTHING that happens to my daughter, and yet I feel as though I should be able to.
Directly related to these specific examples of guilt come the feelings of inadequacy. I must tell myself I am "the worst mother in the world" at least ten times a day. Don't get me wrong - I realize that there are definitely many other women out in the world that meet these qualifications, that are much more deserving of the title. But it is always in my head that I only get one shot at this with Amanda - she'll only ever be (a newborn, two months old, six months old, etc.) once in her lifetime, and if I screw it up it could lead to longterm damage.
Once, Anthony and I had a fight in front of her. She was just staring at the two of us, and when we finally resolved our differences I broke out into tears, certain that we'd just permanently scarred the child for life.
I guess there are reasons that I feel this way. For example, I myself have one (and only one) early childhood memory that I can remember, and when I told my mother about it she gasped and said "How can you remember that? You were under a year old?" I remember being placed on a black leather beanbag chair, and I remember people yelling. Maybe the touch or the feel of the chair was so unique to me at that stage in my life that it became such a vibrant memory for me as an infant, but I remember it clear as day. I was placed on a black beanbag chair, lying on my back staring endlessly at the ceiling, and there was yelling going on around me for a long, long time.
The reality of that situation was that my biological father had apparently come home to mom and I drunk, as usual, and picked a fight with my mother, as usual. It apparently started getting violent and physical, forcing my mother to dump me on the safest piece of furniture around - a beanbag chair - so that at least I would be out of harm's way.
I don't want to screw my daughter up. I am hell bent on making sure this kid is raised healthy and happy. But I am starting to see that I am being so obsessive about it that I am making life impossible for myself. I have set the bar so unrealistically high I will NEVER live up to my own standards of parenting. And therefore every day I feel like an enormous failure.
Plus, I am convinced that everything I do (EVERYTHING) has an impact on Amanda - positive or negative. People have told me over and over again that babies are born with a personality, but I haven't bought into that yet. I keep insisting that she is and she will be who she is because of us (Anthony and I). For example, Amanda is REALLY LOUD when she is happy. She lets the whole neighborhood know how she is feeling, her squeals of delight are definitely of a significant volume. Ask my mother? She says that is just Amanda's personality. Ask me? I say it is because Anthony and I are loud people, and that is what she knows. We never really got all soft and quiet-like when Amanda arrived home with us - we are both pretty loud, obnoxious people, and we didn't change our behavior in THAT sense just because a new little person moved in with us. Who is right? I don't know.
A big part of me feels that I HAVE to be right - that Amanda will become the person she will become based 100% on what her parents do. In that nature vs. nurture debate, I have to side with nurturing. I HAVE to. Otherwise, if I were to agree that nature is just as (if not more) important that nurture, this would mean that I am little more than an evil, violent, raging alcoholic - just like my biological father, a man I have never met. More alarming, if I am, then Amanda has got that in her too. And that is unacceptable.
Nurturing HAS to win the battle for me, for my daughter. When I do periodically have moments of extreme anger or rage, I wonder if, like the incredible hulk, those biological genes within me are being awakened. I don't want to ever be reminded that they are there, because frankly it scares the crap out of me. The part of me that was raised lovingly by my caring, generous, thoughtful mother - THAT is the part of me that needs to win out.
And so I CAN'T fail Amanda. I can't let that fraction of biology that she has the misfortune of inheriting from me win. And every single time something negative happens to her, I feel that I AM failing her.
One last note about the guilt: when I am NOT being the perfect mother, I feel guilty about a deal I made way back when. When we were halfway through the third IVF and my doctor told me that we were essentially "done" - that IVF most likely was never going to work for us, and that this particular IVF cycle would most likely fail, I made a deal with God, a God I very rarely talk to or pray to.
First, I cried and cried and cried and I asked Him why he wouldn't let me have a baby. What had I done in my life that was so awful that I was being punished in this cruel, cruel way. He knew how badly I wanted a biological child, why was He denying me this, the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world? In those desperate hours, I made a deal. I promised Him that if he would PLEASE give me a child, I would be the BEST MOTHER EVER. I swore on that with my life. Never, God, will you see a person more devoted to motherhood, or better at it, than me. Never. Please give me a child so that I can show you what a great job I can do.
Every time I am less than perfect with Amanda, I feel like I am not holding up my end of the bargain. Anyone who has read my blog for a while, or who knows me in person, knows that Amanda is an absolute miracle - she arrived when the odds were almost 100% against her. The doctor all but told us that the IVF cycle was a mere "going through the motions" because it WOULD NOT WORK.
I am not a deeply religious person, not at all, but when I learned that I was pregnant, and furthermore when I first saw Amanda's face, I couldn't help but believe that my plea to God did not fall on deaf ears. And though none of this was on purpose, is it MERELY coincidence that:
We learned we were pregnant on Good Friday?
We confirmed the pregnancy at my clinic on Easter Sunday?
She was born on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception?
Her Christening happened to fall on Pentecost Sunday?
I feel like SOMEONE is constantly trying to remind me of the miracle that she is, the gift that I was given when all hope was lost, and the DEAL that I made. It is so important that I live up to my end of the bargain, because I am terrified of what might happen if I don't.
Anyways...long post, but I am going to try to work on giving myself a break. My personality is that of a micro-manager, but perhaps I should stop trying to micromanage every aspect of my child. Maybe if I step back, take a deep breath, and stop beating myself up every five minutes, I will see the bigger picture: that I have a happy, healthy child who is incredibly loved.
Maybe I will even realize that I am doing a pretty good job. And instead of feeling guilty, I can start to feel some pride - pride in myself and in the beautiful little girl my baby is becoming.