How Much Sacrifice Is Too Much?

February 16, 2015

Am I doing enough? Am I giving enough? Is it MY fault my baby takes 3 hours, 6 swaddle do-overs, 4 nursing sessions and 15 bedtime stories to fall asleep each night? Will I still be doing this when she’s 9? Self-doubt, coupled with some real and perceived feelings of judgement from others, can make for depleted, unhappy parents. And, gone unchecked and for too long, can lead to more serious problems like post-partum depression. Erica Desper of Confident Parenting, shares her journey as a new parent and the lessons she learned along the way. 

sacrifice

This ecard was recently posted on my Facebook news feed and…my stomach turned. The well intentioned person who posted it said something like, “This is so true. I hate when parents have it backward.” {Sigh} My own strong feelings towards this card — and its potential negative effect on mothers – led me to today’s vent. Join me on a quick trip down New Parent Memory Lane:

I’m a first time mom with a more-or-less attachment parenting mindset. I plan to nurse extendedly, wear my son, co sleep, and so on. As a parent educator, I feel quite prepared to breeze through the common challenges of nursing, colic, and sleep deprivation. (Pause for your laughter.) But all too soon, blanketed by my emotions, hormones, and fatigue, I come to the harsh realization — none of my knowledge, experience or expectations matter. Parenting is full of surprises. As we’ll see in my case, in every way possible.

The Fourth Trimester: Toughing it Out
My precious bundle turns out to be an incredibly sensitive little guy who would scream for four months if not for myself or someone constantly and intensely providing the Five ‘S’s. For the first 8 weeks, I am in incredible nursing pain. Massive oversupply complicates both the pain (which turned out to be vasospasm) and his fussiness. He eats voraciously and nurses every two hours around the clock. Day. And night. Every two hours. For nine months. But that’s what babies do, right? I’ll just hang in there and tough it out.

Month 10…and Still Going
Month ten arrives, and my little guy weighs an incredible 28 pounds (Yup, that’s like a two year old. At least! Thank you, oversupply.) I feel quite certain he does not need to nurse every two hours overnight. But I tell myself, “If he doesn’t need to eat nutritionally overnight, the nursing will fulfill his other needs.” And boy, am I willing to fulfill his needs. I put a ton of stock in the pervading thought in much of what I have read that if I continue to nurse on demand he will wean off night feeds on his own when he is ready. And I’m okay with that. I’ll just hang in there and tough it out. Some more. During that first year, I consciously sacrifice my own needs for my son’s because I am committed. That’s what makes a good mother, right? I can’t (or won’t) leave him with anyone because he is so challenging. My husband and I go nowhere and do nothing. I forget what it even was either of us even did together or apart or what we talked about before this. Our life now revolves around feedings and getting this kid to fall and stay asleep.

Fast forward to my son’s one year birthday. He is still in our bed and night nursing…and not for lack of my trying other things. Every time we try to buckle down and try to transition him to his crib and night wean here is an emerging tooth or a cold coming on and back to bed we go. Only taking him into our bed no longer works for any of us. Now, he wakes every 45 minutes to nurse and takes 2 or more hours to fall back to sleep. All night. I am a zombie. I slip into full blown PPD, crying all day. I put the milk in the cabinet and the cereal in the fridge. I fall asleep at the wheel. I crumble at the slightest challenge and everything seems like an insurmountable one. Oh, and I still have to go to work every day. I am spent. I begin to resent my son, and hate myself for resenting him.

But all is not lost. My downward spiral brought me to a breaking point which led me to challenge myself and our scenario and, ultimately, survive. I learned that sacrificing every ounce of myself physically and emotionally wasn’t working for anyone in the family. I learned that I needed to reevaluate my priorities and what is was that I thought made me a good Mom. I was able to address and work through our sleep issues and live to talk about it. And go on to help other Moms in similar situations. Today, my son is 4.5 years old. He is an absolute joy and…drumroll please… has been a fantastic sleeper for years.

The Moral of My Story
Here’s the moral of this story: Yes, we must make sacrifices for our children. Often this means putting our own wants and needs on the back burner. But we are not. just. mothers. We are partners, friends, daughters, sisters, employees, employers and so on. If we ALWAYS sacrifice those parts of ourselves to give our little ones anything they need exactly when they need it, we lose important parts of ourselves. We lose our identity. And that can very quickly lead to depression, isolation, resentment, and burnout. And messages like that ecard can have a devastating effect on a mother who is already sacrificing and struggling so much.

Mothers are like sponges, constantly squeezing out their time, energy, affection, and every other available resource for others. If we don’t sometimes put ourselves first and get replenished…we have nothing left to give. If you want to be the best mother you can be (and hello, who doesn’t?!) then try prioritizing yourself once in a while. Give yourself permission to put on your oxygen mask first. I know it’s scary and you think you will be wracked with guilt but trust me! Start small…let your baby fuss and cry for a few minutes while you take a long overdue shower. You will feel like a million bucks (not to mention smell so much better) and your baby will still need you when you come out. Only you will be happier to see him and better equipped to endlessly bounce on that exercise ball until he finally konks out. (So much for that just showered feeling.) Go out on a girls night or a date night (I guarantee grandma or the sitter can bounce on that ball just as well as you do.)

We are all doing the best we can do with the resources we have. So replenish your resources. Give yourself permission to come first. Do it for you. But ultimately do it for your baby.

Erica Desper Pic
Erica Desper founded Confident Parenting in 2012, as a certified baby and child sleep coach offering private counseling for families in the greater Philadelphia area. Her sleep-saving approach is offered through a variety of packages, including unlimited text and email support. Erica has supported hundreds of families in and around the Philadelphia area and internationally to improve the quality of their families’ sleep. She is also mom to son, Jaiden who, as an infant, was very good at crying and not very skilled in sleeping! For more information about Erica, visit www.beaconfidentparent.com.