Ever had to learn something the hard way? It’s usually not pretty, and almost always humbling. I haven’t told this story to too many people, but since I can laugh about it now maybe it’s time to fess up. This is how I learned to ask for help – the hard way.
I was 23 when I had my first baby. I had no family to help, and I wasn’t overly fond of advice. I was pretty tired of people telling me how young I was, reminding me how alone I was, and how hard this was going to be. That said, I was absolutely terrified – of everything. I was terrified that she wouldn’t sleep through the night. I was terrified that something was wrong if she did sleep through the night. Did she eat enough? Poop enough? Grow enough? Reach milestones at the right time?
I was making myself a basket case. Partly because I was a young mom and it’s a bit of a rite of passage, at least that’s been my observation. Those of us who have survived this rite smile and nod, and out of the young mother’s hearing we mouth “new mom” to one another in complete understanding. We’ve all been there.
I was surrounded by experienced moms when I had my first baby. These moms seemed to know about everything. They showed up to church and their kids were all shiny and clean with perfect ringlets and immaculate manners. I was lucky to show up, clean clothes were a bonus. Can you imagine the pathetic picture I made? I got real sick of hearing unsolicited advice – fast.
There’s a word for that attitude: pride.
I just could not get the whole breastfeeding thing to work. At all. My midwife tried to help, and offered a few suggestions. My nipples were cracked and raw, and bled every time I tried to nurse. The pain was bring-tears-to-your-eyes-just-thinking-about-it excruciating. I had seen the other moms nursing their babies in church and there was clearly a step I was missing. I would watch them (you know, as casually as you can watch a woman nursing in public and not look like a freak). Could not figure it out. What was wrong with me? Women from the beginning of time had been able to figure this out, it couldn’t be THIS HARD.
Finally, my midwife suggested I soak my breasts in warm salt water and let them air dry to help with the cracking and soreness. Perfect. That sounded easy. I waited until the baby was asleep and pulled out two bread/loaf pans and filled them with warm salt water. I set the pans on the kitchen table side by side and stripped down to the waist.
So there I am bent over the kitchen table, my breasts in bread pans, when my husband walks in early from work. He just stood there – staring. There really isn’t a graceful way to recover from that position, and I’m told there isn’t a graceful response to finding someone in that position. After all the humiliating experiences I’d had over the previous few weeks surrounding giving birth, this was a tipping point.
Finally he found his voice and asked, “What are you doing?” Very subtle.
Refusing to give in to the tears, resisting the urge to scream and yell at him, I stared back. After all, what was he doing home from work so early? Why hadn’t he called first? Couldn’t he clearly see what I was doing? Why couldn’t he just stop staring!
I confessed the strategy suggested by the midwife, my voice cracking with shame. I was a failure as a mom, there was now photographable evidence.
My husband set his lunch bag on the table. “Why don’t you give her a bottle? Wouldn’t it be easier?”
And with that rousing ditty of support, I stood up, dried off – and gave up breastfeeding. Of course, I later learned that going cold turkey isn’t a great idea and ended up with mastitis (a breast infection that put me on the sofa with a fever for over a week).
My mother’s comment, “I thought only cows got that.”
Yes – I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. But, my fussy baby happily took a bottle, and the baby who cried all the time started sleeping through the night, she smiled and played a lot more, and this grumpy mommy learned to face the naked truth – the price of my own pride.
When I had my second baby, I swallowed my pride and asked one of those experienced moms to help me, and I successfully nursed baby #2 and later baby #3. It was very traumatic and humiliating.
Do you find it hard to ask for help? Ever learned a lesson the hard way?
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