Most parents have heard the question: What is the biggest sacrifice you make when you have a baby? Is it sleep? Your body? Your sex life? Your social life?
If you ask me, the biggest sacrifice in becoming a mother is the loss of peace of mind.
Never again will I be without worry or responsibility. Never again will I have the ability to just feel like everything is okay, because in the drop of a hat, my most precious gift on Earth could be taken away from me. One mistake, one lapse in judgment. Gone.
But that fear that is inside me and lives inside you, that fear is your mama bear. She makes sure you always protect your cub. She is fierce, brave, and steadfast.
She protects you and she protects your baby.
But fear is a feeling, not a fact. It is a reminder to stay vigilant. It tells you to perk your ears and check for danger, then either move forward or tuck your cub under your arm and wait until the coast is clear.
But, every single day, mama bears must lean into fear and act anyway. To stay frozen with fear too long means certain death. To leave the cave anyway means survival is just on the other side of that fear.
Here is an example many breastfeeding mothers can relate to:
You had only been a breastfeeding mama for two days and your milk hadn’t come in yet. Your baby cried and cried and you felt like you had nothing to give her. You felt a fear that you had never felt before. You doubted yourself and your ability to feed your baby. You asked yourself what you were doing wrong and why you couldn’t feed your baby properly. You cried right along with your baby because you felt something was wrong with you and you wanted to just give your baby formula because then maybe you won’t ever have to feel this horrible fear again.
Mama bear rears back on her hind legs and growls. Protect your baby. She is hungry. Feed your baby. Get the formula.
This part of the story goes a lot of different ways for a lot of different people and of course there is no one correct answer for everyone. But if I were there with you at that moment, here is what I would say to you:
Stop, take a deep breath, and thank your mama bear. Tell her, “I know you are scared. I know we need to feed the baby. But we also need to breastfeed her. I know it is scary, but for a moment, let’s lean into that fear. Your biggest payoff is right past the panic of leaving your comfort zone. Your biggest breastfeeding successes are just on the other side of that fear.”
What are afraid of? Name it and face it head on. The fear of the fear is so much bigger than the fear itself.
But, I want to make the distinction between fear and paranoia.
Fear is a reasonable, healthy feeling.
Paranoia is an unreasonable, irrational feeling.
The paranoid mother inside your head is a crazy bitch who is making breastfeeding suck (for you).
There are two voices inside of everyone’s head. One is loud and one is just a whisper. Some people call these ego and intuition. Ego is loud, mean, and way too worried about your pride. She reminds you daily why you are not a good enough mother.
We will call her
Intuition is only a whisper. She is kind and loving and almost always right, but it’s really hard to hear her because Paranoid Mama talks so loudly and so incessantly.
Let’s call this quiet little voice
So, let’s go back to back to our prior example when you were full of fear that baby wasn’t getting enough to eat. Mama Bear put us on alert. That fear is intense. Now, how will you handle it? We don’t even have to ask Paranoid Mama, because that crazy bitch is already shouting at you.
“I told you that you couldn’t breastfeed! Your boobs have always been shaped weird! You suck at everything you try to do. You didn’t even birth your baby right. Now you can’t even breastfeed. What kind of mother are you? Just hand the baby to your husband and let him formula feed because clearly your ugly little boobs just aren’t cutting it.”
Damn, Paranoid Mama. You are really mean!
But, right when Paranoid Mama stopped to take a breath and eat too much ice cream to make herself feel better, little Brave Mama spoke up in her soft, loving whisper.
“Ahem. Excuse me. This has nothing to do with your breasts. You are perfectly built and your body is all your baby needs. You are a wonderful mother. Look at how many diapers she is wetting! Your milk isn’t even in yet. You learned all about this. Just trust what you know. Trust yourself. You can do this.”
Paranoid Mama was with you on that day when you chose to not give your baby formula and she is with you today.
You’re not alone. Here’s what other mamas have said about their Paranoid Mama.
“I suffer from low supply so that bitch inside my head tells me several times a day that I could be doing more to make more milk (pump more times, take more herbs, etc.) and I have to stop and tell myself I am doing my best for my family. If I pump more I lose that time I could have spent with my toddler or husband.”
“Mine obsesses over my baby’s sleep habits (or lack thereof) and tells me that I’m setting her up for bad sleep in the future because I’m not completely consistent in putting her to bed at the same time each night or with the same routine each time. She makes me think I will have a teenager who sleeps in bed with us each night, even though I really don’t believe that will happen. (Right?)”
“She always makes me feel guilty if I have to put her in a bouncer seat or swing so I can run and do something productive for a minute. She tells me every minute she’s awake I better be doing something to help her development.”
“When my daughter is having a bad day or is overly cranky/ fussy, that is when I most feel like a terrible mom, and on the days where she is happy, then I feel like a great one. I struggle most with the fact that regardless of what kind of day my daughter is having I am the same mom and that I am doing the best I can each day, and that should be enough. Granted, I don’t always feel that way, but I try to tell that to myself!”
“This Bitch…Super control freak–must do everything right and perfect. We must know the answer to everything. DON’T SHOW WEAKNESS! She sits on my shoulder and makes me feel guilty when I’m tired and don’t want to get up to nurse at 2:00 am… She is judgy and pushy and makes me think I’m doing a bad job at everything… The house needs to be cleaned; the dishes are piling up; the laundry is still in the washer; pay attention to your husband; SHAVE YOUR LEGS, WOMAN; oh, and be a perfect Mom–no complaints, no crying. Just do it.”
So, how can you tell if Paranoid Mama has anything worthwhile to say? How can you honor the fact that she is still a part of you and deserves love?
When you hear her screaming, breathe. BREATHE. SHHHHHHHUSHH her and say aloud or to yourself,
“Crazy psychotic mean-ass bitch, you are my most paranoid version of myself. But, I will hear what you have to say to me and ask: IS THIS RATIONAL? IS THIS TRUE? IS THIS KIND?”
Perhaps there is a little scrap of rational thought in there, perhaps not. But hear her out. Then, ask her to shut her face for five seconds and let someone else be heard. And then soak up all the love Brave Mama has to give you. You deserve it.
And when you listen to Brave Mama instead of Paranoid Mama, breastfeeding may not suck quite as much.
Illustrations compliments of my little Lucy 🙂