When he was born, he was jaundiced. He was taken from me and put under the lights to help him process the excess billirubin. I was only allowed to see him every four hours to nurse him for twenty minutes. They told me he needed formula when I was done. I knew then that it didn't feel right. I knew then that this is not what I'd learned about breastmilk and treating jaundice. But I was scared, and they told me they knew what was right for my child. They didn't know, but I defaulted to them. We made it out okay resuming exclusive breastfeeding once he was discharged, and I learned about myself and what my child needed in the process.
It started in the hospital, but it continued when we got home. It continued months and months after that. He would scream. He would scream and scream and scream. He rarely slept and never slept without someone holding him, rocking him, or snuggling him. I was told that he'd get over it. I was told he needed to learn to self soothe. I was told he needed cereal in a bottle, lots of formula, and a host of other ridiculous things. I knew that he needed me. I knew it was my job to do whatever in my power to help him. I knew he didn't want to scream and that he had no idea what manipulation was let alone how to do it. I learned to listen to my gut and respond to the needs of my child.
When he still wasn't sleeping by 6 months or a year, the advice continued to pour in. Sometimes it was suggestions or a sharing of experience which for the most part I welcomed. Sometimes it was just plain judgment. If you would just do xyz, he'd be fine.... You created this problem.... What's wrong with your kid, my kid doesn't do that. I knew I had to listen to his needs, but it was hard. It was hard when I hadn't slept for months upon months. It was hard when everyone else seemed to have things so much easier. It was hard when it meant my needs and desires were put aside. I remember being away for a weekend with two other moms and their kids. When it came time for bed, I dutifully put my son in the stroller and walked him around the hotel parking lot for at least an hour, sometimes longer while they quietly put their children down to sleep and enjoyed chatting together. I remember the tears streaming down my face as I walked lap after lap around that hotel imagining the things these women, my friends, must have thought of me and my kid. I remember the tears just kept coming because I wondered if all the things they might be thinking were true.
Listening to and meeting his needs in all of these ways was never easy. Often, it made our lives a lot harder. Less sleep, declined social obligations, and sincerely thinking my nipples might fall off if I nursed him one more time. But I did it, we did it, because we knew it was right for him. Over the years it got easier. Maybe not as easy as everyone else seemed to have it with certainly less sleep than everyone else was getting, but easier nonetheless. And with that, dealing with the judging, both perceived and real, got easier. We'd found our groove.
Suddenly, it's not easier anymore. Suddenly, it's a lot harder. I find myself crying in the car wondering whether to decline a social obligation or to possibly push my son beyond his limits. I know my friends don't understand why it's even a decision, but they also won't understand when he loses control. I cringe as I actively problem solve with him knowing that the people around me think I'm a push over or that he just needs consequences and punishments. I get impatient and angry when every other adult can sit and enjoy dinner but I have to put my needs or desires aside to fully engage in meeting his overwhelming needs because they can't wait. And I'm reluctant to share our struggles knowing that I'll wonder, no matter how outwardly supportive someone may be, what they actually think, how thankful they are that their kid is not screwed up like mine, and what part of me or my parenting they are secretly deciding caused this all.
And it means learning to stop judging myself so that I can accept the love and support coming from those around me who may not really understand it but are there to listen and love. Finally, it means forcing myself to stop wondering who is judging me and to continue trusting my instincts along with what he and I have learned about each other in the past four years. Together, we're learning.
Edited to add: Let me be clear that I am surrounded by some amazing people who support me and my decisions. This is not knocking them in the least. Sometimes the judgment I feel is completely in my head. Sometimes it's just me judging myself. Sometimes it's hard to be vulnerable and let others support you. But I am so incredibly thankful for the people who reach out, who lend their support, and who simply listen.