Monday, December 19, 2011

On feelings of inadequacy

In the short time I've been a parent (less than two months), I have never been made to feel so inadequate in so many ways that are completely outside my control. I had the easiest pregnancy and a fairly easy (if long) delivery, but since then things have not been so simple. Walt's been colicky and breastfeeding has been difficult. Neither of these are terrible problems, but listening to your baby scream and being unable to do anything about it is equal parts frustrating and heartbreaking. I can't help but think, "Am I doing something wrong? Is he in pain, should I be rushing him to the doctor?" I check his diaper every ten minutes just for the momentary relief of identifying a problem I can actually solve. After a certain point, I can't tell if he's hungry or not, but it's getting closer to a time when he should be, so I try to feed him. Sometimes this works and for 30-40 minutes he's quiet and content. Sometimes it doesn't work and it makes him even more furious. Imagine having a house guest who never tells you what he needs, but if you offer the wrong thing, blows an airhorn for anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 hours.

Today we had a weight check appointment with Walt's doctor. Breastfeeding hasn't been easy - the lactation consultant said we incompatible anatomy, so I have to use a nipple shield every time he nurses and he only latches if I'm sitting up, with a nursing pillow - and Walt lost a lot of weight in his first week. He's healthy and he's been gaining weight since then, but today we learned he's not gaining quite enough. I want to say, "but I'm doing everything I can!" They know that, and there's no judgement when the doctor suggests that maybe we want to supplement with a little formula at each feeding, just until his weight catches up with his height. He's right on the border - they'd like to see him gaining 6 oz a week, but he's only gaining 4 so far. Part of me is relieved; maybe supplemental formula will help with the colic. But part of me feels sad that things aren't easier, for both of us. I worry that a lot of the times he's been crying, he's been hungry. Should I have known that? Should I have given in and given him a little formula before now? It's silly to expect myself to know any of this; I've never had a baby before. Talking to Mom on the phone this evening, she said, "This your first lesson in 'you can't win.'" It's true: it gets me coming and going. Exclusive breastfeeding: he's not gaining enough weight. Supplemental formula: I'm failing to provide for him the way I feel I should be able to.

What makes it possible to get through all these feelings of inadequacy is my support system. Pete is there to sooth a colicky baby so I can sleep for a couple hours; I can call various female family members, but especially Mom, with questions; friends and family have spent hours holding Walt so I can shower or sleep or eat. I don't know how single parents do it. Newborns are a full time job, and for the first six weeks, they're really a full time job for two people. I keep reminding myself that the goal is a happy, healthy baby. However we get there, we're doing it right. But that doesn't keep me from doubting myself a hundred times a day, in a hundred little ways.

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