Last weekend we went to a reunion of our childbirth class. There were eight couples there, and we all told the stories of our babies’ births.
About halfway through, we got to a couple who had needed to have a caesarean birth. The mother was in tears — she was a doula and a childbirth advocate, and she had really, really wanted to experience natural birth firsthand, and listening to the other birth stories had been very difficult. In her words: “I never even got to feel a contraction”. Despite that couple’s best efforts, their medical situation ruled out vaginal birth.
I think one of the important lessons of parenting, which this woman had to learn the hard way (and before her child was even born), is that there’s only so much we can do for our children. We need to accept that we are physically incapable of providing the absolute best, 100% of the time. We’ll get pretty close, but we’re not perfect people and we’re certainly not perfect parents. Our skills are finite. Sometimes, we just need to step back and let things happen outside of our control.
I experienced this a few months ago with Ruby. Late one day, abdominal cramps brought on her worst crying spell ever. She screamed for about an hour. I held her and bounced her and changed her and did everything in my power to soothe her, but nothing would work. In the end, she had calmed down enough to sniffle, sob, and quietly moan while I held her. I felt powerless — especially at the end, when she was quieter, when I could see the difficult journey she’d just gone through. I came to realize that despite everything we would like to do for her, Ruby will have to take the lead in battling her own demons.
That brings us to last night, and my final example of the physical limitations of parenting. Kate’s milk supply has been slowly decreasing, and we’ve been using milk from our freezer cache to make up the difference. We’ve tried many things to boost Kate’s production. As the freezer supply has dwindled, we’ve become increasingly aware that supplementing with formula might be the only answer.
We’re now down to about a half-dozen meals in the freezer, and we wanted to try formula before it became an emergency, so last night Kate gave Ruby her first formula bottle. (Ruby will continue to get the vast majority of her food from Kate; we’re only short about two bottles per week.)
Giving Ruby that bottle of formula made Kate very sad. She wants to provide Ruby with the superior nutrition of breastmilk. She has struggled through incredible pain, anxiety, and frustration to provide her milk for Ruby. In the end, though, she had to accept that there was nothing else she could physically do. It would have been in Ruby’s best interests to drink nothing but breast milk for as long as possible, but her caloric needs won out over our ideals. We just need to accept our physical limitations and move on.
(For what it’s worth, Ruby sucked down the formula with her usual gusto and didn’t seem to notice the difference.)