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Trusting My Mothering Instincts

By Gretchen Otto Pimentel
Herndon VA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 2, March-April 2005, pp. 54-56

I wish I could tell you that my acceptance of breastfeeding and natural mothering was smooth sailing, but alas, I am a slow learner. When I signed up for a breastfeeding course that my former obstetrics group offered, I received a lot of advice while there, including:

"Give yourself a break and put your baby in the hospital nursery and get as much sleep as you can in the first two days postpartum."

"Place a comfortable chair in a corner of your bedroom and turn on the TV for those night nursings to relieve boredom."

"It won't hurt a baby to let him or her occasionally cry it out."

Unfortunately, I did not do any reading on motherhood until my precious first baby was six months old. I didn't know any better and I took some of this unfortunate advice.

I vividly recall those night feedings when the tears were rolling down my cheeks from exhaustion. I tried to cry quietly so that my husband would not wake up. I concentrated on looking at the clock, getting more agitated and nervous as the wee morning hours ticked away from me…and still no sleep. I walked around in a state of sleep deprivation for too long. I forgot things. I was irritable. The house became a mess and I rarely cooked dinner anymore. I vented my frustrations frequently and loudly to my husband, which caused problems between us. I began to resent staying at home because I thought this was how it was always going to be. After all, work, even in my job as a criminal lawyer, was much easier than this! At times, I even wondered if I had made a mistake in becoming a mother.

I bought into the unfortunate idea that I just had to tough it out and be miserable for those first six weeks. I also listened to my mother-in-law, who blamed my exhaustion on picking up the baby too much. Sadly, my poor son, Thomas, bore the brunt of my inexperience. I was not able to just enjoy and cuddle with him.

Breastfeeding was difficult at first. Perhaps this was because I kept trying to send him to the nursery in the hospital, where later the nurses said that they gave him formula because they felt sorry for him when he cried!

Nights were terrible. When my son was actually sleeping and I finally had a chance to rest myself, I often stared at the clock again with an impending sense of dread. When was he going to get up again next time? Would I have half an hour or 10 minutes to sleep? I prayed for him to sleep though the night. One night, at my wit's end, I let him cry himself to sleep in his crib in another room. I stuffed my head under my pillows and I cried, too. I was thwarting my instincts with all this bizarre advice.

When my son was six weeks old, I attended my first La Leche League meeting in my complete state of disarray. I was amazed by what I saw. In a world where people imply that natural mothering is too much work, these brave women were following their instincts and showed me that just the opposite is true. On that day, so many things became much clearer to me.

My life literally changed in less than a month. I brought my baby into bed with me. I nursed him lying down, and blissfully drifted off to sleep with him near me, hearing his every breath. Words can't do justice to the inner peace I experienced at this happy turn of events. I was no longer sleep deprived, and I began to function as nature intended. It was as though I was lifted out of a fog.

I have a second child, now. I actually walked around like a normal human being for the first six weeks of his life. That first experience was so different for me. I wish for some of that time back with my first son. I nursed my new baby lying down from the start and we "roomed in" at the hospital.

After we got settled at home, my husband sometimes asked how nursing through the night went and how often our son woke up to eat. Since I had stopped watching the clock, I seriously did not know! Nighttime nursing was always so brief, relaxed, and natural. It rarely registered as an interruption. The nighttime feedings clearly did not disrupt my sleeping husband, either.

We are now expecting our third child and are armed with a wealth of knowledge that would have taken years to amass on our own. Our new baby, due very soon, will reap the amazing benefits that breastfeeding and natural mothering have to offer.

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