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Get Over It! Guilt, Selfishness, and Other Self-Sabotages

By Jamie Anne Richardson

One of the most challenging words in the English language is selfish. It has such a negative connotation that some women, especially moms, put everyone and everything above themselves in an effort to be selfless. We deprive ourselves of sleep, relaxation, and things we enjoy to help everyone else; and when we do put ourselves first, even for a moment, we feel guilty.

That's the way it was for me with choosing to use baby formula rather than breastfeeding. It was a personal battle between guilt, my idea of what a good mom looked like, and my own fear of being selfish.

When my first child was born with acid reflux and without the sucking reflex, the NICU tossed a bottle in her mouth and I felt like a failure. In fact, I tortured myself for three months by pumping every bottle. My around-the-clock schedule became 20 minutes of pumping on each breast, feeding her through her screaming pain for 45 minutes, cleaning up the acid reflux aftermath, taking a 45-minute break, and repeating steps one through four. Despite the effort, she was labeled "Failure to Thrive." She simply wasn't getting enough nutrients and her weight was steadily decreasing. That's when her pediatrician suggested that I abandon my idea of ideal mothering and do what the situation called for as he handed me a sample of baby formula.

My daughter loved it, which led to mixed feelings for me. I was finally having success in feeding my little blessing, which made me feel good, but it wasn't the breast milk I anticipated, which made me feel like I was doing something wrong. She was still unable to suck the bottle, but with proper feeding techniques she soon started gaining weight and reaching milestones. With each gained ounce around her midsection came another ounce of peace for me. Before long I realized that the infant formula was a lot easier than pumping, and then the feeling of failure transformed into guilt.

At first, I found myself buying the expensive brand name formulas to help prevent further guilt because I believed they were of better quality. Thankfully, I quickly realized that store brand formulas must meet the same strict FDA guidelines and regulations as name brand formulas. By making the switch to a store brand formula like Parent's Choice Infant Formula, my daughter was provided with the nutritional needs she needed at half the cost of name brand formulas.

Eighteen months after the birth of my daughter, my second child was born and the idea of breastfeeding was simply overwhelming. How could I possibly keep a toddler out of trouble if I had my breast in the mouth of a newborn? The guilt of taking the "easy route" was still there, but I still elected to formula feed beginning at four weeks.

Two years later, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with my third and final child. With three kids under four, I needed all the help I could get, but that picture of the "perfect mom" was still in my head.

When I told my husband that I had this strange guilt about choosing to not nurse at all, and that I feared being selfish for choosing formula, he offered another way to look at it.

"If you try to breastfeed, I can't help you," he said. "You'll be exhausted from midnight feedings, you won't be able to have coffee, and you'll be chasing two toddlers around a house while trying to keep yourself covered up. By the time I get home you'll be worn out and that'll wear me out. There's not a whole lot I can do about your days, but I can help out at night. You just have to let me. A bottle gives me the ability to help you."

Picturing myself wiping my preschooler's bottom and keeping my toddler from coloring on the walls (again) while I walked around like a sleep-deprived zombie with boobs hanging out made me laugh. But he was right.

A bottle offered what the breast couldn't: the mobility to parent three kids at once. I didn't have to worry about where I'd be when he needed to eat; I simply went to the park with formula in-hand. I could invite people to my home without worrying about whether I'd offend them at mealtime. I could also have the coffee that, at that point in my life, was the fuel that got me through the day. I could even have a glass of wine with my husband at night without the guilt.

My kids are now 6, 8, and 10. Looking back I'm glad that, for once in my life, I chose to set the guilt aside and do what was best for me. Just like the flight attendants on the airplane tell us to put the oxygen mask on our own faces before helping our kids, sometimes we have to take care of ourselves in order to be emotionally and mentally available to our needy little offspring. Store Brand Formula was that oxygen mask when I needed it most. It made me a better mom. And I don't regret that for a second.

About the Author

Jamie Anne Richardson is an author and mother of three living in a Dallas suburb. She is a blogger for Huffington Post and a Distinguished Voices columnist for Dallas Morning News.

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