Those of us raised in a southern Baptist community are sure to think the even the slightest thought of “the F word” to be trashy and blasphemous. However, “the F word” I am talking about is not THAT F word (although it is sometimes a daily addition to my vocabulary..) the word I am talking about is FAILURE.
The mere mention of the word makes my stomach knot up. I had never failed at ANYTHING (yes, I was an overachiever) but I also never took on a project/activitity/hobby etc. without the knowledge that I was going to be great at it. Well, maybe “great” wouldn’t be the best term for what actually happened sometimes, although I was super proud of my horribly knitted pot holder.. but I had never come close to actually failing at something. I was even able to pull off a perfect cheddar soufflé & a decently painted delicate gumpaste butterfly in culinary school. In case you’re wondering, BOTH of those are great feats and not easily accomplished when you have the patience of a todd.. oh look, something shiny! Well dear friends, I’m here to tell you that karma IS A F*CKING BITCH! if you even believe in that sort of thing. I don’t know that what happened would actually be considered karma, but it’s at least a close relative, a 2nd cousin possibly. Anywho.. once I got pregnant (very quickly I might add, just like I told my husband would happen.. another story for another post) – I jumped into “conquer the parenting/motherhood thing” and I just knew motherhood was going to be a breeze & I would be great at it. What I didn’t realize at the time was that little plus sign was really just a big fat middle finger. That little plus sign (or smiley face or the word “pregnant” depending on your brand of test) unbeknownst to me, was the end of my life feeling like an educated, well established, can conquer the world woman and the beginning of learning how to cope with feeling like a complete and total failure.
ok, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic, or maybe not.. it really depends on the day & how much coffee and/or wine I have had. In all seriousness, this parenting/motherhood thing is hard.. REALLY MFN HARD. That is before you add in the fun of a “failure to thrive” diagnosis followed by doctors that look at you like you have two heads when you try time and time again to tell them that something is wrong with your child and the inevitable “she’ll grow out of it, you’re being too overprotective, nothing is actually wrong” discussion. That is how it begins, at least for me. Just like that, the little seed of doubt in my maternal instincts was planted in my mind & spread like wildfire in a rain starved forest. It started small.. I was determined to breast feed and we did ok for a few days, and then.. we didn’t. No matter what I did or tried or to whom I spoke to (which was everyone from 3 lactation specialists to my mom and friends with kids) she was just not getting it, I was not getting it. This was my first taste of perceived failure in my life and IT SUCKED, BAD. To me, this was the most important thing in my life and my tiny humans life up until this point and I simply couldn’t get it right. I had waited my entire adult life for these moments and instead of feelings of joy and happiness I was met with frustration and stress and tears. And EVERYONE had an opinion, try this.. do that.. hold her this way.. use this ointment.. pump more.. pump less.. you’re just not trying hard enough.. you’re trying too hard.. At one point I called our pug an asshole because he was staring at me with the “you’re such a disappointment” face that only squishy pug faces can make. To say that I didn’t take any of this well would be a disgraceful understatement. So, I did what any sane and rational mother/parent would do when something isn’t right .. I googled that shit. Out of the 100’s of possibilities as to why I was a failure at natural feeding, there were a few that actually made sense & I thought medically pertained to both myself and my tiny human. Back to the Dr. we went. We were promptly sent home with formula samples, medication for thrush both she and I had, an appointment for me to my obgyn to see about the double mastitis I had, and yet another “discussion” of how these things happen and it’s no big deal and to stop worrying etc. My tiny human was roughly 6 weeks old when failure punched me in the face (or boobs.. because flippin’ A did they hurt!) in the form of having to give up natural feeding for bottle feeding. I bawled like a baby, no pun intended. **
I have since learned, that while I felt like a complete and total failure, I wasn’t and she wasn’t. Let me repeat that.. I WASN’T A FAILURE AND NEITHER WAS MY CHILD for not being able to “accomplish” something that I was sure I would simply master with ease. As I researched .. meaning I googled every “infant feeding complication” website I could possibly find, I learned that 1 out of every 5 mothers that choose to breast feed switch to bottle feeding within a month due to complications. I made it 6 weeks.. so at least there was that!
My BFF at the time, we will call her LaLa, gave me the best advice I could’ve ever been given in that season of my life. It was on one of the 100’s of nights I called her bawling and blubbering incoherently (aka “ugly crying mom talk”) about being this incredible failure at motherhood because I was supposed to natural feed until at least tiny human’s first birthday and that she was going to get all kinds of diseases and our bond would be broken because she had to take a bottle etc.. once I calmed down enough to be able to hear her over my own sobs, she told me (yelled at me actually..) “ok look, you know things have always come super easy for you and that you go into everything with incredibly high standards and expectations because of that. You did not fail at feeding your kid, you simply didn’t meet the expectations YOU setup for yourself and for her. so calm the hell down, take a breath, and set a new goal with lower expectations. This isn’t like sports or school or cooking.. you literally have no experience or anything to go off of besides what other people tell you and what you read in books and lets face it.. other people suck and books are written by other people therefore they suck too. So suck it up buttercup, you can do this.” Naturally I argued with her because I didn’t want to hear rational & logical thoughts.. I wanted someone to wallow with me in my “I’m a failure at life” pity party.. and she did what any great BFF would do, she hung up on me.
I am not and was not a failure. I was not a failure at natural feeding (6 weeks remember!) I had simply not measured up to the high expectations I had set for myself and my tiny human. Failure defined is the lack of success. Success defined is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. I was successful, just not in the way I EXPECTED. If my aim or purpose had been simply to try natural feeding before bottle feeding, then I was a raging success, but because I had put upon myself (and tiny human) this incredible expectation of being a natural talent and perfectly skilled feeder until her first birthday, I had set us both up for failure.
I didn’t know it then, but that time in my life.. the hardest and most frustrating time in my life up until that point, was a blessing in disguise. It laid the mental and emotional ground work I needed and absolutely had to have to be a the mother of a special needs child. Now, some 5ish years later, It’s easy to accept that I fail everyday, but SHE succeeds everyday. She has no expectations of herself to live up to, and who am I to limit her based on society’s and my own expectations of who she is and what she “should be doing” at age 5. Little human can’t dress herself yet (5 year old’s should be able to dress and undress themselves without help.. fail), but she can put her shirt over her head (success & progress). Little human can’t put on her shoes by herself (3 year old benchmark.. fail), but she can pick out matching shoes and bring them to me (success & progress). Little human can’t have a conversation with me (conversation should begin by age 2.5-3.. fail), but she does say “I wuuuvvss you” every night before she falls asleep (a year ago she couldn’t put 2 words together much less tell me she loves me- MAJOR success & progress along with an unforgettable moment of sheer joy the first time she said it) .. If her successes aren’t meeting with my expectations, I change them to meet her wherever she is. If she can’t tolerate eating an entire bowl of mac & cheese with her spoon, I’ll tell her what a great job she did eating 3 bites and then hope for 4 tomorrow. If she picks out the red triangle when I asked her to show me the blue triangle, I tell her it was amazing that she picked out the triangle shape. If she won’t (or can’t) sing the ABC’s with me but asks for the hot potato song then I sing the most enthusiastic rendition of hot potato you’ve ever heard! Are there days when it feels like we get absolutely nothing accomplished? Yes. Are there days & weeks when it feels like I’m not teaching her enough or pushing enough or that someone else would be much more capable than me at teaching & therapy? Most definitely. Are there moments & days that I STILL feel like I am a failure? Yep.. But then she eats 4 bites off her spoon and picks out the purple circle I asked for and says “I wuuuvvss you mama” .. success and progress of any kind can never be failure. Mine or hers.
Tailor your expectations. Be gentle on yourself and on your child. For many of us, this is our first experience with being a parent, especially a special needs parent, and for children it’s literally their first experience at being alive.. You’re both just trying to figure out how to make it all work one wobbly step at a time. You are alive, you grew a tiny human, you are working and trying and striving every day to make your child as happy and successful as possible even if your “successful day” is simply getting out of bed. Keep working, keep striving, keep trying every day knowing that even though it may feel like it sometimes you ARE NOT a failure.
So, let’s raise our collective glasses of coffee ::cough wine cough:: and shout a big “FUCK YOU” to the F word.
**once we found a pediatrician that finally took us seriously, tiny human saw several specialists and we learned there were several medical/physical reasons for her not being able to feed properly. Many that should have been caught MUCH earlier if other doctors would’ve spent more time examining her and less time lecturing me on “not being worried.”
Failure is success in progress-