Rav’s Repro: Failure To Thrive 

I know in my heart that these feelings of failure will pass. I know that I can't expect myself to be a robot and be perfect at handling everything, all at once, all the time.

Rav’s Repro is a column in which Erin explores all topics related to reproduction and reproductive rights. 


If you’ve been reading this column, you know that it took a lot to get here. By here, I mean with a newborn in my arms. In the two years it took for baby boy to arrive — with every miscarriage, with every obstacle — people around me would say, “You’re handling it so well. I can’t believe what you’ve been through. You are so strong.” 

Franklin arrived early. He was in the NICU for four weeks. During those four weeks, I continued working, went to the hospital every day for hours, pumped breast-milk every two hours at home. Everyone said, “You’re handling it so well. I can’t believe what you’ve been through. You are so strong.” 

Finally, he did come home. And we breathed a sigh of relief. And then five days later, a five-alarm fire displaced us from our building. We left the apartment with the clothes on our back (I did grab my laptop — because never not working). I didn’t even have time to take my wedding ring. My older son, Atticus, was leaving for an out of state dance intensive two days later and we had none of his stuff. It was chaos with a newborn. But we were able to go back and grab some things. Atticus got on a plane. We were able to stay with my in-laws. We have temporary housing that insurance is paying for (we won't be able to return to our apartment for at least a year). And again, everyone has been saying, “I can’t believe you’re going through this with a newborn. You are so strong. You’re handling it so well.”

Spoiler alert: I’m not handling it so well. 

Or, I am not handling it well enough to meet the high expectations I have for myself. I have been through some stuff in life, the kind of stuff that makes people say the things they’ve been saying. But, I haven’t been feeling so strong. 

Shortly after the fire, I found blood in Franklin’s diaper. He has an intolerance to milk protein. And babies who have an intolerance to milk protein often cannot tolerate beef or soy. My breastmilk was making him sick. My cheese-laden breastmilk produced blood in his diaper. I eliminated dairy, soy protein, and beef from my diet. 

I don’t feel strong. Or maybe I don’t want to be strong. Maybe I’m tired of being strong. Maybe I’m tired of being the one who handles it all so well, all the time.

Did you know that dairy and soy are in EVERYTHING? I was sleeping poorly, dehydrated (because I forgot to drink water), and starving all the time. My milk supply felt like it was going down. Everyone said, “Make sure you’re drinking enough water. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Make sure to eat.” I did none of those things. I felt it was surely my fault that my milk supply couldn’t keep up with his hunger, his need. 

We went back to the doctor. Franklin had lost weight. I needed to supplement him with formula — a formula made to be tolerated by babies with the food sensitivities he has. I heard the doctor tell me he’d outgrow it; most babies do by the time they turn one. I also heard his diagnosis.

Failure to thrive

It’s an awful term. All I heard was failure. In my mind, over and over: you’ve failed him, you’ve failed him. 

We are now in our new (temporary) apartment. He has been doing better. But, he also has reflux. And now, I am adding rice cereal to bottles of breastmilk and bottles of formula. I thought it would be easier this time. I’ve done this before. I breastfed his brother for two years and nine months. It was easy. It was effortless. He thrived. I made so much milk. When Franklin was in the NICU, I made so much milk, too. But then life happened. 

I know fed is best, but I am judging myself. I am judging myself for failing to sustain him, for failing to give him what he needs to thrive. 

And I know it’s irrational. I know it’s not my fault (but I don’t believe it’s not my fault). 

 

Related: Rav’s Repro: The Birth Of Our Rainbow Baby 

 

Because it’s not just the baby who’s been failing to thrive. I feel like I’m juggling porcelain plates — each one a compartment, a role: Mother to Franklin, Managing Editor of Ravishly, wife, mother to Atticus, writer, cook, water drinker, sleeper, eater of food, housekeeper, friend, advice giver. And I’m failing at all of them. Or it feels that way. And it feeling that way, in those moments, makes it painful, even if it’s not true. 

I don’t feel strong. Or maybe I don’t want to be strong. Maybe I’m tired of being strong. Maybe I’m tired of being the one who handles it all so well, all the time. 

Or maybe the expectations I put on myself are unrealistic, or cruel — or both. 

For this week’s column, I was going to write about something else, but I felt like I needed to say this: I feel like I am failing

And I think I’m not alone. I believe there are many new mothers (or mothers like me who’ve done this before) who feel like they’re sometimes failing, too. 

As someone who gives advice on the regular to people with a whole host of problems, I know what I would say to someone who came to me feeling like this. I would say, “It’s okay that you’re feeling this way. Feelings aren't facts. That you feel like a failure doesn’t mean you are a failure. Failure is not defined by our mistakes, but by our ability to stand up and try again, try something different. You’re doing so well. And there’s no such thing as perfection. And it’s okay if things aren't the way you thought they would be because that's life. And it’s okay to cry and to ask for help and to say, ‘I'm not doing so well.’ And it’s okay to need things — time, space, ten minutes to cry in the bathroom. It’s all okay.” 

I know in my heart that these feelings of failure will pass. I know that I can't expect myself to be a robot and be perfect at handling everything, all at once, all the time. I know Franklin is happy and healthy and it’s okay that he’s tiny. He’s growing. 

He’s not failing to thrive. And neither am I. If I say it enough, I'll believe it, too. 


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