>>I was wondering how this nursing around the clock is affecting your other children, especially the younger ones? I am not saying to ditch the nursing and switch to the bottle, but I wonder about the cumulative effect on the family.<<
This is a very reasonable question!
When the baby was born, I stayed with him in the hospital for the first four days. A friend called to let me to know that the hospital had apartments that could be rented for a nominal sum so that I could stay with the baby over Shabbos after I was discharged, and I told her that I planned to go home. She wanted to know what would happen with giving him my milk, since I was pumping and he was getting it through a feeding tube, but I couldn’t get ahead enough to leave him with enough until I would be able to come back on Sunday morning. I told her that the staff would give him formula when the milk I left him ran out, and though it wasn’t ideal, my kids at home needed me, too. She answered, “Oh”, and I thought that she was keeping her disapproval of my choice to herself, that I wasn’t devoted enough to my newborn baby.
The next day I got an email from her. She wrote how much she admired me for being willing to give the baby formula even though it clearly wasn’t my preference in order to be there with my other children. She shared her regret that when she had a very medically needy child several years before, she was so focused on being there for him that she wasn’t able to give her other little children what they needed – her presence.
A week or so later, another friend called. About a year ago, she had a baby who was born with serious health issues; we had talked about this when we last chatted around the time we made a bar mitzva, and she wanted to let me know that an article about her and her baby had just been published in Binah a few days before to flesh out our conversation. I filled her in on our news (she hadn’t yet heard we’d had a baby), and we got to discussing exactly this point, of how to find balance between the very real needs of a sick infant and all the children at home. She told me that looking back, she regrets one particular choice because it took too much time that could have been spent with her children at home.
But the fact is, hindsight is always 20/20. These women are both wonderful mothers who are very devoted to their families, and although they may be hard on themselves for what they could have done differently, I’m positive they made the best choice they could at the time. I’m making what I think are the right choices based on what I can see in front of me right now. I feel very strongly that nursing this baby is a priority right now, for the reasons I shared in my recent post. It’s true that I’m more limited in time and energy than I would otherwise be. But I’m trying to be available for the other kids, too. When I’m nursing or pumping, it’s not like I fell off the face of the planet – I’m still at home, even if I’m spending much more time in my bedroom than the living room. The door is open and the kids come in and out all the time, to talk or hold the baby or to read with me. (I can’t read to the littles when I’m nursing, but I do read to them when I’m pumping.) An advantage of giving Yirmiyahu a bottle is that feeding him isn’t limited to just me. The kids take turns giving him bottles, and all them get to do this – including our three year old. They all vie for the chance to hold him, and I make sure that they all get to do that – I think it’s important that they feel this is ‘our baby’, not “my baby’. So I involve them as much as they want to be involved with his care.
Also, the littles get a lot of attention from their older siblings, especially now with it being summer vacation. Though I’d like to be able to to more with them, they do have brothers and sisters who spend time with them. Sometimes it’s something special, like ds19 taking ds6 for a two hour bike ride. Sometimes it’s something ordinary, like dd11 or ds10 taking them to the park a couple of buildings away. Whatever it is, they aren’t being neglected or ignored.
Balancing the needs of a new baby with other children is a challenge that most mothers face in the early postpartum period, even if there aren’t medical complications. Actually, this isn’t limited to postpartum. This is an ongoing parenting issue, of balancing the needs of all of your children, and sometimes one child will really need you more than the others. Being fair doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing, but giving each child what he needs. Sometimes you do have to make compromises in order to help the one who needs it most. But the reality is that a mother’s physical and emotional energies are limited; we simply can’t be everything to everyone all of the time, and we shouldn’t even have that expectation. We have to be careful not to beat ourselves up for what we can’t do. Hashem gave us these children and Hashem gives us the challenges that we need to grow, and part of that is learning to accept our limitations and love ourselves the same way we love our children with their imperfections. In any given situation, we can only do our best, and ask Hashem to give us the wisdom to make good choices and the strength to follow through.