One day, when I was 8 years old, I walked up to my mother to tell her that I don’t need any more help from my afterschool tutor. You would think that at this young age, I wouldn’t be trusted to do on my own something as important as studying. However, I don’t recall any hesitation on my mother’s part. In no time, she told my tutor of my request and I was left to do my own homework and ambitious school projects.
From then on, I seldom asked for help and grew to become an overachiever.
In high school, I worked hard to be included in the honor roles. I tallied up my class recitations and aimed to ace all my exams. If there was a school show, I’m the one who directed it. When a class leader was needed, I became the president.
I followed the same game plan in college. I eventually moved abroad to the United Kingdom to do my masters and doctoral studies.
I’ve always believed that if I’m going to pursue something, I might as well aim high. Whether in my work or in my personal life, I tried to achieve perfection.
When I was 35 years old, I found out that I was finally expecting my first child. Like an athlete qualifying for the Olympics, I set out to meticulously prepare for this next stage of my life. I ate the right foods. I took all the required childbirth and newborn classes. I got all geared up with everything I thought we would need. My apartment was spick and span before I even got into the final month of my pregnancy.
My game plan hasn’t changed and before giving birth, I truly felt that I was ready to be a mother. Or at least I thought so.
My beautiful son arrived on Halloween night. Everything about him was a surprise. He has dark big eyes and a not so tiny nose. He was quiet and relaxed for a baby. But despite the joy brought by finally meeting him, being a new mother made me feel alone, scared and ashamed.
From the moment we brought our baby back home, I felt an overwhelming feeling of fear. Without the guidance of the doctors and nurses at the hospital and without family living nearby, I felt lost. I was hyper aware at all times, not wanting to miss any signs of problems. Even during sleep, I would wake up every so often to check if my son was breathing.
But I truly became helpless when I continued to struggle with breastfeeding. My first attempt at breastfeeding my son at the hospital only resulted in sore and wounded nipples. At home, I religiously pumped every 2 hours only to produce mere drops of milk. I researched techniques, used different types of pumps, and consulted with lactation nurses and other mothers. I knew that the stress and exhaustion that I was going through was going to eventually affect my ability to care for my son. After a month of struggle, I gave up breastfeeding.
Not to be able to breastfeed my son was unfathomable to me. During pregnancy, I prepared myself to go through what other mothers who breastfed went through. I was devastated that I cannot do something as natural as breastfeeding. I felt that I failed my son. I felt ashamed. I knew that I failed me.
When I shared with other mothers my breastfeeding story, many were understanding and accepting of the decision I made. There were those who would give me a myriad of advice on what I could have done. Others would say that they decided to continue to struggle with breastfeeding because they’re doing what’s best for their babies. As if I didn’t want what’s best for my own son.
As I go through this journey of motherhood, I realized that failure is inevitable. My dream of having a multilingual toddler was thrown out of the window because we decided to focus on speaking the same language. Understanding each other and preventing frustrations (on both our parts) trumps multilingualism anytime. It doesn’t matter what kind of gourmet meals I make, my son will still choose to eat mac and cheese any given day.
These days, I’m continuing to work on focusing not solely on the successes and triumphs, but more so on my son’s growth. I am working hard to stop comparing myself to other mothers and my son with other children. While it’s hard not to boast about his talents, I know that the effort that he puts in matters most.
I now know that I can do the best that I can but always aiming for perfection doesn’t make me a better mother. While I want what’s best for my son and I will do anything for him, I also want what’s best for me.
I am learning to speak to myself with kind words and without judgment. I am working on not beating myself up when things don’t go as planned. I am learning to be the first to forgive myself. Being a mother has taught me to be kind to myself.