PARENTING: Choices, instinct, regrets and forgiveness.

Parenting is tough, no one can really prepare you for the mind-boggling number of choices you have to make.  For the most part I think we are floundering in waist high water trying to reach a far-away shore where there is a sign that says “Perfect parents welcome here”.  Or at least that’s how I feel most of the time.

I’m pretty happy with most of my choices over the last four years and I think that I’ve managed to end up with a pretty awesome child, perhaps because of the choices I’ve made, perhaps in spite of the choices I’ve made, or perhaps she’s actually not that awesome and I’m wearing the blinkers of motherhood.  Who knows?  Parenting is such a huge experiment.  You’re given this tiny bundle of potential and told to head out into the big bad world with it.  This tiny little baby is totally unique in the history of mankind and is thrust into an environment that can never be repeated, he will be given a parent (or two) who would make different decisions in another time and space, depending on the parent’s age, knowledge, experience… See where I’m going with this?  You have no way of knowing what your child would be if things were just a little different, a little better, a little worse. 

My own little bundle of potential
My own little bundle of potential

Of course babies are fairly resilient, or at least adaptable, when we make mistakes.  Their main aim is survival.  Give them what they need to survive (warmth, safety, food) and they will grow to become functioning human beings.  Add to this comfort and love and then their tiny brains explode with newly formed synapses and brain growth, genes get switched on which will help regulate their emotions, appetites, build good relationships, and they turn into balanced and stable human beings. We want to get it right to maximise their potential, so of course we worry about our choices.

I’m a big believer in science and research, I think there is some excellent information out there which can help guide us in making good choices for our babies, but sometimes we have so many choices in front of us that it can be overwhelming (my Bumps, Birth and Bonding classes are designed to navigate this information).  Between our friends, family, baby books, the internet… It can be hard to unpick the information behind the choices.  Crucially though, it’s always important to take a big deep breath, step back, and consider how you feel about these choices, what does your gut instinct tell you to do?

So when faced with parenting choices, I’d always urge you to step back and think: Is there good science to support this?  How does it make me feel?  Do I feel uneasy or reassured?  Does it feel instinctively “right”?  It may well be that an instinctive reflex or your subconscious is trying to warn you that it may not be the best choice. 

I do have regrets about things I’ve done as a parent.  For the most part, I think I listened to those instincts and respected them; not surprisingly, they’ve resulted in decisions I was happy with.  Sometimes, in retrospect you can look back and either with the wisdom of hindsight or with newly acquired knowledge you can see that perhaps a different course of action would have been better.  I’ll give you an example.  When my daughter was a baby she struggled to breastfeed, you can read more about that here.  Most of the time, she was unable to latch on and feed.  Eventually I found an online support forum for women who had breastfeeding issues.  Several women in the group suggested a tongue tie.  As a midwife, I had already considered that a tongue tie might be the problem, but the women in this group suggested a posterior tongue tie which I’d never heard of.  I read up on it, joined a few facebook groups and discovered a whole new source of knowledge.  I became convinced that she had all the features of having a posterior tongue tie and an upper lip tie, and that getting these fixed would be the answer to all our problems.  No one in Northern Ireland at the time was willing to acknowledge this diagnosis, so after some research we travelled to England.  There we met with a lactation consultant who assessed my daughter and said that she felt the lip was ok but that there was definitely a posterior tongue tie.  At the time, I just wanted everything “fixed” so my daughter did indeed get her posterior tongue tie and lip frenulum lasered.  As they took her away for the procedure, my maternal instinct kicked in and I suddenly wanted to grab her back and not let them do it – I suppressed this instinct.  She was unsettled following the procedure and her lip oozed some blood, she wasn’t able to latch on and breastfeed and shortly after fell into a deep sleep (as often happens when babies are subjected to a painful or traumatic event).  She woke up several hours later and was unconsolable, she cried constantly for about 4 hours, unable to bottlefeed because she was so sore.  My daughter has a really high pain threshold, so looking back I now know that she was in excruciating pain, as I’ve never seen her like that at any other time in her short life. The next day she very gingerly sucked on a bottle with an obviously swollen and painful lip.  She never breastfed again.  Bottlefeeding definitely got easier and she lost the sucking blisters from where she had been gripping the bottle tightly with her lips instead of with her tongue, milk no longer leaked from around the teat, and she wasn’t as crampy or windy, so I do think getting her posterior tongue tie revised helped with that.  But it certainly wasn’t the miracle cure I had hoped for.

Fast forward 3 years and I’ve now completed training for my lactation consultant qualification.  I’ve learned loads about the anatomy of a baby’s mouth, the physiology of a baby’s swallow, and as well as learning about tongue tie, lip tie, and other techniques which can be used to improve a baby’s latch and suck.  I wish I’d known about all of these things back then, but I didn’t.  I do remember reading about suck training when my daughter was about 4 months old and trying out some of the techniques.  I realised that her suck was awful even at 4 months, so had we been able to implement something like suck training early on, perhaps we would have been more successful. 

Hindsight is a great thing.  I regret getting her “lip tie” lasered because in retrospect, I don’t think she really did have one.  That is my opinion now that I have a bit more knowledge.  I’m not even sure that I’d go for the posterior tongue tie revision again if I could do it all over again.  Perhaps I would.  Perhaps if I’d done nothing I’d be sitting here wishing I had tried.  Who knows?  But it’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can be honest with myself and admit I’ve made a mistake.

I feel guilt and regret and sadness over one decision I made in my daughter’s life.  Three years down the line, I still think about it, evaluate it, do some soul searching, wish I’d done something a little bit different, been a bit more rational or listened to my gut.  I think as parents we go through cycles.  When we are rational we can say “Oh, well, I did the best I could at the time.”  When we are feeling a bit more vulnerable we feel the guilt and self-recrimination and then hopefully we can cycle back to the more rational state.   In order to become a good parent though, I think it’s important to allow those uncomfortable feelings to surface, to think about what you would or could do differently.  Parenting is a growth process not just for your child, but for you. 

perfect parentAs parents we are ultimately responsible for what happens to our children, and we have to learn to accept the choices (and mistakes) we’ve made and learn from them.  When we know better, we do better. We have to learn to forgive ourselves, focus on the good choices we’ve made and know that while we might not be perfect, we are indispensable to our children and they love us anyway. 

EDITED ON THE 14/05/2017 

I’ve now been an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) for nearly 6 months, and over the last few months, my perspective has changed again.  I think next time if I had trouble breastfeeding and suspected a posterior tongue tie, I’d definitely get a second opinion from an other IBCLC and if necessary, get it revised.  More than ever, I’m convinced that the “lip tie” wasn’t an issue, and more and more research seems to be pointing in that direction:


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