Dealing with mum guilt and feelings of selfishness/weakness

I’ve been having a rough trot lately, although to look at my Facebook you wouldn’t think so. From an outsider’s perspective it looks as though I’ve been living the dream.

  • Going to three Commonwealth Games events
  • One of those nights staying at the Gold Coast (aka baby-free night)
  • Dad picking up the solo duties

But as is usually the case, Facebook is not as it seems.

This post may feel like I’m trying to justify my nights away, but it’s not. I wrote this because I want to get my emotions out of my head, share how I’m feeling, process it and move on.

In a nut shell, I’ve been feeling like people will be judging me and considering me to be selfish and a poor mother.

Planning for the games

Up until this point the longest I’ve been away from bub is about 2 hours. That’s either for a trip to the chiropractor, the gym, or a hair cut. Or the two half days he’s just been at daycare (in preparation for my return to work). That’s it. In 6 months, other than those times, I’ve been with him nonstop.

While I was pregnant my husband, Mario, and I knew the Commonwealth Games were coming up. It had always been a bucket list item for me to attend either an Olympics or a Commonwealth Games, and having them right in my home state felt like a dream come true. I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

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My husband and I discussed it and we agreed I would enter the lottery for some tickets (to be honest he probably didn’t have a choice in the matter). We thought about how our bub would be fed, and knew that by 6 months he would either be starting solids, or at least old enough to be able to use a bottle. We had no idea if I would be successful at breastfeeding or not (in which case he’d definitely be on a bottle), but worst case scenario if for any reason bub wasn’t feeding then I wouldn’t go. It would hurt to miss out of course, but he came first.

In the lead up I did all of the following (not necessarily because of the games, but it helped all the same):

  • Feeding expressed breast milk from the bottle
  • Building up and storing an excessive frozen breast milk supply
  • Testing him on formula (my biggest fear was something happening to the frozen milk supply, leaving him without food)

I thought I had done everything I possibly could.

Attending the games

We had some amazing times, and some not so amazing times.

We got rained on, our legs cramped, and the closing ceremony wasn’t great (as massively documented in the media). But on the flip side, we saw world records broken and some amazing athletes crank out some of the best performances of their lives. We cheered and sung, and participated in a once-in-a-life-time event. I have zero regrets.

I want to be clear, I never had a mental break from being a mother. I didn’t get a “free pass” to go back to what I was pre-baby. It certainly wasn’t a “weekend away”.

In fact, in amongst all the festivities all of this happened:

  • I had to take my breast pump with me so that I could make sure that I didn’t affect my milk supply – it was critical to ensure I pumped frequently.
  • I struggled to pump before the swimming (I was travelling in a car, and couldn’t get my positioning right with the manual pump). It meant my boobs became engorged from the lack of drainage, so at one point I had to leave the swimming (missing some races) to go to the bathroom and manually express in a port-a-loo. Thing was the manual pump was in the car, so I had to do it all by hand. My boobs were extremely hard and painful, and it was an awkward and unappealing situation.
  • One the way back to our accommodation (thanks to a family friend by the way) I managed to get the pump working in the car. My boobs were so full I quickly filled the pump, and had to wait until we got to their house. Once we arrived, I stayed up for nearly an hour pumping until my boobs had been appropriately drained. All of the milk went down the drain too, which was heart breaking. This was on my “night off”, so instead of having a long, blissful “baby-free” night sleep I was up pumping manually – I almost expected to have popeye forearms.
  • My bub had chosen that night to refuse feeds from his father from the bottle. We don’t know whether it was because I was away for a longer period of time for the first time, or if he chose that moment to refuse the bottle, whether he was reacting to his dad’s anxiety, or any other reason. Mario ended up having to syringe feed him to get him to take some sort of milk at all. During that whole time, Mario was providing me with updates. While I appreciated the update, it made me stress out instead of focusing on the event I was at.
  • In addition to that, it weighed heavily on my mind the fact that I was at an event while my baby wasn’t feeding. I began wondering whether I should have been leaving and returning home immediately, or just let Mario handle it. In the latter, it introduced extreme feelings of selfishness and guilt on my part. Mario assured me that he wasn’t trying to make me feel guilty, but then by sharing another update it just compounded the guilt feeling.
  • I caught the very first train back to where Mario and my bub were, leaving my family behind on the Gold Coast.
  • It was the same for the cycling, except that it was only 30mins drive away instead of an overnight trip. It meant that I was able to pump and remove the issue with my boobs, but Mario had issues with feeding again. That meant I got another round of text updates, and the guilt continued to compound on my feelings the night before.
  • The following weekend I took Luca for 90% of the Saturday so that Mario could have a day to himself in return. The following day I left after lunch time to attend the closing ceremony
  • During the ceremony Mario messaged to say that Luca had caught a cold and was having problems going down in his cot. There were breathing difficulties and more. Cue the guilt again.
  • I had brought the manual pump with me into the event this time (I half expected to be asked about it at the security check), and so directly before the ceremony started had gone to the toilet and pumped milk. I had to pour it into the toilet, stash the pump into my bag and go back into the event.
  • The ceremony was terrible, so instead of staying to the end we all ended up leaving early. We figured we’d much prefer to be at home than there, and hopefully getting more sleep/attending to baby. Plus the seats were TINY, we were squished and my legs were cramping again.

So as you can see, it certainly wasn’t all roses.

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Following the games

The day after the closing ceremony Mario went to work and I stayed home. I’d returned home just before 1am, my boobs full and ready for pumping. By the time I had given Luca a dream feed and pumped, it was 2.30am. I went straight to bed.

Luca woke up at 5.00, ready for the day. Mario leaves for work at 5.30, so there was no time for sleeping in. I’d have to survive the day on 2.5 hours of sleep. I soldiered on and I got through it. That night was hell though, with Luca waking every hour.

Rewind!

On the Saturday beforehand (the day before the closing ceremony) I had felt myself coming down with a cold. By Tuesday it had reared its ugly head in full force. With 2.5 hours of sleep on Sunday night, and an average sleep stretch of 45mins on Monday night, by Tuesday I was f**ked. I had imagined Luca going into daycare for the day so I could rest, but then he started to blow green out his nose. There was no way he was going to daycare. Suddenly I hit the wall and I cried. I asked Mario to come home because I was so spent. I needed him to look after Luca so that I could rest. I needed sleep, and the cold had taken what energy I had left.

When he got home, I went to the bedroom and slept for 3 hours straight. The only reason I woke is because Mario needed me to feed Luca (he’d tried to use what milk I’d expressed that morning and left in the fridge, but needed more). I’m sure I could have slept the day away if I needed to.

I was so grateful that he had yet again taken over parenting duties for me.

Feeling selfish

Disclaimer – no one has told me that I’m selfish. But let me explain why I felt this way.

The fact that Mario was at home with the baby and not having an easy ride made me feel horrible. I trusted him and knew that he would be able to handle the situation, even if he didn’t think he could. It just felt unfair that I was out “enjoying myself” (see above) when that was happening. At that point I didn’t know if my baby needed me, if he was starving and there was the potential for an emergency situation (thankfully there wasn’t).

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Then I added up the amount of time that Mario was on solo parent duties. I’ve been in trouble with readers before for saying “babysitting”, because he’s not. He’s a parent. It’s his job too. But he was still taking on a lot of solo parent duties, and with a rough time at that.

Then right when it was meant to be back to “systems as usual” I got sick and needed him to take a day off work.

Feeling weak and pathetic

I felt like I was meant to just suck up feeling sick and get on with it. Since Luca had been born I had heard the following lines over and over:

  • You’re so lucky your husband does so much for you
  • My husband never does that
  • My husband isn’t around to do that
  • “I do more than most husbands” – Mario himself

At the time all of these combined made me think “I would be nothing if it wasn’t for my husband”. It made me feel so weak and pathetic.

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Remembering my worth

Regarding the “your husband” statements, once I thought about them logically I broke these down to the sources and their reasoning for saying it. I came to the following conclusions:

  • Mario was saying it not to put me down, but as a way of making himself feel goodHe just wanted some recognition for his efforts. He is the kind of guy that appreciates constant praise, it makes him happy. It’s not a bad thing at all, it’s just a clear-cut way of making him feel valued. By stating how much he does, it was just a way of reinforcing to himself that he’s a good, hands-on father. Nothing about me.
  • Some people literally didn’t have partners that were hands-on, or around at irregular times (if at all). Again, this wasn’t a reflection of me, but a statement about their situation. It was a reminder that I should be thankful, nothing more.

I was taking it all so personally as an attack on me, when in fact it wasn’t. It boiled down to this (put so eloquently by a mum friend I had confided in):

Being lucky doesn’t make me weak.

On top of that, one of my best friends reassured me of this:

It’s OK not to be OK.

By criticising myself so severely I had gotten myself to a point where I felt like I couldn’t ask for help. I thought I had to suck it all up, do everything, and that no one could help me. I was alone.

Until my friend reminded me that it’s OK to not be OK.

It’s OK to ask for help.

Sure, Mario had done a lot recently, but I shouldn’t forget how much I’d done in the past. There were hard times that I’d had to face by myself. And if for some reason he hadn’t been able to help me, I knew I had the strength to get through it.

And at the end of the day parenting is never going to be 50/50. Sometimes it’ll be 80/20. As long as the two of us are working together to make sure that we meet that 100%, and that we’re happy, then that’s all we can do. It just so happened that for those few days, Mario was the 80 and I was the 20. Some days it’s the other way round.

Mario gets time to himself as well. It’s not a one way thing. He goes to the gym, he has sport, and I take the baby on trips with me to give his dad a break. I took Luca to Brisbane with me for a dad so that Mario had an entire day to himself back on the coast. Sometimes I’m the one taking the 80.

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It’s OK to take time for myself

I also had to remember that it’s OK to take time for myself. I was leaving my baby in a secure environment. I’d done everything I possibly could to prepare him as best as I could. I had also left him with someone that was completely capable of looking after him (the only thing he didn’t have was the boobs, and if he could he would have).

Everything I’ve observed about mothers is they never take time for themselves.

Thing is, I haven’t slept properly for over a year now. I’ve not had longer than a few hours to myself at a time in 6 months.

I deserved to do something fun. I deserved a bucket list item.

And most importantly:

My husband and I had agreed. It was a joint decision. I was not being selfish.

I reminded myself that all things considered I’m a bloody good mum. My child is well fed. He’s developing normally. He’s clothed. He sleeps. He’s clean. He has a roof over his head. He smiles. He rarely cries. He’s happy.

I’m a great mum. Married to a great father.

And if anyone did happen to judge me for going away for the games, then that’s on them. I’m not going to let it get to me anymore.

My husband and I jointly make decisions about our child. He is always at the forefront of our minds, and making sure that he is safe and well looked after.

I can’t do any more than that.

can make sure that I’m the best version of myself for my son. I can make sure that I’m healthy; that I eat well and exercise. I can invest time in myself to make sure I’m happy and enjoying life. Because as my son grows older, I want him to see that it’s important to spend time on ourselves. Treat ourselves every now and then, and do things that make ourselves happy.

I want him to know that he can take some time out for himself every now and then, to do something that he’s always dreamed of.

Because that’s setting a good example.

That’s being a good mum.

I’m a good mum.

There’s going to be challenging times ahead no doubt. I’ll probably question myself again. I just need to remind myself that as long as I’m doing the best that I can, that he’s safe and happy, then I should be confident in myself.

I’m lucky, I’m grateful, I”m a good wife and I’m a good mother. Nothing less than that.

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3 Replies to “Dealing with mum guilt and feelings of selfishness/weakness”

  1. Oh the Mum guilt. Not sure it ever goes away, the guilt just changed. Your bestie is spot on. It is OK to say I’m NOT OK and ask for help. ME time is important not only to you but to your family. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
    You are a great mum doing a fantastic job. Luca picked great parents. Be kind to yourself xx

  2. I hope you feel better after writing it all out, I know I always do once I get things down on paper (screen!!). 🙂

    Also so glad you could process it all, and not live in the guilt. THAT is also a wonderful example to give to your children!

Let me know your thoughts!