The time stamp gave her away. Before I even read her text, I knew she was hugely concerned. Only moms in the throes of desperation text at 3 am. Especially when the text is as simple as How many ounces of milk does your son drink in a day?
My son was several months older than hers, but he was exclusively breastfed. I had no idea how many ounces he took, if only because the
punk dear boy was steadfast in his utter hatred of bottles in any form.
As her son struggled to put on weight, my friend measured all progress by the roller coaster of ounces and pounds, frequenting a local store that had a baby scale. As our kids grew older, our late-night text conversations simply morphed to include purees and solids.
Another friend spent hours researching ways to increase her milk supply as she returned to work and had to pump throughout her day. Her success was tangible, lined up in small plastic bottles tucked into a cooler bag.
How many ounces do you get in a pumping session? she once texted me. I’m not getting enough, I don’t know what I’m going to do! I don’t think we can afford formula.
At the time I felt so fortunate that my efforts as a mother couldn’t be measured in ounces or pounds… but my metric was coming for me. When my son turned 8-months-old, he took a turn for the possessed and suddenly stopped sleeping. Putting him down for naps felt like tip-toeing through landmines. We got one solid 3-4 hour stretch in the evening before he woke up at 11 and the battle for our nights began.
I read blog after blog, book after book. Bleary eyed and desperate, within a few weeks one of us was sleeping on an air mattress in his room from midnight on, usually with a whirling dervish of toddlerness beside us. After white-knuckling it through nearly two months of five/six/seven wake-ups a night, we broke down and hired a sleep coach.
My metric became minutes slept, my days dictated by nap schedules and sleep journals. I was convinced I had completely ruined my son because all of my choices were shaped by simply trying to survive. The guilt was almost as bad as the sleep deprivation.
Unsurprisingly, some well-meaning friends dismissed my concerns and requests for prayer with platitudes like “he’ll outgrow it,” or “no baby sleeps.” My tears of frustration came as quickly as the (sometimes woefully out of date and questionable) advice.
I learned valuable lessons during that time. Namely, every mama has a struggle. It can be as definitive as numbers on a scale or as intangible as milestones slipping past. Unstoppable tantrums, the shame of a dirty house when your friend’s place always seems so clean, or the dark pull of postpartum depression… every mama feels like she isn’t measuring up in one way or another.
The last thing a struggling mama needs is dismissal. We all need empathy, and some simple questions: How can I help right now? What do you really need?
Sometimes a listening ear can help us break through our despair. Sharing how you’ve struggled instead of going into advice-mode can help another mama throw out that measuring stick.
It may also help to think of this metric in a new way. Teddy Roosevelt once said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” In the end, most of these metrics are comparisons against our fellow mothers, or against children who are developing at their own pace, with their own personalities, in their own unique way. Though some metrics may have been created by doctors or development experts, the way we employ these methods of comparison in our home lives is rarely healthy or helpful.
What is your mama metric? Does it steal your joy, or have you found a way to put that measuring stick away?