During my first pregnancy, I was blissfully ignorant. I was a new nurse in a competitive nurse residency program. I studied cardiac rhythms instead of poring over parenting books. Our immediate friends didn't have kids, so the topics of our conversations were more often good books and under appreciated hole-in-the-wall restaurants, not the million and one choices involved in parenthood. Back then, I didn't even realize how many different choices I would have to make as a mom. I definitely didn't realize the abundance of choices was the fuel for a thing called "mommy wars" and that I'd enter into the battle as soon as my baby was born.
What exactly is "mommy wars"? In the late 90s, a female journalist for the Washington Post defined it as "the cultural and emotional battle zone we land in the minute we become mothers" . She described it as something we experience inside our own heads and outside on soccer fields and at play dates, PTA meetings, and beyond. Social media has undoubtedly expanded the battlefield – now, it's a worldwide war that invites anyone to engage, and the digital medium offers protection from any unwanted opposition. However, social media isn't the source of the existence of "mommy wars". (Remember, this journalist was writing about it years before the creation of Facebook and Instagram!) Though we may want to blame social media for it, we simply can't, and we are forced to reconcile the truth that the root of the issue runs much deeper.
I say that because I wanted to blame social media. If Instagram is the cause for the problem, then the solution is simple: get rid of Instagram. But if the issue runs deeper, I'm going to have to do some hard heart work. I knew this to be true. Years before I engaged on Instagram, "mommy wars" was a real thing for me – in my own head. It started over the issue of how to feed my baby. It didn't start as a war though; honestly, I didn't think much of it. I naturally assumed my daughter and I would have an uneventful nursing relationship until she was a 1-year old. In the beginning, I didn't think about bleeding nipples, allergies, low supply, mastitis, extended breastfeeding, or formula. My doctor told me it would be natural. I just naively thought it would all work out.
But it doesn't always work out.
The first few weeks of my daughter's life were memorable. My husband and I were delirious – tired beyond comprehension but completely consumed with love for our little girl. She wanted to be held constantly (probably because our obsession led us to oblige!). She was perfect – and always hungry. Within the first couple of weeks of motherhood, I had a crash course on milk production. Somehow, it wasn't so natural to me. At first, I didn't realize I had to drink so much water and fuel my body with oats and other densely nutritious foods. I didn't know there were (no matter how small the percentage) some women who physically cannot produce enough milk. I didn't know stress could impact supply. All I knew was that it was hard, and I had a hungry baby that needed something more than I could give.
I literally felt broken.
Every time we supplemented with formula, I thought, "If we were in the pre-1800s, my baby may have died. Or what if we lived in a rural part of the world with no access to formula? Should I even have kids? What kind of mother am I?" Now, this seems irrational. I imagine there are many puzzled husbands out there wondering what the big deal about formula is. I'm sure there are many moms out there that don't think twice about it either. I had to ask myself why this was wrecking me. My emotions were alarm bells telling me it was more than sleep deprivation and hormones.
It didn't take me long to realize that this was an identity issue for me. As the Lord invited me into motherhood, I looked to the role as "mom" as defining my personhood. My self-regard was influenced by how well I loved, served, and provided for my child. Instead of seeing formula as the Lord's provision, I saw it as a mark of personal failure that threatened my self-worth.
But here's how the gospel intersects our breastfeeding journeys, mamas: if we are in Christ, our worth is found outside of ourselves in the person and work of Christ. Even here, we can cling onto the righteousness of Christ as our own.
The gospel touches our struggles. It reminds us that we are right to lament the brokenness of this world. It also reminds us that we have a Redeemer who has overcome. He is sovereign, and even this very intimate struggle is not beyond His attention and care. Romans 8:28 says, "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose" (italics mine). This truly does mean everything – even the way we feed out children – is orchestrated by God for our benefit. For me, my nursing journey was an opportunity for me to repent of idols and live out of my identity in Christ. It was an opportunity for me to rest in His righteousness given to me. It was an opportunity to preach the gospel to myself, thank the Giver for the tremendous gift of a healthy baby (and formula!), and delight in my child knowing that my love for her was not contingent on my milk supply.
So mama, if you're in the hazy newborn phase with spit-up stained clothes, heavy eyelids, and hormone-induced cry sessions, tell yourself this: the Lord sees you and loves you, and He loves your baby. The enemy wants you to think it is natural and effortless for everyone else except you, but that is his way to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). You are not alone. Combat the mommy war waging in your mind with the gospel. The gospel matters – even here.