A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

Dear Jack, Lesson 1: My Own Struggles With His Big Feelings

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder's son.

I am far from perfect and I will make many mistakes. Sometimes I will struggle to follow the very lessons that I attempt to teach you. But I will try my hardest. I promise you that.

Last week my baby got sick. Sicker than I have ever seen him. We spent time in the hospital getting tests done and then made a trip to the ER a couple days later. He is doing well now and the crisis is over. So now I am able to think back and I must admit, I am a bit disappointed in myself. Mothering is the scariest endeavor in the human existence. While we were at the various medical facilities I found myself fearing the worst, overcome with anxiety, lost, confused, trembling, terrified and unreliable. My baby was sick and I was not there for him. I feel like I let him down. I was having strong feelings, but I did not make the effort to manage them for the sake of him. He was very upset. Crying with a force I had never seen. As the nurses tried to take a blood sample I cried, moaned, jerked my body and used an anxious tone of voice. All I managed to do was scare him more. What he needed from me was calm, encouragement, safety and soothing. I became so wrapped up in how this situation was affecting me that I ended up abandoning him just when he needed me the most. I was asked to leave the room by the nurses trying to take his blood. My husband was able to be there for Jack, thank goodness for my husband. But a baby needs his mommy; needs his mommy to be calm, sing to him, reassure him, pet his head, hold his hand, smile, and use soothing words. To tell him everything will be OK. All children need to be told everything will be OK.

I want to be a positive force in Jack’s life. I want him to lean on me, trust me, feel safe with me and believe that everything will be OK. I am no stranger to strong feelings getting the best of me. As a long time anxiety sufferer I have gone to great lengths to learn to manage these emotions. But the day he came into my life it became a whole new ball game. I have big dreams of the mother I want to be and I can’t do that if my emotions come between us. I will let him down. Like I did in that hospital room. I failed him. I need new armor. Mommy armor. There is an extra layer now. Now I need to not only manage my emotions, but I have to also keep them to myself. In the past I would reach out to others in hope that they would make things better. “I’m terrified of flying, so sorry that you have to watch me pop pills and drink this wine and then pass out and nearly piss on myself and barf and cry. Do you think we’re going to die!?” I can’t do that anymore. I have to talk the talk for him and walk the walk for him. Kids aren’t stupid. They know when you are lying. I have to say everything will be OK and I have to show him that I believe this. I have to show him that he can get through anything, that he will be OK, that I can keep him safe, that I am his rock, but the only way to show him this is to actually live this. I don’t want him to fear the world because of my strong feelings.

My emotions are not his responsibility. I cannot shove a thermometer up his butt every 2 minutes to ease my own anxiety. That is not fair to him. He doesn’t seem to mind this little exercise which makes it very easy to do, but that is not the point. All I can do is watch his cues and signals and respond when necessary. Overreacting will lead to the development of his own anxiety and fear of the world. I don’t want him to learn that there is something to fear at every moment. Something about to go wrong around every corner. I want him to know he can lean on me without me leaning back. I want him to know bad things can happen and he can get through them with support and love from me. There are so many things I want him to know.

When I was kicked out of the room by those nurses I went to the waiting area and paced, cried and trembled. I could hear the screaming and so I put my fingers in my ear and moved them around so that I couldn’t hear. There I was, in the waiting area, while my son was in a room scared and upset. I had made this moment all about me and abandoned my tiny baby in this most terrifying time. The nurse came out and said that they couldn’t get the sample. They can’t get a vein. He is either chubby or dehydrated or whatever. I went back into the room and we discussed going to the ER, but that didn’t make sense, they would have the same issue. I said “we need this sample, right?” The nurses said “yes.” So we tried again. Jack had no more tears. He wailed, but was all dried up. I was backed into a corner. I had let him down and we had ended up in this situation. We laid Jack down on the table again and this time I leaned my torso over his body and put my breast in his mouth. He latched on for a moment until the nurse took his arm. He began to cry again. I stroked his hair, sang a verse of a song, “five little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head, so mama called the doctor and the doctor said, no more monkeys jumping on the bed.” I whispered that he is going to be OK and mommy is here and he is doing a good job. The nurse failed again. This time she went high on his arm. We did the same thing. The blood began to fill the bottle. In this horrible moment I actually felt happy. A small feat. Still more tests this evening. The rest of the night my husband and I took turns being the “strong” one. The whole thing sucked ass. Like I said, Jack is OK and everything is back to normal. But I learned a big lesson that night. I am Jack’s entire world and I better act like it. Jack, you can have strong feelings and be OK. You can have strong feelings and I will be there for you.

Abby Theuring, MSW