I have a 4-year-old and a 4-month-old. And while I’ve discovered a lot about parenting over these past four years, I’ll be the first to tell you that I have plenty — plenty — more to learn. However, one thing I’m sure of is that motherhood doesn’t always go the way you plan and the very, very last thing you need is someone judging and belittling your decisions.
This is why I feel so deeply for Annie Ferguson Muscato, a mother who was shamed by a stranger at Target for buying formula for her baby girl. We should never be judging any other person’s decisions at all, but at the least, we should consider that we don’t know anyone else’s story. And if someone has told you their story, you probably still don’t know the whole heart of it. And even if you do know it, it doesn’t matter — you’re not the one living it.
As Muscato wrote in an open letter to that stranger, she was aware that “breast is best” and tried breastfeeding her baby girl. She went on to write:
“But, let me tell you what else I know. I know that my baby began screaming after she ate. Writhing in pain. Inconsolable. I know over the last month and a half I have exclusively pumped and tried slow flow bottles of breast milk, I have tried different positions, I have seen another lactation consultant. I know I have held my child, my baby, while she screamed for hours. […]
And then finally, we tried the hypoallergenic dairy protein free formula you saw me buying today. And the screaming lessened. And my baby started smiling. She started interacting. She started sleeping. And I cried. Because I thought breast was best. I thought my body failed her. I thought she wouldn’t be as healthy on formula. […]
What I know that you don’t is that breast ISN’T always best. I know happy, healthy baby is best. I know FED is best.”
And you know what? Muscato’s story is my story, too. I could have sworn I utterly failed at motherhood after my first was born. I was certain I wasn’t cut out to be a mom because I couldn’t get my baby to stop crying. Ever. I knew it had to be my fault because everyone else I knew was handling it just fine and here I was curled up in the corner of the closet, a hot crying mess. We went through months of frustration, exhaustion, and confusion. Turns out, like the mom buying formula in Target, our baby had food allergies and was reacting to proteins in my breast milk.
When this happens, you essentially have one of two options: cut out all those foods from your diet or switch to a hypoallergenic formula. And let me tell you, once you’ve reached that point, you will do anything under the sun to make your baby feel better; to have him stop crying. So instead of shaming a mom for making a decision and taking action to make her daughter feel better, maybe we should be applauding her for doing whatever it takes. For being there for her daughter and sticking with her through those endless hours of tears and exhaustion, and be thrilled there was an option available that put an end to her pain and discomfort.
Making a decision as a parent isn’t like picking whether you want eggs or pancakes for breakfast. It’s not something you make on a whim or take light-heartedly. You weigh and measure every possible scenario and outcome. You Google like your life depends on it. You visit eight pediatricians because none of their answers feels “right” and they all contradict each other. You borrow every parenting book from the library and call your mother, sister, friend, cousin, and neighbor.
And when you finally, finally make that decision — whether it’s to switch from breastfeeding to formula, to start kindergarten at 5 or 6, to use timeouts or counting for discipline — you still have no idea whether you made the right decision and you will continue to keep weighing it in your mind over and over. You will question everything. You will second and third guess yourself. You will feel guilt. You will feel confusion. And then, ever so occasionally, you will feel victorious, like Muscato and I both felt the days we discovered a solution to our baby’s pain.
Decisions are hard enough to make on your own as a parent. We all have self-imposed pressure and guilt. We’ve all been there. So why are we still judging other parents for decisions that our different than ours? Is it because we’re scared that person made the right choice, and it’s actually us that made the wrong one? Is it because it’s unfamiliar and goes against the grain? Or is it simply to make ourselves feel better in some twisted kind of way?
I can tell you one other big lesson I’ve learned in my four years of motherhood, and I can completely confirm it after having a second child. Every baby is different. Sometimes we forget that babies are real life human beings, not little robots that do whatever we want them to do. Those inherent differences can absolutely impact the decisions we make. What we thought we wanted for our child before he was born may turn out to not be what he needs at all. I’m only four months in to meeting my second little one, and I’ve already made countless decisions for him that were different than for his brother, simply because he’s a different baby. So placing blame on a parent’s decision does nothing but tell you that you don’t know their story or their baby, so let’s just stop.