Weathering Through the Storm of Parenting in an Interracial Marriage and a Multicultural Environment
Recent news on postpartum depression and breastfeeding pressure has gone viral. Like most moms, I felt emotionally overwhelmed thinking of what that mom had gone through and what her family is going through.
Parenting is HARD! In my first pregnancy I took many prenatal classes, read books, yet felt completely lost holding my daughter in my arms after birth. My mother lived with us for three months after my daugher was born. My husband was willing to help on all child rearing tasks whenever he had time, yet I felt so lonely! The loneliness persisted, well into my second pregnancy, and stayed with me until my son was one year old. I came out of postpartum anxiety with the help of a psychotherapist, social worker, naturopathic doctor, movement therapies, and my fellow La Leche League Leaders.
Apart from being on a brand new learning journey of raising children with absolutely no prior training, parenting can be hard in the sense of not having the right support system. People say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to raise a family.
I’m considered an odd ball in my Chinese community, by Yue Sao, Chinese medicine practitioners, some doctors, senior members in my family, friends, even strangers. Occasionally I get praises and assurances from people about how I raise my children. However most of the time I’m told it is wrong that my kids are still breastfeeding, that breastmilk is not nutritious after “X” number of months; I was told to send my kids to China so the grandparents can raise them. I was told to focus on my career instead of raising kids at home, and become successful and wealthy; I was told to wean my kids, so they could eat more real food and gain more weight; I was told to send my kids to daycare so they can practice social skills, learn to read and write early, and have a greater chance of success in their future. Many people think it’s a miracle that I still produce breastmilk after my kids turned two. They think it’s normal for most Chinese moms’ milk to dry up in a few months after birth.
For those moms who didn’t exclusively breastfeed, or those who formula feed, there are still all kinds of criticisms towards mothers. Parents’ ways of raising their children are not respected; everyone wants to point out something the parents are doing wrong.
I didn’t need to hire a Yue Sao (women hired by many Chinese family to cook for the mother and help take care of the baby) because my mom, and my aunt (for my second birth) helped me with the traditional Yue Zi (the Chinese practice of taking care of mother and baby for thirty to forty days postpartum). Within less than 48 hours of my son’s birth, I was blamed for spoiling him, because he constantly wanted to be nursed or held by me. Many moms are told by Yue Sao that they had to add formula, because the baby is crying so he must be hungry. A good baby should sleep well. A good baby should eat a lot. A good baby shouldn’t fuss much….
There is also the challenge on learning to solve parenting differences and conflicts between the two parents. My husband and myself grew up in different ethnic backgrounds therefore we have different values in child rearing. My husband thought it was not normal for us to co-sleep. I was disappointed that he dedicates his free time to movies or relaxation instead of reading parenting books. He took a picture of our messy living room after coming back from work, wondering what I had been doing for all day long. Every trip to his home country we fought hard. I got mad that his family wouldn’t respect my parenting choices, and he didn’t try hard enough to convince his family to follow our parenting style. Our relationship fell apart as we argued, both thinking the other person was not understanding. Our daughter didn’t understand why we had conflicts, and would try to play the peacemaker. We had seriously screwed up this parenting thing.
Most expecting couples don’t see the ‘darker’ side of parenting behind doors of other families. However there should be more discussion on these challenges, and many times these challenges do affect the breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby. Although the learning curve of parenting was steep and difficult to overcome, it helped me to mature into a better parent. I learned to accept my husband, our family, and people around me. I have finally learned to meet people where they are, to accept who they are and how they live their lives based on their value. In the meantime, I’m learning to set boundaries, so our families know we, as parents, will make the final decisions on parenting our children.
Asking for help can be extremely difficult. I didn’t feel like talking about anxiety when visiting my doctors and midwives. I didn’t feel connected to them enough to go into such topics. Mental health was not talked about in either my husband's or my culture. It is just so much easier to appear cheerful, and not to bother health professionals with our ‘minor emotional difficulties’. When talking to my friends, I didn’t want to spoil the fun conversations. Even when I tried to speak up about what I was going through, most people didn’t know how to respond. It took a long time for my husband to understand I was anxious, not trying to be difficult or over sensitive. I realized I had anxiety during my second pregnancy, but it took me a year to seek talk therapy with a psychotherapies. I had so much shame when thinking of my anxiety, and couldn’t bear the embarrassment of breaking into tears in front of others. Even though I live in Canada now, I felt if I admitted my mental problems, I would be considered a failure by friends and family back home. And the judgement from people in my community would have killed me.
Thankfully, my La Leche League friends (fellow Leader and group moms) formed a safe tribe for me to seek help, without fearing being judged. They provided a large range of resources, and gave me the space to take steps within my comfort level. They cheered along when I made progress. They listened with their hearts whenever I needed them. I felt safe to share my challenges along every step of parenting, be it the fear of not having enough attention to my first child after second was born, dealing the sibling rivalry, breastfeeding difficulties with my son, grieving for ending the breastfeeding relationship with my daughter, or the fear of seeking help on my anxiety. My La Leche League tribe was always there to meet me where I was.
There are some people calling La Leche League Leaders “lactivists”; However, my understanding is that we, as Leaders, want to empower women in our community. We respect choices made by each family, and provide research and evidence based information when mothers need them. I try my best to meet mothers where they are, regardless of their feeding method, just like those Leaders before me, who provided non judgemental help to me when I was a group mother. What I value the most from my La Leche League experience is the connection with mothers in my community. The validation of each others’ feelings. The sense of having a village to support me and my family. And this community is beyond my background, my skin colour, my social status. We are connected simply because we are raising a family. La Leche League can help so much beyond breastfeeding.