The other day I was having a conversation with my mom about why we don’t spank our kids. In the past, when spanking comes up, I know I have come across rather militant about my stance on spanking. But this conversation was different… As I began to state again why we have chosen the discipline methods we use, I started bawling as I had a sudden flash back.
In my mind, I could see two year old Cade, throwing one of his infamous tantrums. His fits weren’t the normal two year old statements of independence, they were like sudden absences of him from his body. He would frequently LOSE IT over something, anything, ranging from crunchy food to taking a toy away to waking up too early from a late afternoon nap. He was inconsolable, out of control, and angry, and we had no idea how to handle him. Since spanking seemed to be how those around us handled discipline, we decided it was time to try it out for ourselves. I vividly remember turning him over my knee, spanking his little bottom with tears streaming down my face.
I wasn’t crying because it hurt me so badly to spank him, but because I was at my wits end with the screaming. I wanted to control his behavior, and I felt desperate. Every so often, he would have a fit, and I would spank his little, tiny self, in hopes that I could “correct” his poor behavior. After a while, whenever the twins were reprimanded for something, they would shout “No spanking!”, and I would feel a little bit convicted, but I would brush it off.
Another vivid memory often enters my mind, usually when I’m tucking the kids in at night… I can clearly hear the twins’ cries as they learned to “self soothe” in their cribs, while I sat outside and listened. I remember being angry at them that they wouldn’t sleep, angry that they cried so much, and angry at myself for being such a horrible mother. But I didn’t know what to do differently, so instead of trying something else, I just tried to ignore the terrible feelings of guilt.
I will admit I can be militant in my views on parenting. I feel very strongly that they way we parent is the best way. I will concede that it doesn’t work for everyone, but I often wish I could convince others to see the merits of some of the choices we’ve made. I realize that that is really narcissistic, but if I’m being honest, it’s the truth. I’ve never really stopped to consider why I feel so strongly, because I would not in actuality attack another mother for her parenting choices. I do feel heartbroken for babies that cry it out or are spanked, though, and I think it’s because the regret lies deep in my heart for the choices I made with my first babies. If I could go back and do it all differently, I would in a heartbeat.
When the twins were born, Avery was the first baby, and she was quickly whisked away to be intubated. I wasn’t able to see her, or hear her, or hold her. My brief twinge of sadness was quickly replaced by my focus on birthing twin B, Cade, who I held for less than 10 seconds before he was also whisked away to the team of franticly waiting doctors and nurses. I didn’t see them until the next afternoon, and since I had had an epidural, I remember feeling euphoric in those hours after birth. I had no idea the struggle that lay ahead of us with two 13 week premature babies. I had no idea how those first few hours after birth would shape me in the long term as a mother. I fully believe that the fact that I didn’t feel pain when I birthed them dulled my sense of reality when they were born. I also think the lack of immediate skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding negatively affected my bond with them, something I wouldn’t realize until years later. When I went in to visit my babies the next afternoon, I was excited, but detached. I felt like I was looking at tiny, sad, little babies, not my very own fragile, struggling, barely-hanging-on-to-life babies.
I visited them daily over our 8 weeks in the NICU, usually two or three times per day, but I always wondered why I felt so detached. I liked holding them, I looked forward to breastfeeding, but I was scared to take them home and be their sole caregiver. I was terrified of parenting without my support system of nurses, without monitors that beeped urgent warnings when something was wrong. When we went home, I bawled over the fear that had overtaken me.
Our first few months of parenting were a blur. The twins came home at 2 months old, and I nursed for 4 more months before giving up. I rarely actually nursed in that time, mostly pumping and probably only actually breastfeeding 2 or 3 times per day, and with a shield at that. I felt more frustration that satisfaction or accomplishment in our breastfeeding relationship. Everyone I knew that had twins had told me repeatedly that the first year was the hardest, so I spent their entire first year anxiously awaiting their first birthday so I could breathe a sigh of relief that we had made it. When I look back, my heart shatters at the thought that I missed out on so much because I was so focused on the future that I couldn’t even see the present.
Being a mother of preemies is hard. Unless you’ve been there, you cannot comprehend the myriad of emotions that assault you every morning when you wake up, and every night as you close your eyes. I think my way of dealing with these feelings was to shut off, to ignore most of them. I had times where I gave in to the wave of emotion, and I would feel inconsolably depressed, overwhelmed by feelings of failure. I have never really forgiven myself for them being born so early… I am still, seven years later, working through all of the guilt associated with their birth and first few years. After CeCe was born, my eyes were opened to all that I had missed out on with the twins. I saw that the bond that I should have had simply wasn’t there. I loved them more than anything I had ever experienced, but I was a little detached. I knew something was wrong. I think I suffered from pretty intense post-partum depression, but I had no idea, and wouldn’t have known where to turn if I had known.
Having CeCe and Adele has taught me so much about what I want in my relationship with the twins. Once they were older, we started co-sleeping. I figured better late than never. We would snuggle every morning, and we would take them on individual dates to spend special time together. I have spent the last several years working through my guilt, changing things as needed, and allowing God to really heal my heart. It has not been easy, and I still have a long way to go. I have to stop and pray every time those old feelings of regret and guilt wash over me, because there is nothing else that assuages it. I do know that I feel attached to the twins now, just as much as I feel attached to my two youngest. I don’t really know when that changed or what changed it, but it’s there.
The mistakes I made, the decisions I regret, they have shaped me into who I am now. If I have ever hurt someone with what feels like my judgment, I am sorry. I know I can come across that way, but I think it’s an escape for old feelings that still linger. My goal in educating others, in sharing our experiences, is encouragement. I truly believe that had I been educated in different ways of parenting earlier on, things could have turned out differently. But then again, I also believe that everything happens for a reason, which encourages me to continue on.
I wanted to share this piece of our story because I know I’m not the only mom who regrets parenting decisions. I know I’m not the only one who was scarred by a birth experience, or who now feels liberated to go with the flow of their natural parenting instincts. I know we all feel guilt, and we all have our own story, our own mistakes that have shaped who we are. These experiences make up the beautiful tapestry that is parenting, and I want to do my part to encourage when I can. I always hope that our story of hurt can bring some healing to another mama who may be struggling, whether it’s with current issues or past regret.