Danielle Fishel is experiencing a lot of firsts with her new baby — including the dreaded feeling of "mom guilt." The Boy Meets World star opened up about the topic in a candid essay for Good Morning America.
"I heard it was the awful feeling you’re never doing what you’re supposed to be doing, or not doing enough of what you should be doing or not doing what you should be doing well enough," she began. "Naively, and perhaps arrogantly, I thought, 'I'll never let myself have mom guilt.' Then I had a baby."
Fishel and her husband, comedian Jensen Karp, welcomed son Adler in June.
"My 'birth plan' included having a natural childbirth, free from any drugs, because I read it was better for the baby and ultimately better for mom, as well," the 38-year-old actress explained. Fishel's "drug-free" plan went "out the window" when she went into labor more than four weeks early. Doctors discovered fluid in Adler's lungs so she was "immediately put on sodium magnesium" to stop contractions. After a decrease in amniotic fluid, she was induced with Pitocin.
"The guilty thoughts came flooding into my head," she recalled. "'Why did my water break so early? Was it because I was on my feet working 12-plus-hour days at almost 36 weeks? Was it all the spicy food I had been craving? Did I do something that will hurt my baby?'"
Adler remained in the neo-natal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital Los Angeles for three weeks.
"Immediately after delivery, Adler was given a feeding tube so we weren’t able to breastfeed the way I always envisioned, but we were able to feed him breast milk through the tube," she revealed. "Unfortunately, after 10 days, the fatty nature of breast milk caused a major increase in the amount of fluid in his lungs and we were rushed by ambulance to Children’s Hospital, where he was taken off breast milk and put on a medium chain triglyceride formula."
Fishel wrote "the guilt arrived with gusto."
"'Why is my milk hurting my child? Is my baby allergic to me? Formula is bad for him because it’s full of high fructose corn syrup. This is all my fault,'" she remembered thinking. "Of all the experiences we’ve had with Adler’s health, for some reason, not being able to feed him from my body has been one of the most emotional for me."
Doctors assured the Girl Meets World star Adler would "most likely" grow out of the intolerance and that she should keep pumping. She started breastfeeding again around six weeks postpartum after getting the green light from doctors.
"Then, during a follow-up X-ray four weeks later, we discovered the fluid had come back and we immediately halted all breast milk and he had to go back on the MCT formula," she shared. "I was, quite honestly, an emotional wreck."
The formula made Adler gassy and fussy and Fishel started feeling guilty all over again.
"'Did we make the decision to try breast milk too soon? Is there something I could have done to prevent this? How did I miss the symptoms of fluid in his lungs? Has he been struggling to breathe?'" she wrote.
Fishel went back to work directing Disney Channel's Sydney to the Max, and like many moms, had conflicting feelings about her decision to resume her career.
"My first day back was hard. I came home after being away for 12 hours and Adler was asleep for the night. He hadn’t seen my face since 7 a.m. that morning and now he wouldn’t see it again until he woke me up for a middle-of-the-night feeding," she explained. "As I cried over his sweet sleeping face, the guilt came back with a vengeance. 'Does he remember me? Does he think I abandoned him? Am I hurting my son by desiring a career outside the home? Am I selfish?'"
She continued, "For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of being a mom. I looked forward to sleepless nights, poopy diapers and being so enamored with my baby that I lost hours of my life just staring at him while he slept. However, nothing in the world could have prepared me for the reality that being a mom would also mean never feeling like I’m good enough.
"None of us escape mom-guilt. It’s there whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or work outside the house, but one there is one thing I know for certain each and every mother has in common: We are trying our absolute best 100 percent of the time," she continued. "When you see a mom feeding her baby formula, or breast milk in a bottle, or directly from her breast, or through a feeding tube (I have done all of these in Adler’s 15 weeks of life), or you see a mom dragging a screaming toddler through Target, or you see a mom calling home from work, or you get a text from a stay-at-home mom who is ready to pull her hair out, know that there is a story there. A unique story with details you will probably never be privy to, but you can rest assured that mother is often consumed with unnecessary guilt."
Fishel ended by asking mothers to cut each other some slack.
"The next time you see a mom with her baby or young child, look her in the eye and honestly tell her she’s doing an amazing job," she concluded. "Because you are, Mama. I see you and you’re doing great."
Fishel has documented her motherhood journey on social media, but has yet to share a photo of Adler's face. "We are two people who made a conscious choice to be in the public eye and share what would normally be private moments with the public," she explained about her and her husband’s decision. "Adler isn't capable of making that choice for himself and until he is, we've decided to shield him from places where strangers can comment on him."
She added, "I'm sorry if that offends you but we're doing the best we can and it's hard. Being a parent and making decisions for your kid is tough."
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