Print Friendly and PDF

Icebergs are deceiving because what you see on the surface is usually only a small fraction of what lies below. Observing the behavior of an anxious child is sometimes like looking at the tip of an iceberg: underlying the anxious behavior are layers of emotions and experiences.

Therapists often illustrate this idea with an image of an iceberg.

While the image above can be eye-opening, there's a huge assumption that parents can actually recognize that tip of the iceberg or look at a child's behavior and say, "Yup, that's anxiety."

Here's the reality: anxious behavior in children is not uniform.

Your child might ask repetitive questions for reassurance and no matter how many times you answer, the question repeats. You might have the perfect child at school that comes home and constantly picks fights with you or siblings. You may have a child that can't focus, motivate, or even loses sleep at night. Or maybe your child is downright angry.

Anxiety, in fact, can manifest in a multitude of forms. In our work at GoZen!, we see anxiety showing up eight different ways.

This makes the iceberg look more like this:

Let's try to understand why anxiety manifests in these ways by taking a deeper dive into each:

1. Difficulty sleeping

Anxiety and sleep problems have a chicken and egg connection. Research has shown that anxiety can lead to sleep disorders and chronic sleep disruption can lead to anxiety.

In children, having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is one of the hallmark characteristics of anxiety. In many kids, trains of anxious thoughts keep them awake long after they should be asleep. Others have anxiety about falling asleep, thinking they will miss their alarm or be tired in the morning.

2. Anger

The link between anger and anxiety is an under-researched area, but in our work, the manifestation of anger in anxious children is clear. Here are some hypotheses as to why there is a link. Anxiety occurs when there is an overestimation of a perceived threat (e.g., a test or a party) and an underestimation of coping skills (e.g.,"I can't handle this."). When our kids are chronically and excessively worried and don't feel like they have to skills to manage the anxiety, they feel helpless. Helplessness leads to frustration which can show up as anger.

Anger and anxiety are also both activated in the threat center of your brain. When the brain perceives a threat, the amygdala (a small, almond-shaped cluster of neurons in the brain) activates the flight-or-fight response which floods your body with hormones to make you stronger and faster. This genetic wisdom protects us from threats and danger.

Because anger and anxiety are both activated from the same brain region and have similar physiological patterns (rapid breathing, heart racing, pupils dilating etc.), it's possible that when your child feels like there is a threat (e.g. going to a party), the fight or anger response is activated as a form of protection.

Finally, one of the markers of generalized anxiety is "irritability" which is also part of the anger family.

3. Defiance

There is nothing more frustrating to a child with anxiety than feeling like their life is out of control. As a way of feeling secure and comforted, they seek to take back control, often in unexpected and peculiar ways.

For example, a child already experiencing the flood of stress hormones at the prospect of going to bed, lashes out at being given an orange cup instead of a blue one. Unable to communicate what is really going on, it is easy to interpret the child's defiance as a lack of discipline instead of an attempt to control a situation where they feel anxious and helpless.

4. Chandeliering

To borrow a term from renowned social scientist, Brené Brown, chandeliering is when a seemingly calm person suddenly flies off the handle for no reason. In reality, they have pushed hurt and anxiety so deep for so long that a seemingly innocent comment or event suddenly sends them straight through the chandelier.

A child who goes from calm to a full-blown tantrum without a reason is often ill-equipped to talk about their anxiety and tries to hide it instead. After days or even weeks of appearing "normal" on the surface, these children will suddenly reach a point where they cannot hide their anxious feelings anymore and have a disproportionate reaction to something that triggers their anxiety.

5. Lack of focus

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with some form of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the US. In the past research has suggested that ADHD and anxiety often go hand in hand. But studies have shown that children with anxiety don't necessarily have ADHD more often.

Instead, these two conditions have symptoms that overlap—a lack of focus and inattention being two of them. Children with anxiety are often so caught up in their own thoughts that they do not pay attention to what is going on around them. This is especially troublesome at school where they are expected to pay attention to a teacher for hours at a time.

6. Avoidance

As humans, we have a tendency to avoid things that are stressful or uncomfortable. These avoidance behaviors happen in two forms—doing and not doing.

If you are trying to avoid getting sick, you may wash your hands repeatedly throughout the day (doing).

If you are avoiding a person that makes you feel uncomfortable, you may skip a party or meeting (not doing).

The only problem with avoidance is that it often snowballs. Children who are trying to avoid a particular person, place or task often end up experiencing more of whatever it is they are avoiding. If schoolwork is the source of a kid's anxiety, they will go to great lengths to avoid it and in the process end up having to do more to make up for what they missed. They will have also spent time and energy on avoiding it in the process, making it the source of greater anxiety in the end.

7. Negativity

From a neurological standpoint, people with anxiety tend to experience negative thoughts at a much greater intensity than they do positive ones. As a result, negative thoughts tend to take hold faster and easier than positive ones, making someone with anxiety seem like a downer all of the time.

Children with anxiety are especially prone to these patterns because they have not yet developed the ability to recognize a negative thought for what it is and turn it around by engaging in positive self-talk.

8. Overplanning

Over-planning and defiance go hand in hand in their root cause. Where anxiety can cause some children to try to take back control through defiant behavior, it can cause others to over-plan for situations where planning is minimal or unnecessary.

A child with anxiety who has been invited to a friend's birthday party may not only plan what they will wear and what gift to take, they will ask questions about who else will be there, what they will be doing, when their parent will pick them up, what they should do if someone at the party has an allergy, who to call if they get nervous or uncomfortable, who they can talk to while they are there… preparing for every possibility is a way a child with anxiety takes control of an uncontrollable situation.

Originally posted on GoZen!.

You might also like:

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$99.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

Our Partners

[Trigger warning: This is the story of a woman whose mother passed away from cancer.]

I was nine weeks pregnant, and my own mama was in the ICU on the day of my first ultrasound. I flinched at the cold gel, looked at my midwife and told her, "We really need a win today."

She put the ultrasound probe on my belly and there it was; that reassuring "whomp, whomp, whomp" of my baby's heartbeat filled the room, It was our first precious win in what was about to become a season of loss.

Carrying our good news, my husband Kelvin and I flew to Washington that afternoon and told our families. My mama was in a hospital bed when I told her, too sick to hug me, but overjoyed all the same.

FEATURED VIDEO

I've never met a woman stronger than my mama. I'm not certain I ever will.

Tiny in stature but enormous in hope, she refused to let anything beat her. When I was little, she was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease that her doctors could not make go away. As the years rolled by, sarcoidosis took a slow, steady toll on her body, quietly creeping into her lungs, her liver and her spleen. She had a lumpectomy, a lymphadenectomy, chemotherapy and radiation to beat breast cancer. She had her spleen removed as a result of the sarcoidosis.

She was then diagnosed with smoldering myeloma; she and her doctors quietly waited and watched for it to show its true colors.

The day I told my mama I was pregnant, she was in the middle of a four-week stint in the ICU, her lungs bravely fighting a dangerous combination of flu, pneumonia, sarcoidosis and fungal infection.

So we talked of death and life, diapers and baby names, fear and hope. We spoke of trusting in what we can't control. I grieved, and I celebrated, sharing our news, growing our baby, and desperately praying for my mama.

My pregnancy

I'm a labor and delivery nurse, both a blessing and a curse when you're pregnant with your own. I'd seen so many births, had so much time to decide what I wanted—what I hoped it would look like. But I'd also seen the things that could happen. I shared due dates with mamas who came into our triage, their babies struggling to live while I quietly and gratefully rubbed my own belly.

Knowledge is power, but at times, it can also bring fear.

Over the next few months, I tried to ride all the waves of worry and elation, fear and joy. Yes, I knew too much to be blissfully naïve, but I was also a first-time mama, joyfully marveling over every new thing. I wanted what many want: a healthy baby, an unmedicated delivery, and the privilege of breastfeeding. I choose to see a midwife, as I had loved the care I had watched them give.

But ultimately, like my patients, I knew I couldn't control much—I just had to trust.

When I was seven months pregnant, my mama was diagnosed with lymphoma. It was cancer number three on an already exhausted body, and it quickly became clear that my baby would not have the privilege of knowing their Nana the way that I desperately wanted them too. This was, finally, the thing that would beat her.

Her plans to be there when our baby was born, to fold tiny baby clothes, to make me dinner and to share naps with our sweet newborn quickly unraveled.

Kelvin would not get the privilege of proudly proclaiming gender and weight and length to my anxious mama in a hospital waiting room.

I would not get the sweet privilege of my mama taking care of me, her own baby girl.

It was the most painful collision of two equally hard and beautiful truths. I was losing my mama and becoming a mama at the same time—a roller coaster of emotion, unlike any I had ever known.

How was I supposed to hold inexplicable joy and inexplicable grief at the same time? How could I be a mama without my own mama? Would she somehow get to meet my baby? Who would I call? Who would I cry to? Would my baby be okay if they only got a broken version of me? Who was going to tell me I would be okay when all things seemed to say that I would not?

I was staring at mamahood, sure to be the greatest challenge I had ever faced, while painfully coming to terms with the likely truth that I was going to have to do it without her. So there I sat, amidst baby kicks and hiccups, a new crib and a guest room we would no longer need, grieving, desperate, grateful—again, I just had to trust.

My labor started

I was 39 weeks and two days pregnant when I went into labor. It was 2:26 am, and aside from my approaching due date, I had gone to bed with zero indication that labor was coming. Contractions woke me, quietly and painlessly, but clearly present.

I lay in my bed, contemplating whether to wake Kelvin. I went to the bathroom, drank some water—all the things I told my patients to do, I did.

And still, they came—every 8 minutes, then 7 minutes.

At some point, I got out of bed, doing laps around our tiny house. I labored alone, quietly, for four hours. I walked and walked, making my body prove to my nurse's head that it was real.

Six minutes, 5 minutes, 4 minutes—my labor pattern was textbook. Finally, I woke Kelvin, certain that our baby was coming.

He and I continued to labor together at home, the minutes both short and long, as we waited for the right time to head to the hospital. Somewhere in those hours, I stopped thinking like a nurse, instead of a woman in labor like anyone else.

Four minutes, 3 minutes.

And then there it was, a contraction that felt different, that said, "time to go." Kelvin questioned me once, as our birth instructor had told him to, but I insisted. "Trust me, Kelvin; I want to go."

I remember no car ride more than I remember that one. My husband's eyes on me in the back seat saying, "Good job, babe, 18 minutes to go… we're almost there, 8 minutes to go."

We arrived at the hospital

We pulled into my hospital, my workplace, at 10 am. I ran up the stairs, vaguely noticing the familiar faces sneaking smiles at me.

In triage, we learned that I was eight centimeters with a bulging bag of water (which means it would likely break at any moment). Things moved quickly then, as they do when a mama is that far along. They placed me on the monitors and my nurse brain briefly kicked back in—the baby's heart tones were perfect, and the contractions regular.

The monitors came off, and we moved to our room. Kelvin and I continued to labor together.

Three minutes, 2 minutes.

The room stayed quiet. I had been clear with my coworkers and friends that I wanted no one in the room except those who had to be there.

I remember the pain, panic and fear, all emotions I'd been told I would feel as I transitioned, as I got closer. There were brief intermittent checks of the baby's heart, the rhythm always steady. I got myself onto my hands and knees on the floor, looked up at my midwife, "I think I have to push." It was too soon, wasn't it? I'd only been in active labor for a few hours. But my midwife knew to listen.

"Okay, Laura. I trust you."

My husband ran to the bathroom, and I asked my midwife to check my cervix. I was 10 centimeters, and my bag of waters was still intact. I asked her to break it; I was ready to be done. Water went everywhere, all over the floor and up my back. Meconium, too—our baby was ready to come out.

My husband came out of the door, panic on his face. A lot can happen in two minutes.

I looked at him and said, "I'm complete. I need to push." I pushed once on the floor, but I wanted to be in bed. I panicked with the next push—it was an indescribable sensation of fullness and pain. My nurse and my husband simply said, "Breathe Laura. Trust your body."

I knew I needed to charge right through it. It took four more minutes, two more contractions and six more pushes. And then the baby was out and on my chest.

I looked to Kelvin. "A girl," he said, tears streaming down his face. "We have a daughter."

The time was 12:26 pm. The day—my mama's birthday.

My baby and her Nana

Emmeline Jean, 7 pounds 4 ounces, 20.5 inches long, was born my own mama's birthday. She was named after her Nana, Tammy Jean.

Emme and I Facetimed my mama daily for four weeks until we flew home for Christmas so they could finally meet.

That Christmas was beautiful but hard. My mama's hair was thinning and falling out. We found out the chemotherapy wasn't working, so the plan was to try radiation next. Over the next few months, my mama's health continued to decline. I quit my job and flew home many times, trying to get Emme and me as much time as possible with my precious mama.

Those trips were painfully lovely, Emme and her Nana the most incredible picture of life and loss, joy and anger, of enduring hope in the hardest circumstances.

My mama died on April 29th, 2017, five months after Emme was born.

Though they never blew out their candles together, I still consider their shared birthday nothing but a miracle. It's a hard day for me each year, but I don't ever want Emme to feel my sadness. The joy of celebrating Emme's life is such a balm for my pain, the sweetest reminder of my mama's legacy.

The love of my mama was a love unlike any I have ever known. Her loss has been both everything and nothing that I thought it would be—an unraveling of who I am, and the slow, steady and painful process of redefining myself as a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend.

Today, two years and one more granddaughter later, a little bit broken and a little bit okay, we continue to (try to) trust in what we can't control.

The sweet privilege of loving my own girls has been the most precious glimpse of how much my mama loved me—limitless and unconditionally.

Lo Mansfield

Life

I walked out of my doctor's office and the New Mexican sun was blinding. Its rays shined too brightly on my reality, or at least what I thought was my new reality.

The doctor had just told me my unborn son had Down syndrome. "At worst he'll never feed himself and at best he'll mop the floors of a fast-food restaurant one day," the doctor unkindly said to me while I clutched my bulging midsection with one hand and wiped a tear away with the other.

At night I was exhausted from pregnancy and could normally fall asleep with ease. But then morning would come and I was faced with my reality all over again—that's when the tears would start. Getting out of bed was the hardest task I did each day. One morning my mom had to pull the covers off of me, she turned on the shower and then brushed my hair because I couldn't do it.

FEATURED VIDEO

The first 27 years of my life went just as I planned. I worked in the field I had dreamed of as a TV News Anchor, I married the love of my life, I had a daughter, I was having a son. But the doctor made me believe this new child would have a life not worth living, so I grieved like a death had taken place. I grieved for him but I mostly grieved for myself. I thought my life had shattered; I was left walking barefoot in the shards of the unexpected.

The grief had passed, I was starting to see how the doctor boxed in my son's life based on his own outdated notions and biases, but I believed him because I unknowingly had my own. I was consumed by all I thought my child wouldn't be able to do instead of thinking about all he could do. Even after the grief fog had lifted, I realized I still had a lot of work to do in how I viewed disability and my son's life. I needed a better telescope.

Through research and new relationships, I realized disability isn't always something someone has, but instead is a large part of who someone is. I didn't want my son to be defined by Down syndrome, and slowly I realized that was my own bias, my unknown ableism, working against him. I learned about school inclusion, how special education is not a location where children are sent, but a service meant to come to the child. I started getting involved in the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network—an organization aimed at changing diagnosis experiences like the one I had. As the love for my son grew deeper, so did I.

However, it would take me a bit longer to realize I not only needed to broaden my horizons in how I viewed disability and how I viewed my son but myself. My life. It would take me a while to realize I had boxed myself in.

The view I once had of my life was not the only life that was possible. I thought the way to happiness meant: a TV career, a husband and 3.5 typically developing children. I had such a narrow view of success and the potential life had for me. It took being hit by the unexpected to open up my worldview.

I once thought life was about checking as many boxes as possible and grabbing as much happiness along the way. I have since come to learn a good life is one full of love and purpose and my child with Down syndrome has given me both. I see how he has had a trickle-down effect on our family. His sister is more empathetic than others her age, his pre-teen cousins are concerned with social justice in ways most haven't yet awoken to. I thought Down syndrome was darkness, instead, it is light. Through it, I and those who know my son can see the world more clearly.

What I initially thought was the worst thing ever ended up being an unexpected life lesson. What I once thought was a tragedy, ended up being a blessing. Without Down syndrome, he wouldn't be who he is. Without my child with Down syndrome, I wouldn't be who I am— changed.

My unexpected motherhood opened me up to possibilities I never thought possible.

It took the unexpected to ignite a new passion, a new fire, inside of me. I thought the pain, the unexpected element introduced in my life, meant my life was ending. I thought my life had shattered, but instead, the baby inside of me was slowly pulling everything into place. He gave me a new and better beginning.

Life

As life begins to speed up this holiday season, it's important to unwind from the hustle and bustle with a celebration with friends and family. A good drink can add a festive touch while warming you up and refreshing your palate. Whether you're a bartender in the making or a novice, we've got you covered.

If you're a mixologist, dive in and enjoy crafting these tasty cocktails. Feel free to get fancy and add your own twist to the recipes. If you're a newbie, know that you don't have to be a bartender to whip up tasty drinks this year. Follow each recipe step by step and spend more time enjoying the holiday. Cheers!

Here are nine easy to make cocktails to enjoy (and impress your guests) this holiday season:

Zesty diplo cider

Zesty diplo cider

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Diplomatico Mantuano Rum
  • ¾ cups water
  • lemon spice tea bag
  • 1 oz apple cider
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • cinnamon stick
  • lemon slice
  1. Bring water to boil in saucepan; toss in lemon spice tea bag and steep for 5 minutes.
  2. Remove bag and stir in sugar, apple cider, Diplomatico Mantuano Rum and cinnamon stick.
  3. Heat just to steaming.
  4. Garnish with cinnamon stick and lemon slice. Optional: add ½ tsp of butter to mug.

Apple cinnamon daiquiri

Apple cinnamon daiquiri

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Diplomatico Planas Rum
  • ½ oz Apple Schnapps
  • ¼ oz Cinnamon Schnapps
  • ½ oz Freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¾ oz Pressed apple juice
  1. Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled glass.
  2. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or apple wedge.

Prepare to be empressed

Prepare to be empressed

Ingredients:

  • 1.5oz Empress 1908
  • .25oz Italicu
  • .5oz lime Juice
  • .5oz rosemary-infused simple syrup
  1. Shake ingredients on ice, strain into a chilled coupe.
  2. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Spiced old fashioned

Spiced old fashioned

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Partida Añejo
  • 2 Bar spoons of Maple syrup
  • 2 Slices of Fresno Chili's Dash Angostura Bitters
  • Orange Peel
  1. In an old-fashioned glass muddle the fresno chili slices, bitters and maple syrup.
  2. Add ice and Partida Añejo.
  3. Stir to mix all ingredients.
  4. Garnish with an orange twist.

Americano cocktail

Americano cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz Boissiere Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 ½ oz Campari
  • Soda
  1. Build directly in a highball glass on the rocks.
  2. Top with soda.
  3. Garnish with an orange slice.

Pumpkin pie martini

Pumpkin pie martini

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Jaisalmer Indian Gin
  • 1 oz Dos Maderas Rum
  • ½ oz Half and Half
  • 2 Tbsp Pumpkin Puree (canned or homemade)
  • 1 oz Maple Syrup
  • ¼ tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Ice Cubes
  • Maple Syrup
  • 1 Graham Cracker
  • ½ tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp Granulated Sugar

For the Rim:

  1. Crush graham cracker in a Ziploc bag or food processor until it resembles sand.
  2. Stir in the cinnamon and sugar. Line the rim of a martini glass with maple syrup.
  3. Dip/roll in the cracker mix. Set aside.

For the Martini:

  1. In a cocktail shaker, combine the ice and remaining cocktail ingredients.
  2. Shake vigorously until shaker chilled to the touch.
  3. Strain and pour cocktail into the prepared martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and nutmeg.

Peach tree old fashioned

Peach tree old fashioned

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Peerless Rye
  • 1 tsp. Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup
  • 4 Large Peach Slices
  • 2 Dashes Black Walnut Bitters
  • Orchid for Garnish
  1. Muddle two peach slices in a mixing glass, add all other ingredients and stir with ice for about 15 seconds.
  2. Double fine strain into a rocks glass full of crushed ice and garnish with remaining peach slices and orchid.

East Indian gimlet

East Indian gimlet

Ingredients:

  • 1.5oz Jaisalmer Gin
  • 1.5oz lime juice
  • .75oz Ginger Simple Syrup
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped peeled ginger
  • .25oz St. Germain
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish

For the Ginger Simple Syrup:

  1. Bring sugar, ginger, and ¾ cup water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar.
  2. Remove from heat and let sit 20 minutes.
  3. Strain into a jar, cover and chill.

For the cocktail:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Pour in the gin, lime juice and ginger syrup.
  3. Shake until well chilled. Strain into cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with fresh rosemary.
Life

Congrats, you're expecting! You're excited about the tiny bundle of joy growing in your womb, and you're reading through the Google search results to prepare for this new adventure. You planned out the music to play when laboring (Enya is relaxing). You have your stretchy pants picked out for post-labor comfort, and are plotting out which brand of lavender aromatherapy you'll use to ease your labor pains. You may also be planning to breastfeed.

This is where I burst your bubble. The number one rule of parenthood that you will soon learn is that you can't plan for everything, and, most of the time, you can't really plan for much of anything.

FEATURED VIDEO

No matter how many adorable, organic cotton onesies you order from that boutique you fell in love with on that trip to Laos, your baby will spit up on all of them and you will end up buying cheap onesies in bulk. You may end up taking all the medicine you said you'd never take during labor or welcome baby into the world via a C-section.

And your plans might go out the window when you're faced with real-time decisions that you didn't think to Google. Breastfeeding is one of those things that might not always go as planned.

And yet, as with many of the surprises parenthood brings, I'm here to tell you it will be okay.

Many expecting moms want to breastfeed­. After all, society says breast is best, but few people tell you just how hard it can be. And no one stops to think that using hyperboles like "liquid gold" to describe breast milk is a huge disservice to the many who end up not being able to or who really don't want to breastfeed.

You might have a nurse in the hospital who puts baby on your nipple and tries to teach them how to latch. But when it's 2 a.m. and your 1-day-old baby is screaming with hunger and you're not producing enough milk to satisfy them (and baby is not remembering the lesson from the nurse earlier in the day), the whole breastfeeding thing can feel less like the euphoric bonding experience you preemptively imagined and more like a gut-wrenching impossibility that makes you want to rip all of your hair out of your head.

But you refrain from ripping all of your hair out of your head. Mostly because too many other parts of your body already hurt. And that would require more energy than you have.

You might take all the herbs and pay all the certified lactations consultants and attend all the La Leche meetings, and yet, it's still not happening. Maybe baby isn't latching. Maybe it simply doesn't feel good. Maybe your breast milk doesn't agree with baby. Maybe you bought all the pumping accoutrement and try all of the elimination diet suggestions until you're practically eating just lettuce and iced water exclusively, but baby is still gassy and fussy and sick. Maybe you just don't want to breastfeed. It's your body, after all. They're your precious breasts.

You have a right to do what you want with them and you shouldn't feel pressure to use them to nourish the next generation if that makes you feel uncomfortable. Or if you have to return to work sooner than Mother Nature intended and you don't want to risk leaking during important meetings, or stopping to pump every three hours. All of these things happened to me, and they happen to a lot of us. And it's not the end of the world.

So I'm here to tell you it's okay if breastfeeding doesn't work out.

I know you may feel shame or a sense of failure. You may fear that your baby will get more ear infections, or be overweight, or that you won't bond as strongly, or they'll miss out on all of the other benefits of breastfeeding.

I experienced all of the feelings of guilt and remorse when breastfeeding didn't work out for me and my little one. I felt like I did something wrong and was failing my child. But the truth is whether you breastfeed or formula feed, it's unlikely to have a discernible effect on your child's long-term health or wellbeing. In fact, studies indicate breastfed babies do not have a cognitive advantage over other children.

Worrying about the fact that you're a failed breastfeeder could, though, have a negative impact on your own mental health. One study found that women who planned to breastfeed but were not able to were twice as likely to suffer from postpartum depression as women who were able to feed their babies as planned.

So how do you deal with these feelings? Perspective helps. There are generations of human beings, namely the majority of those born in the decades of the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and even '90s, who were exclusive formula babies. Our moms didn't breastfeed because they were taught formula was the preferred, "healthier" alternative, and it didn't require tiny humans hanging off their bodies all day, which must have been a revelation at the time.

Social pressure to breastfeed places undue pressure on new moms to produce or fail your baby. It comes from online forums and social media groups, and even from doctors and other professionals. I have seen new moms going to great lengths to avoid supplementing with formula, out of the misguided belief that it's somehow wrong or because they'd been made to feel that doing so would mean "throwing in the towel."

All that matters is that baby gets fed. It doesn't matter how that happens. Whether you feed your baby breast milk or formula, the only thing that's important is that baby is getting the nourishment they need.

When I finally gave up trying to feed my baby my milk, I ended up donating nearly 1,000 ounces of pumped milk to a mom who wasn't able to produce her own milk and had a sick, underweight baby who could only tolerate breast milk.

In the end, I was able to feed my healthy baby with formula that suited him best, and I helped someone else's baby thrive. When I was finally able to get over my guilt and disappointment in not being able to breastfeed, I realized that some might not call that a failure at all; in fact, some might see it as twice as successful.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Life
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.