When Breastfeeding is Hard
I bought formula for my 10 month old today.
I picked what I wanted, put it in the cart, and continued on with my shopping- guilt free.
To some, that's not a big deal. But to me, it is.
I have breastfed all of my eight kids, some with a little difficulty, and some with none at all.
When Hannah was born ten and a half months ago, I figured it would be easy, especially since she latched within the first few minutes of life, and things at the hospital seemed to go wonderfully. In fact, they went so well that the lactation counselor didn't even pay me a visit, after hearing how well it was going, and that it was number eight.
And then I got home.
My milk refused to come in. I had had a super fast labor and delivery, and I think that because of that, it delayed my milk coming in. Usually by day three, I am full of too much milk, but this time, that didn't happen.
I was unprepared, so I nursed around the clock. Finally, by the end of day four, I knew I needed to supplement. Hannah hadn't had a wet diaper in almost 24 hours. I had no formula in the house, because with my last two, they never even had a drop of formula. I wasn't prepared at all. I was about to panic, until I remembered that just that day, I had received a package in the mail from a formula company. I ripped it open and made a two ounce bottle. Within a few minutes, Hannah had devoured the whole thing.
And that's when the guilt, the shame, the worry, and our difficult journey of breastfeeding started.
Because Hannah had not had to work for the milk, she suddenly wanted only bottles. Every time I would try to latch from then on out, she would scream. And scream. And cry. And I would cry. We would both cry.
I had never had this happen with any of my other children. I felt betrayed. My body had betrayed me, and now my baby didn't even want me. I called the hospital and got the lactation counselor's number. Thankfully she set me up with a system that allowed Hannah to take in milk through a tiny tube attached to me, thus encouraging her to latch. But her latch was weak, and she still didn't want to work at it.
I sank into despair. Nursing was so important to me. Not only was it nutritionally superior, (this had been hammered into my head for years...) I loved the bond that it brought. Also, I knew that if I got it down, I would have months and months of free milk to give to my baby. I couldn't handle the thought of not nursing.
I worked at it- hours and hours poured into trying to get her to latch, and when it didn't work, pumping and giving her a bottle.
While I was at my lowest, I was home listening to a sermon. The preacher said, "Being a mom is hard work. I mean, you are up all hours of the night- especially if you are doing it RIGHT and breastfeeding, amen?" Those words hit me so hard. Here I was, up entire nights sometimes, just trying to get Hannah to latch, and we couldn't figure it out. I was trying to do it right, but it wasn't working! Right in my mind, at least. I just didn't understand why my eighth was so hard to breastfeed.
I continued on, but it was a struggle. She went back and forth between latching and screaming for a bottle. For eight long weeks, I never knew if she would take me. I had to pack a pump, formula, bottles, the whole nine yards any time I went somewhere. The thought of pumping for a year made me want to throw up. If it wasn't for a good friend sending me a hands free pump to use, I don't think I would have even attempted to continue to try.
There were six of us women at church who were pregnant at the same time. Hannah was the last baby born. I remember being at church and wanting to cry because nursing was so easy for them. They would just latch their babies, and they would eat. No fuss. No coaxing, no pleading.
I was always so stressed out at every feed, wondering if she would take me or not, that my milk wouldn't let down. So I had to add a warm washcloth to my routine as well. I would sit with a warm washcloth, trying not to think of how stressed I was, just so my milk would start flowing. I had panic attacks. My whole body would break out in a sweat if my milk refused to let down, and then that would start the screaming again, until I gave up and gave Hannah a bottle. Then I would have to go pump. Sometimes I would try for an hour to latch, give a bottle, then pump. Over and over and over.
It was a dark time. I had so many dark thoughts going through my head. I wasn't a good enough Mama for Hannah. Someone else could do better than me. What kind of mom can't breastfeed? Why didn't she want me? I had to keep trying. I had to make this work. I could not give up.
We made it work. FINALLY, by two months, she decided to take me. But.
She still fought it. Every step of the way. She would get frustrated if my milk didn't let down. She would kick, and buck, and push away, and fuss. So I would switch sides, only for her to fight me until that side started flowing. And then the whole process would start over again. Our nursing sessions were not pleasant. They were not stress free. They were not moments of bonding.
Until I weaned her.
At nine months, I had had enough. I was stressed out every time I went to go nurse her, and she wasn't having a fun time either. I worked with her for three weeks before she would take a bottle again. But when she did- for the first time- we had pleasant feeding sessions.
I still hold her, rock her, and look at her as she eats. She lays there peacefully, drinking her fill from her bottle.
She is happier. I am happier. She is calm. I am calm.
I wish I would have done this nine months ago.
There is so much judgement and stigma around formula versus breastmilk. We create two "classes" of moms- those who nurse, and those who do formula. I agree that God's design is always best, but for some babies, they might be better off on science milk.
I feel like I was so worried about nursing, so stressed out from trying to make it work, and I sunk so low in despair the first couple of months, that I didn't get to enjoy Hannah the way I should have. We probably both would have been happier had I just ditched the pumping and the triple feeding and just snuggled her while she drank a bottle made with formula.
And that would have been the right choice for us.
Every baby is different. Every situation is unique. Every journey and every story is not equal, or the same.
Ditch the Mommy guilt.
If you breastfeed, great! But it doesn't make you superior to other moms. If you formula feed- wonderful! But it doesn't make you inferior to those who breastfeed.
Hannah has never been happier. She has been my youngest to do everything. The youngest to roll over, crawl, and now she is toddling everywhere. Since she has been on formula, she is fed, happy, and calm. And so am I.
Motherhood is hard enough for all of us. Why don't we ditch the mommy shaming, the guilt, and the judgement, and just encourage each other?
And while we are at it, why don't we take it easy on ourselves?
I am a firm believer that my life's struggles teach me things- things that will equip me to help other moms. This is just one of those cases. I had never had a baby who refused to latch. It had always come relatively easy. I have a deeper appreciation for those who press through the struggles to be able to breastfeed, but I also have compassion on those who can't breastfeed. I get it, Mama.
At the end of the day, fed and happy is the goal.
Now, at almost ten and a half months, my hormones are leveling out and I am thinking more clearly. I have climbed out of the deep abyss of postpartum emotions and hormones, and I feel like I can finally breathe.
Looking back, I probably would have just embraced the bottle and formula and enjoyed my baby. And that would have been the right way to do it.
So yes, I am going to put that formula in my cart guilt free, and then go home and snuggle my baby while she drinks it.
And it will make both of us happy.