There was one thing I was certain of before I had my baby. Well actually I was CERTAIN of a whole shit ton of things. But this one was obvious for me, and that was breastfeeding. You see there is a lot of choices to make in parenting. And while I didn’t judge moms who didn’t breastfeed (outwardly), I certainly would have judged myself. One of the reasons for this is I’ve been getting the breast is best talk since I was a small child. My mother is a lactation consultant. Now she’s no La Leche League super strict breast nazi but she is firm in her quite correct belief that breast milk is the healthiest thing for babies. And I knew I wanted that amazing connection I had read so much about. Once I was through my really truly intense labor and delivery (I’ve written about it here) I was ready to breastfeed my baby and the hospital helped me do that by putting her to the breast within minutes of her birth.
I expected it wouldn’t be the easiest thing in the world. I had read enough and been around my mom while she did visits as a lactation consultant to know it can be really difficult. Yes it’s natural, but it doesn’t always come naturally. The first night was a shocker. Even with my husband in the room and a nurse coming in my daughter was so much to handle. I was healing, in shock, hadn’t eaten in days. And here was this tiny little creature who didn’t look how I expected and she wanted to be on my boob near constantly. The nurse who came in to check on me told me she was cluster feeding. I was exhausted and just nodded and kept going. All through the day and night sometimes as close to 15 minutes between feeds. When they asked me if I wanted to stay an extra day (after already having been there for 5) I said hell to the no I’ve got to gtfoh. Once I was home my mom gave me the lessons I needed. But she was only able to stay for one week before she had to go back home to the east coast.
Two weeks later I was bonding with my baby more, finally feeling like I was definitely her mama, and she was mine. Her face was changing and becoming more delicate and less swollen. But both myself and another one of my friends who had a baby just a week and a half after I did were struggling with nursing. My mom talked to me over the phone but something wasn’t right. So me and my friend both got brave, packed up our babies into our cars for the very first time and attended a breastfeeding class.
The class consisted of about a dozen new moms there with their babies. We would weigh our babies before they nursed and then after to see how much they ate. And during we could get advice from an expert. It was exactly what I needed. The teacher explained to me because of the position I was doing maybe a hamburger that was flat across wasn’t the best choice for her mouth, it might be better to go vertical into a TACO. I said to her in my post partum haze “I LOVE TACOS” while she adjusted and maneuvered my breast into my daughters mouth. Turns out Juni liked her boob taco shaped. It was a breakthrough for me. Meanwhile my friend continued to struggle, with a baby who would constantly fall asleep and just took a bit longer to nurse. Another mom was having to use a syringe to feed her baby breast milk on top of formula since she was premature and only just barely 5 lbs. We were all trying so hard. I knew statistically that most american women stop nursing by the time their baby is 6 months old. I didn’t want to be that statistic and while surrounded by mothers of all races in this class doing their damnedest to get it right it felt like the generations of women before us, advising their daughters, neighbors, nieces, and cousins on what to do to feed their child was making it’s way into this century. It started to feel as natural as it was.
It took me a few more weeks of nursing before I finally got to the point where I felt she latched right, I didn’t have sore nipples with creases, and she seemed satiated. But I still didn’t feel the amazing connection I was supposed to feel. It was easy enough to do it, that wasn’t a problem. But I had read that many women felt euphoric and connected to their baby in this almost spiritual way. I felt like there must be something wrong with me for not getting it. I would read articles about how bad it is to be on your phone while nursing because then you aren’t making eye contact with your child and forming that bond all while nursing and doing that exact thing . I would get twitchy and bored and my skin would itch like a million red ants were crawling across me and biting along the way.
I talked to my friends about their experiences. One of my friends said they felt physically ill when breastfeeding, and that my own mother had advised her to stop and just pump. That is was possibly a side effect of sexual trauma from years ago. She was able to pump and feed for months with my mom telling her that it’s the milk that is so important, the way it gets there is secondary. I had my sister in law tell me her milk never came in, that because she was so ill from her lupus and lack of medication while pregnant that she couldn’t produce it. That she tried and tried to both nurse and pump and it just wasn’t there. That it tore her apart to go to formula and so she sought out the most natural (and expensive) one she could find. All organic and made in Europe, even the packaging said it was for toddlers since they were pushing breast is best for all infants. After she did that she was able to go back on her meds and become a better mother because she wasn’t sick.
I continued to muddle along. It wasn’t bad anymore, it didn’t make me upset it just felt like another chore. I was proud I had gotten it down, she was growing and at the top of her height chart and about average for weight. But I was struggling to feel like I could do it all, nursing all the time around the clock, through the night and working part time. She wouldn’t take a bottle. I must have bought 6 types of bottles and none of them went easily. Her dad would get frustrated and we gave up on him even trying to do night feedings probably 2 months in. Sometimes her grandmother could get her to take a bottle but it was WORK.
But I was struggling to feel like I could do it all, nursing all the time around the clock, through the night and trying to work part time.
We proceeded to go on a trip to Hawaii with our newborn. It was hell. None of us slept and we were far too new of parents to have turned down a family trip. At one point during the trip we tried to leave her with her grandparents while attending a Luau. She decided to reject the bottle. I ran back to the hotel, nursed (with my father in law awkwardly avoiding the room) and handed her over but at that point I was stressed to the max. When my mother in law tried later to give her formula and not breast milk, it worked and I gave up. I broke. And guess what IT WAS THE RIGHT THING FOR ME TO DO. I was a broken women, exhausted and in need of help. Running low on the breast milk that no one could seem to figure out how to defrost correctly or that you couldn’t refreeze it! Soon someone else suggested silicone bottles to my husband Oliver. Como Tomo bottles saved the day, they took the pressure off. He started to bond with her in a way he had never done before. It made me so so happy to see them together.
So we slowly switched over to half and half. My life got better. I felt more confident as a parent, and so did her father. And then her teeth came in and the biting started. She got teeth early at around 7 months she had 4 teeth. Then a month later she got two more. She thought it was HILARIOUS to bite me and watch me yelp in pain. People said just put her down, she will get hungry and not do it again. But she did it again. And again, and again. Until I gave up there too and started doing bottles myself. We had run out of breast milk at this point so it was formula and I was getting to be ok with it. Then it happened, she decided she liked the bottle more than the breast. And I broke again. I called my mom and bawled saying that I felt like I had failed. I had said I’d nurse for a year! It was only 7 and a half months in! My mom with all her wisdom said “it’s okay. Some babies wean themselves, it might just be time. You did your best, you gave her so much good stuff and it’s all going to be ok” and stayed on the line while I cried like the baby in my arms.
Then it happened, she decided she liked the bottle more than the breast.
It’s now a year and a half in to this parenting thing. There is many things I wish I had done differently but I don’t see this as one. And as a woman who formerly used to judge moms who didn’t breast feed yet outwardly say “of course fed is best” I really mean it now. There is so many ways to be a mother. There is so many ways to feed your child. Do your best, keep them healthy. Don’t punish yourself. And I’m going to go mix my daughter her night time bottle (which we probably shouldn’t be doing anymore so I’ll just add that to the list of things I did wrong but felt right and I don’t regret).