When Breastfeeding Doesn't Work Out
"Sometimes life doesn't turn out like you planned.
Sometimes, it works out better."
- "Half A Dozen Babies"
Can we take an honest, real-life moment?
Have you ever had days where you just delete your Instagram app, or stay off of it purposefully, because a hashtag is trending, everyone is posting "something" and it just hurts too badly to see it every time you check your app? Perhaps it's Mother's Day... and the ache of losing your own mom or the emptiness of your arms makes seeing photo after photo of happy, smiling mothers and children too deep a hurt to bear. Maybe it's on Valentine's Day... when your own loneliness is accentuated all the more as you watch pictures of happy, kissing couples dominate your "feed" all damn day.
That was me last week. Because, you see, in the land social media (which I harbor a rather love/hate relationship with.... who doesn't, really. So much good! So much....meh) it was "World Breastfeeding Week." And the hashtag, #WorldBreastfeedingWeek hit me up again, and again, and again. Little knives to the heart.
Don't get me wrong: I am a cheerleader for breastfeeding mamas -- you gals are heroes. You sacrifice, work incredibly hard, pump like crazy, restrict and supplement your diet, suffer with mastitis, endure leaky boobs and altering your wardrobe, say no to your favorite things to do, drink and eat, stay up all night, get up early in the morning, and give and give and give to your babes... breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I've ever done (for the season we tried to make it work) -- you mamas give up your bodies in a significant way for another 9+ months after pregnancy. What you are doing is so important.
But, I am a mama.... of a thriving, beautiful, healthy thirteen month old baby boy, who dreamed of, fought for, tried with all my might, to breastfeed, and it did not work out. I've written and shared a bit of the journey on my Instagram, and found myself surrounded by a crowd of mothers in the "same boat!" Who knew breastfeeding was such a difficult undertaking for many women, and who knew how painful (emotionally and physically) it is for thousands! I have been stunned by the volume of messages and emails I've received, continually, after just a couple of posts on ths subject. Speaking up about my struggle, and hearing back from the multitude of mamas who were "right there" was like a tall, icy glass of lemonade on a hot August day to my hurting heart. And so, I wanted to write a little more here, in the spirit of honesty and keepin' it real. I hope, with all my heart, that someone resonates with the words I write here and will feel a glimmer of hope and linked sisterhood arms as I share my story. Because I know I am not alone.
My plan (while pregnant) was to breastfeed as much as I could (at least at first) and yet, after a very traumatic, physically and emotionally difficult birth (read his birth story here) it didn't work out how I planned. Oh, life....life doesn't work out how we plan.
It was "a struggle" -- to put it mildly. For me, breastfeeding was not easy. It was absolutely one of the hardest things I've ever done. I wheeled out of the hospital immediately after my surgery post-birth (oh the long story that is. so so "much"), I rushed straight home to by fresh, newborn baby. He needed me. From moment one, it was a fight to breastfeed. (Actually, in those days, It was a fight to shower and move and breathe.) Nothing like the fairly-easy experiences most of my friends had, not the magical photos I'd seen all over the internet and mommy blogs: a wistful mama wearing her flowing Free People gown, looking into a golden, seaside sunset, holding her tiny, nursing baby in one arm and looking like a Greek Goddess while doing it. Oh, no. For me, it looked like lots of tears (from both of us), lots of pain, lots of shame, and lots and lots of sadness.
"Liquid gold" they called it. "I can't give him the liquid gold. I suck so hard. I am the worst mother ever." Those are the ugly, honest thoughts that floated through my brand-new-mama mind those first hours, those long nights, those first days. My body was holding on for dear life, in mind numbing pain, and my soul was lurching all the more. The pressure was too much.
Add a tongue tie and a bout with thrush into the mix.... and the first weeks were difficult and painful for me and my sweet boy. I spent weeks trying, pumping, milk not flowing, low supply, weight loss, hours with a lactation consultant, help from our Pediatrician, supplementing, physical pain, late night weeping, baby screaming, feeling like a failure. A disappointed failure. Moving to mostly formula-feeding, and crying every time a bottle was filled. Tender and weepy every time anyone mentioned nursing. I pumped like crazy. Herbal supplements. Vitamins. Water, calories, relaxing, trying, crying. Sweet husband encouraging. Things did not go as planned, or dreamed of. I had to stay away from Instagram... because every time I saw a mama posting about how easy, magical, and dreamy her breastfeeding journey was - I would lose it.
My wonderful OB and Weston's pediatrician told me my body was in so much pain, it wasn't producing milk. I would pump and pump and 1/2-1 ounce is the most that I ever measured.
So I chose what was best for my boy. Fed is best. Gaining weight is best. It was best for me to be "there" and"okay"... not over "the edge." Healthy for my family, and for me. I'll never forget the first time I purchased formula. I took the round, orange-topped can off the shelf at Target. I carried it in my hands as I walked to check out. I will never forget the way the hair on the back of my neck stood up. How I turned beet-red and felt hot all over. Shame crashed over me like a tsunami wave.
A shame that had no place in my mind or heart.
It felt like loss and I grieved over it. But I was in mind-numbing pain. Physically, and also emotionally. I began to struggle with what I now know was PTSD after the trauma we endured that first day. We mostly formula-fed as the days unfolded, and I pumped all I could, under 1 ounce each time, for 3 months. And then, finally chose to stop. I knew, it was more important to be "okay" and enjoy my boy than to nurse. I realized I was sitting attached to a pump when I could have been holding him and bonding. So I packed the pump away, with tears and honest relief. I put it in the back in the closet in a box. I did what was best for us. And that looked like bottle feeding. And you know what? It was beautiful and he more than thrived (he has consistently been in the 90-110 percentile on every area since he was born) .... and we are extremely bonded and close.
I'm so over the mom shaming, you guys. Breastfeeding mamas, formula-feeding mamas, mamas who do a mix of both -- you are rockstars. Feed your babies! No shame. No guilt. No fear. However that works for you. I'm forever grateful we had those few weeks of breastfeeding and I'll cherish the memories forever. If you're a mama or mama to be, know that you are the best, God-given mom for your little one.
My heart was set on breastfeeding, and it had a place in my heart where it did not belong. It became a shining beacon, an idol, of sorts, of motherhood. And looking back, I wish I'd held that dream and hope with an open hand, rather than a clenched fist. Recently, I read some words from @risenmotherhood on the topic of feeding babies and oh, how my heart resonated with it. This is truth. This is what I wish I had held onto during those dark first days. This is the truth I will hold onto and wave like a flag next time (if there is one, someday, Lord willing):
"This is for all the mommas out there. The breastfeeding ones, the pumping ones, the formula feeding ones, the supplementing ones, the 'little bit of everything' ones. Here's the deal: How a mom feeds her baby has become a huge issue in today's society - way too big of an issue actually. And because of that, there is a whole lotta crazy, messed up feelings that a mom experiences in that first year+ of having a baby that really, don't even need to happen.
I'm one month into breastfeeding my third child, and let me tell you, for some reason, it doesn't seem to get easier, each time just comes with it's own challenges. What's supposed to be natural, doesn't really feel all that natural, at least at the start.
So let's take a step back here, okay? Society's got its priorities all wrong - because, it's not what you feed your baby's belly that matters at all - it's what you feed their heart. We're raising souls, not perfectly fed stomachs.
So if your emotions are in a tangle because something's not working out like it should, or it's not what you expected, or whatever, let me lift your guilty, misplaced burden: While feeding and nourishing our babies is a genuine way of loving our children, the method - or your opinion of someone else's method - is not what matters. What matters is our hearts, and how we raise our children's.
So, in all this mess women, and the internet, and our culture has created over how we feed our children, can we all just take a big, deep collective breath and trust that all the mommas are just doing what they believe is best for their child, for them, for their family?
Grace upon grace, right?
Let's try this: What would happen if we refused to let our feeding method define our first year with a child, and instead, treasure Christ above all else?"
You moms are amazing women. Formula feeders - however it looks for you, cheers to you! You are feeding your baby, and that is what matters. It is hard to stumble downstairs at 3AM, to wash a dirty bottle and make sure it is 110% clean, to measure that white powder and pour clean water to mix with it. It's hard to constantly remember to fill the diaper bag with clean nipples, bottles, water bottles, just enough formula for the day. It's hard to fly on an airplane or travel as a bottle-feeder. Keeping everything clean and organized in a hotel room isn't easy. Formula feeding is a constant washing/sterilizing/filling process... and don't even mention the price. It is expensive to feed a hungry babe. It's hard when you get judgey stares in public or invasive questions from friends or family members.
Perhaps you are a mom who could have breastfed, but you chose not to -- for your own mental health, because it doesn't work out for your work schedule, or because of _________, or because you can't handle it after 10 months of giving of yourself to another, because you are giving all the more -- of your heart, your mind, your strength, your everything -- and that is something that you need to say "no" to. You do you, mama. You are doing what is best. Don't listen to any voice in your head or in your ear that tells you otherwise.
Someday, in the future, if God gives us more children, I don't know what feeding will look like. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. But I know one thing: my #1 priority and concern will not be breastfeeding. So much of our joy was stolen those first months as I fought for that dream. And it is okay to grieve over it, it was a loss. But, it's not the most important thing. No one shows up to their college orientation and says to their dorm-mate, "Where are you from? What's your major? Were you breastfed or formula fed?" Treasuring time with your babies is the most important thing. Filling their hearts most of all. being faithful to fill their bellies, however we can. And someday, when he's at college orientation, he won't be thinking about breastmilk or Similac.... but I sure hope he think, "Man, I miss my mama." ❤️
I want to be a real, honest, truthful voice on motherhood that empowers women - I see so many "perfect" easy-looking mama moments, birth stories, nursing experience online...and I hope my honest words bring peace and hope, and life to someone. I want to be honest about the struggles and the joys. Yes, it hurt last week....just a little.... when I saw the throngs of mothers with their wonderful breastfeeding experiences... it wasn't jealousy; it was just a small stab of sadness, but it is less and less as time moves along. And redemption comes.
Life is beautiful, messy, hard and magical, complicated and it's really, really good. And it's gonna be good.