I’ll come right out and say it: Our breastfeeding journey came to an abrupt end at six weeks. Looking back, the beginning of the end was probably day two in the hospital when Michael was just about 36 hours old. Of course, I didn’t give up. Maybe I should have.
Side note: I know there’s a crunchy mom out there waiting to judge me. Go for it. While your hair air dries and you put on organic, over-priced lip gloss from a health food store and nurse your seven year old while you eat granola that’s free of the top eight allergens, judge me.
But first, read this.
During day one in the hospital, Michael nursed fine. He took to nursing fifteen minutes after he was born. Day two was a different story. Day two was hell. He point blank did not want to breastfeed. He knew how to latch and he got colostrum out of both sides – his diapers proved that pretty quickly. But day two? He simply refused.
The lactation consultant told me that babies typically do this on day two. She gave me a pamphlet called “Baby’s Second Night” and it detailed cluster feeding. My baby wasn’t cluster feeding, though. He was refusing to eat. She gave me a nipple shield and it worked, so we kept going.
Once my milk came in and my supply was established, we ditched the shield and he was doing just fine…
…other than having hours of screaming fits after eating and breaking out all over his adorable face. I had similar issues with my daughter, so I cut out dairy immediately. Just to be safe, I also cut out soy. I lessened what I was able to eat considerably, but I was willing to make that sacrifice because I loved nursing him so much.
The screaming fits got better, but things just weren’t going well. He would pull his legs up in sheer and utter pain after nursing. He would fall asleep after just a few minutes of nursing only to wake up screaming and thrashing when I tried to move him into a different position.
I became a little maniacal. I was snapping out on everyone and everything. No one was safe. Not my husband; not my other two children; hell – not even the person working the window at Wendy’s who accidentally left cheese on my salad when I was starving and ready to pass out (because, nursing hunger – it’s fucking insane). I was barely eating. I got bored eating plain chicken and brown rice around the clock. I became miserable. He wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t sleeping. My husband wasn’t sleeping.
No one is benefiting from this, I thought. And then the guilt began to set it.
Having a child who suffered from milk colitis before, I started to feel the deja vu. Michael was showing the same signs. I knew I had to take him in to have his dirty diaper examined.
You know that feeling you get when your long-time college boyfriend calls you to say, “We need to talk…?” It’s like you know the end is coming, but you don’t want to believe it. You think that maybe, just maybe, you can force things to stay the way they are – but you know deep down that’s fucking not happening. That’s how I felt calling her doctor.
“I see traces of purple streaks, which is the colitis,” said the doctor who simultaneously bagged up three bottles of Similac Alimentum Ready To Feed formula which is meant for babies with protein allergies. “Keep him on this for a week. If he responds well, maybe two weeks. Pump and store in the mean time.”
I knew what “pump and store” meant for me. Exactly what it meant last time: Pump about two oz per day and cry every time I stick those flanges on. Still, I was determined.
When I got home, I panicked. I breastfeed him again because I just couldn’t take the pain of someone else making the decision for me to stop. There he went: flailing around, coughing, choking, making vomiting motions and sobbing.
I tried laying back so my milk didn’t come out as fast. It was awkward as hell for both of us. I tried all the holds that they taught me in the hospital – nope. He wasn’t doing well, and I needed to face that. I pumped a bottle for him, and he still wasn’t doing well. He was in misery and I was heartbroken. It was my lowest point yet as his mother.
I gave in. I gave him a bottle of the hypoallergenic formula. He drank it, so peacefully, and drifted off to sleep after. It was like watching the sunset: peaceful, beautiful, natural. My son was able to eat and enjoy it. I even smiled, and that’s something I hadn’t done during his feedings for a long, long time. We had a few more hiccups and finally settled on reflux medication and the right bottles, and after that, we both felt like new people.
On every message board, though, women were judging.
“Have you tried a total elimination diet?”
“What about the BRAT diet?”
“Have you changed positions?”
The “pep talks” where even more amazing.
“Stick with it mama! My LO (little one) and I were miserable for twelve weeks, but we made it and I’m so glad we stuck with it!” PS: Have I mentioned how much I despise mommy message board slang? End of PS.
“DO NOT give your baby formula! Doing so will lower your supply. Supplementing is NOT the way to go. You can do this. I eliminated wheat, dairy, soy, gluten, casein, whey, nuts, and leafy greens from my diet and now DD (dear daughter) is doing great.”
Like, really? Ok – let me live on fucking toast for a year to remedy this breastfeeding issue. In other words, nope. I decided we would stick with the formula. It was right for Michael. It was right for me. It was right for my family.
Although I felt confident, I still felt judged. Even Pinterest reminds me than I’m a failure. Every “pins you might like” pop up is about milk supply and hands free pumping and ways to breastfeed for the rest of eternity, and there I was feeding my six week old son from a bottle.
I cried about it a lot and felt very alone for a few days. Nursing your baby is a relationship between the two of you. It isn’t a thing you do; it is nature’s intended way of bonding. It’s something only mothers and babies can share. It is the gleam of light at 3:41 a.m. that makes mothers feel ok with being up and awake.
So before you judge a mom who has stopped nursing, understand that she has made an extremely difficult decision to end a very special relationship. Would you tell other women to stay in a relationship where they were so anxiety ridden they couldn’t sleep? Would you tell other women who were miserable to stick around for at least a year? Doubtful.
Remember that we are already slamming ourselves hard and wondering what is wrong with our bodies that we can’t do what is apparently so natural. Breasts are meant to feed babies the same way that women house what it takes to get pregnant and produce children. The inability to do either has the potential to make us feel like we are less. And I mean, would you tell someone who is having fertility problems to “change positions?” Probably not. Don’t tell nursing moms that, either – because I can damn there assure you it’s more complex than that.
See, here’s the thing: We have likely made more sacrifices than you can even fathom in your non-GMO crunchy mom brain. We’ve changed our diets. We’ve snapped out on our partners. We’ve cried more tears than we’ve pumped ounces. We’ve poured many a cup of Mothers Milk tea. We have proudly donned a nipple shield. We. Have. Tried. It. All.
Sometimes, breastfeeding just doesn’t work out. And sometimes…*gasp* a woman just doesn’t want to continue being a slave to a pump or being so stressed that she can’t even function. Regardless, formula feeding isn’t a crime.
I’ve spent hours crying over this part of my relationship with my son coming to an abrupt end. I’m still pumping on a decrease type of schedule and have to watch milk come out and know that I can’t give it to him. It fucking stings. Badly. I’ve felt guilt more than I care to admit.
But my mother always told me guilt is a choice, and I believe her and practice that. Multiple times per day, as I watch his hypoallergenic formula strewn face and (finally) relaxed body lay in my arms, I am faced with the choice: Do I choose to bash myself, or do I choose to embrace where I am and focus on the good? I choose the latter. I choose to believe I’m a good mother, a great one, who does the best with what she has. I choose happiness for my son and I. I choose to embrace bottle feeding, and here are ten shameless reasons why:
1. Most importantly, my son is happy and thriving and enjoying being awake now. Two days after I began bottle feeding with the right formula and making sure he has his acid medication, he smiled at me. Why? No, it isn’t just because he’s of the age to do it – it’s because he’s happy not to have stomach cramps 24/7.
2. Other people can feed him. My husband and I take turns in the middle of the night and it’s awesome. It’s more than just me getting a little extra sleep (I’m usually awake when he feeds the baby), but the joy that we feel like we are working as a team and helping each other out. My parents enjoy feeding him as do his siblings.
3. I can wear regular shirts and bras again. Maybe I like wearing bras that make me look good. Maybe I prefer wearing more than three shirts. Sue me.
4. My life doesn’t revolve around pumping, only to get a few ounces here and there. I’ll say it: I hate pumping. I never, ever responded well to the pump. I was pumping in the middle of the night for a half hour at a time and not even getting a bottle out of it, let alone a little extra. Pumping exclusively is not for me. I know that.
5. I’m self employed and can focus on my business which makes me happy. Happy mom, happy children. I’m a race director and have built my non-profit from the ground up. When my son switched to formula, I had a race to direct that weekend. I enjoyed helping my team out and being present the entire time without having to leave the finish line to pump. I came home feeling refreshed and ready to be on baby duty again after my husband had him for 3-4 hours.
6. I can go on dates with my husband. After seven years and three kids, my husband and I still adore each other. We are the best of friends and like to be in each other’s company. A marriage isn’t just a thing to do for a little while. Someday the kids will move out and have their own lives, and I want to look at the person across from me like an old friend – not someone I haven’t spoken to in years because I neglected the relationship.
7. I can eat cheese. I don’t feel this one needs an explanation. Also, wine.
8. I can run hard and run long, which is my therapy. My dream is to train for my first marathon. I’m not going to run 20 miles to train and have to stop in between to pump. I deserve to be able to do what makes me feel good and what has defined my career: distance running.
9. I have the luxury of knowing that he’s not crying BECAUSE of what I put into his stomach. Know what makes me even feel more guilty that my decision to stop nursing? Feeding me son what was inside me and watching him become pained and miserable. No thank you.
10. I’m able to spend more time with my other children. I have an eight year old and a four year old. My life should revolve around all of my children. Yes, babies inherently need and receive more attention – but maybe I want to take my oldest out for a smoothie or take my middle to Dairy Queen. I want to be as present as I can for ALL of them.
So that is that. I know there were more things I could have done, but that doesn’t mean there are more things I should have done. I tried. We tried. It wasn’t working out for us, and I choose to be ok with that. When the feelings of guilt begin to creep in, I choose to believe I am great mother who has and always will do the best with what she has, and you should, too.