A friend of mine recently asked if she could interview me for a research project involving breastfeeding. She needed someone who is currently breastfeeding, someone who successfully breastfed, and someone who…well…failed.
Guess which one I am??
I can do many things. I can make a mean crockpot soup; I can dress one child with one hand, change the other one’s diaper with the other hand, and use my foot to keep the dog away from the breakfast bars that they’ve abandoned on the living room floor; I can drink my coffee while cleaning mystery liquids from various household surfaces and not even gag! (and that’s kind of a big deal when you have 2 kids and a dog- there’s a lot of stuff coming out of ALL of them)
But I can’t breastfeed.
Trust me, I tried. Twice. These girls just don’t work.
Does that mean it doesn’t come back and smack me in the face every now and then? Of course not. Any opportunity to doubt myself is met with roaring fanfare by my brain. So as I sat at my computer reading through the interview questions (on my LUNCH hour, if you’re reading this, person from HR), I came across one that struck a chord.
“Tell me about a time you felt re-affirmed about your decision to stop breastfeeding.”
Was it even a decision? It felt like more of an “if you don’t buy some formula your kid is going to starve” type scenario.
Nonetheless, there is one “a-ha” moment that I clearly remember. I’m pretty sure all moms have it. That moment when you realize it’s over. It’s time to move on. The boob ship has sailed. Ok, you get it.
I think it was mid-afternoon, less than a month after Vince was born. I was sitting on the couch, carefully arching my back to keep the pumps in place while I let go for just a second to drink another few ounces of water, which, according to Lactation Consultant #2 and the breastfeeding book I was re-reading, would increase my milk flow. It hadn’t worked so far, but I was pretty certain that between the water, the lactation tea, the special diet, the yoga, the breathing exercises, the duct massages and the perfectly-timed frequency of pumping sessions, my boobs were soon going to wake up from their lazy slumber and turn into a milk factory. I might even be able to store extra milk! Or donate it!
I looked down at the bottles- ½ ounce in the left, 2oz in the right. I had been pumping for 30 minutes.
But it was ok. Any day now, I was going to be a milk…machine? A cow. I was going to be a cow!
I heard a squeak. Then a little whine. Then full-on screaming. Vince was awake, and he wanted to be held. But…I couldn’t. Not yet, anyway. It had only been 30 minutes and I needed to pump for a solid hour to get enough for his next two feedings. The books, the magazines, the social media posts- they were clear. Breast is Best. Breastmilk is THE way to bond with your baby. I couldn’t just take the pumps off now- I only had 2.5oz! That was crazy- I couldn’t stunt his cognitive development like that. We needed to BOND. And the best way to do that was with breastmilk, according to the article I had just read in that mom group on Facebook.
In an attempt to calm him, I started singing to him from across the room. I made up a song about how Mommy was making him a meal to make him big and strong and healthy and happy….and he began screaming louder. He was hysterical. And suddenly, so was I.
I took stock of my life in that moment. What the hell was I doing? I was sitting on the couch, back arched, 2 largely ineffective pumps attached to my chest, reading a book I had read 3 times already, crossing my legs to prevent myself from having an accident after drinking ridiculous amounts of water. I did this every 3 hours, 24 hours per day, all in the name of bonding with and nurturing my son.
But you know what I wasn’t doing?
Bonding with or nurturing my son.
I turned off the pumps; I tossed the book on the floor; and I picked up my baby. I held him against me for what seemed like forever, and we sobbed together (he stopped long before I did). Maybe breast was best, but not if it took me away from my baby and my sanity. I knew what I needed to do.
I’d like to say that was the moment I switched to formula, but it wasn’t. I spent another 4 grueling weeks dealing with 2 bouts of mastitis, pumping to no avail, and assuring my midwife, who was practically begging me to give up, that “It’s going to happen. Any day now.”
It never happened.
My midwife explained that for a very small percentage of women, breastfeeding just isn’t successful. I refused to believe that my 32G’s were in that group. How could they NOT have milk? What the hell was in there? Helium?!
But after 8 weeks, 2 infections, about 1 hour of sleep per night, and little to no results, I accepted it the best way I could- by driving to Whole Foods, grabbing a can of organic formula, and crying my eyes out in the baby aisle.
Once that formula was in my cabinet, I spent every hour of every day convinced that I had failed my son. I hadn’t tried hard enough. I hadn’t waited long enough. I hadn’t spoken to enough people. I hadn’t gagged down enough tea.
So clearly that moment on the couch wasn’t my a-ha moment. My a-ha moment came a few months later.
It was midnight, which, oddly enough, had become my favorite time of day. Vince was pressed against me, his little fingers curled up in my robe, chugging his bottle like he’d never seen milk before. He drooled a little bit and giggled as I wiped his chin. Then he gazed up at me and smiled, settled into my chest, and fell fast asleep. I rocked gently in the glider, bending down every few moments to take in his baby scent, and marveled, as new moms do, about how incredible this whole new mom thing was.
Then I remembered that afternoon in the living room.
I remembered the pain of the pumps, the pain of the mastitis, the pain in my back, and the pain of my dangerously over-full bladder. But mostly I remembered the pain of berating myself into thinking that sitting on that couch and squeezing out one more ounce was the best thing for my brand new, skinny little son who was hungry for milk and cuddles and the warmth of his mama.
Then I looked down at him, my now chubby, pink-cheeked, contented little potato, happy and sleepy and safe in my arms. THIS was bonding. THIS was nurturing. I hadn’t failed him at all. I was finally doing it right.
Do I wish I could have breastfed? Of course! Breastmilk is amazing, and I applaud- no, I bow down to- any woman who has successfully breastfed her children for even a week. It is no easy task for anyone.
But for some of us- even the 32G’s of the world- it’s just not there. And we need to stop berating ourselves.
You know your child. You know your body. You know your heart.
Listen to them.