I follow a local chiropractor's tweets and recently saw one proving how mothers can better bond with their babies. Before I even clicked on the link I immediately knew it was about breastfeeding. Two and a half years later the thought still makes my heart sink.
I'd read the research about the importance of breastfeeding, and to me there wasn't an option. Of course I'd planned to breastfeed; I wanted to do what was best for my daughter. I signed up for the class, read the books, bought maternity bras and had a supply of Lansinoh on hand. I thought I was prepared. I never expected it to be easy, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I'd never before heard of someone's milk never coming in. I didn't even know that was a possibility.
After my sweet daughter was born the nurse explained that typically babies have the most difficulties latching on. Not my Ellie. She latched on like a champion and continued to do so during our hospital stay. It wasn't until she was four days old that my husband and I became a little concerned. She seemed to be crying more, and my milk hadn't yet come in. I really felt nothing different. She continued to latch like she had been, but we began to realize she wasn't actually getting anything. Ellie's pediatrician confirmed she was losing weight but agreed that breast milk was best so we decided to give my milk a little bit longer.
I'll save you all the details, but overall I spoke with one lactation consultant by phone and met with two others in person. To this day I feel very angry toward them. The consultants agreed that though it's not normally recommended for new mothers, I should buy a pump and begin using it. So I did. I desperately wanted my baby to have what was best. Don't we all? I would pump for 25 minutes and only get about an ounce. I'd try to breastfeed Ellie first until she'd begin to get frustrated. Then I'd put the small amount of breast milk I'd pumped into a tiny bottle that was given to me by one of the consultants. This bottle had a very thin tube that was then taped to my breast so Ellie wouldn't lose the natural breastfeeding sensation. After that, I'd begin pumping again. "If you want it to work badly enough it will," I vividly remember one of the consultants saying to me. I grind my teeth at the thought of it. Of course I wanted it badly. I was obsessed with being able to feed my child. Only for whatever reason, I couldn't do it.
I was basically either trying to breastfeed or pump constantly, and she still wasn't getting enough. At one of Ellie's numerous weigh in appointments she was crying, and I was crying, and her doctor came into the room and offered some formula. Feeling defeated and hopeless and not wanting to starve my child I agreed to give it to her. Ellie sucked down the formula as fast as she could; it was obvious how hungry she was. That made me cry harder.
My husband is a good man. He'd been trying to gently tell me we should try switching to formula, but I'd been very adamant. If you know me well or know my family you know I come by it honestly; it's in my blood. But on the car ride home that day we agreed that changing to formula was the best option for our family. I was devastated, but I knew he was right. I'd done the best I could do. And I felt happy that our baby was finally full. I was also relieved that I could spend more quality time with her instead of being constantly hooked up to the pump. But I also felt ashamed, and I had so many questions without answers. My breasts were still duds. I'd read and heard so much about how sore they're supposed to get, and I still felt nothing. I'd prayed so hard to feel that pain and to be able to do what I was supposed to do and nourish my child. I couldn't understand why I was inadequate. I felt as though I'd failed at my first and most important role as a mother.
The formula quickly helped Ellie get back to her birth weight and then some. I was happy she was healthy, but continued to feel so guilty. And embarrassed. For over a year, at every well visit a nurse would ask whether or not she was breastfed, and I felt the need to explain that I'd tried. I'd really, really tried. I felt I was being judged at each and every visit. Maybe they were being critical. Maybe I was just paranoid. Why in the world didn't they just put that into her chart? It's not like I could begin breastfeeding at six months.
Having to answer the dreaded breastfeeding question is something that has haunted me so many times. Just two weeks ago I took Ellie to her first dental appointment. On the paperwork I had to complete was a question about whether or not my child was breastfed. I checked that she wasn't and didn't have as strong of an urge to add a comment that she wasn't bottle fed by choice. I'm now more at peace with the fact that I tried my best, but thinking about it still stings a little. And although I can't and would never argue with the research that says it is best I can tell you for a fact that it's simply not possible for every mother. Even ones who also want the absolute best for their babies.