I’m tired. It’s my own fault, really. I stay up too late watching the new Netflix Amanda Knox documentary or trying to finish a dang blog post for you. Then, I try to do crazy things like yoga at 5:30AM. If you want to make a sane person insane, remove sleep from their life. I’m nearly there! It doesn’t help that my daughter, who is 10 months old, sounds like she’s running a marathon while simultaneously moaning about the marathon half the night. I think she dreams of running and hopes to one day make her legs move that fast. But she’s also already acutely aware that running kind of sucks. So, there’s that.
I’m not just going to complain to you about my exhaustion, though. I have a serious matter to discuss. It is the matter of breastfeeding. This wasn’t going to be my first official post in the “motherhood” department. But, I’ve had some conversations about breastfeeding, recently. I’ve also attempted it twice, three times if you count my attempt at relactation – it’s a thing – I wouldn’t lie to you. So, since I opened this personally emotional “can of worms”, I thought I’d share the struggles I’ve had with breastfeeding and the pressure I believe many women feel to do it.
I was 22 when I gave birth to my son, Conor. I didn’t buy any formula prior to bringing him home. I wanted to breastfeed. I didn’t really give myself any other option. I didn’t even buy bottles. That’s how serious I was. Looking back, it was a decidedly bad idea. I acknowledge this now. But at the time, I had read so many articles and in so many books about the benefits of breastfeeding. Everything I read and saw told me that I should breastfeed. My mom didn’t breastfeed my brother or I for more than the first week. My mother-in-law didn’t breastfeed my husband or his brother. This didn’t matter to me. Breastfeeding was best; that’s what I was going to do. The first two days in the hospital went well. My milk was slow to come in but I was able to feed Conor without a problem. When I got home, however, the nurses weren’t bringing Conor to me every 2 hours to eat. I was on my own and had no idea what in the world I was doing. My milk was still not fully in and Conor was extremely hungry. I felt like all he wanted to do was eat and I couldn’t continue to stay up all night trying to feed him. At day 5, I was an emotional wreck. I hadn’t slept. I was crying constantly. I felt like the world was ending. My mom came to me and said, “Jen, he will not die if you give him formula. He will be just fine. You gave him 4 good days of milk. That’s more than none.” That’s what I needed. I needed her to tell me that it was okay to be done. It was okay to take a step back and look at how much emotional stress I was putting on myself and my child for no reason other than to support some ideal that I could successfully breastfeed. So, I gave Conor formula. Guess what? He lived! The world didn’t implode; Conor continued to grow. We all flourished and the stress diminished. I could actually enjoy my time with him.
You’d think I would have learned my lesson. But, with Margaret, I really did nearly the same exact thing over again – I just did it 8 years later. On my 30th birthday, we welcomed Margaret into the world. Again, breastfeeding was a breeze in the hospital and my milk came in nearly immediately after having her. I lasted a week with Margaret. This time, it wasn’t the milk that was the problem, it was my nipples. I have never felt pain that I can equate with the feeling like your nipples will literally be ripped from your body. But that’s what happened. They were cracked and bleeding. I couldn’t let water hit them directly in the shower or I would cry. I researched so many remedies online. There were tips to use breast shields and tips for lanolin. Other websites said to try holding your child in different positions. Nothing really worked to change the pain. I can still feel the sharp tingling pain of Margaret latching on. Gah. Again, I got to the point where I was sobbing as I attempted to feed her. I was inconsolable with the notion that I would again “fail” my child. My husband was the lifesaver. He rationalized that it was not worth the emotional torture I was putting myself and Margaret through. She was hungry; I knew what she needed most. So, my husband, the saint that he is, drove to the store at 11PM at night and got her some formula. She’s been a formula baby since she was 7 days old.
But wait, I’m not done yet. Because, I started doing research. Then I ordered a breast pump. There’s a lot of information out there about lactation and relactation. It seemed like a very feasible thing, given that Margaret was only about 2 months old at the time. I would still have that uterus contraction feeling occasionally when holding her and read that by holding her and putting her near my chest I could potentially utilize a breast pump to relactate. I tried. I pumped every morning, twice during the day, and twice in the evening. I did relactate a small amount – but nothing that I could ever feed to Margaret.
I acknowledge fully that the stress that I put myself and my babies through was not worth the continued struggle of breastfeeding. But, for some reason, I felt like a failure both times that I gave up. I still have remorse about this. It is something ingrained within me, I think. It doesn’t help, either, that everything you read tells you that you really should breastfeed. I told my husband that if we have another child, I’ll just start pumping as soon as we get home. He told me that we won’t have another child if I do this again. He says he can’t bear to find me rocking in the rocking chair with tears streaming down my face as Margaret cries in my lap. I agree with him.
I read a book while pregnant with Margaret called Bringing up BéBé by Pamela Druckerman. It is the author’s take on the French parenting philosophy. It provides wonderful information about what French families do to raise independent, hearty eaters who sleep through the night. I recommend it for multiple reasons. But, the author explains that French women typically do not breastfeed their babies beyond the hospital stay. They quickly switch their children over to formula. They do this for their own well-being and feel that for their own physical and mental health they should not breastfeed. These women want to have their own independence and do not want to feel that they must become slaves to their children. Likewise, they want that of their kids. They do not want their children to feel like they constantly are in need of their mother. I found solace in this when I couldn’t breastfeed Margaret and when I failed to relactate. She had formula and we were better for that. My husband was able to get up in the middle of the night with her and bond with her in that way. I was able to get some much needed sleep. And we were all happier because Margaret was well nourished.
I’m here to tell you that I see it both ways. I understand the need and the pressure to breastfeed – there’s that strong will to provide nourishment for your child. I lived in this feeling for quite some time. But I do want you to acknowledge that if it doesn’t work you have to be okay with moving on. If you can’t move from it, it will emotionally destroy you. I also lived in that. As women, we carried these babies for 9 months. We literally grew humans inside ourselves. You created a miracle. Don’t beat yourself up if breastfeeding doesn’t work for you. It didn’t work for me, either. My kids are happy and healthy. They won’t look back on their lives and think, boy, I wish my mom would have breastfed me. So, we should forgive ourselves. Give yourself credit; you had the strength to bring them into the world. And please don’t listen to all those articles that will be shoved down your throat – you can formula feed your child.