These days, it seems like everyone wants simple messages. Everything needs to be packaged into 140 characters, turned into a meme, posted with a hashtag.
But maybe that’s the problem with all this parenting stuff. Things are rarely so glossy or clear. There’s a lot of shades of gray; a lot of exposition. By limiting ourselves to the messages we see on social media, we are limiting our ability to understand, connect, and evolve.
Stacey’s story has many layers. She expresses them beautifully, but this isn’t a story I can tie up with a pretty bow. Like so many of us, she has mixed feelings about her feeding experience. Her voice – and others like it – get lost in this world of absolutes and told-you-so’s and this-is-how-it-is’s.
These are the quiet voices, ones that seldom get heard, but should be heard. They add the color and nuance to our conversations.
I hope we can take the time to listen.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I think its time to tell my story. I have a love-hate relationship with feeding my children. I love feeding them. I loved breast-feeding them, having them at the breast and snuggling them, and providing what I was able to make. I hated breastfeeding because never have I felt so inadequate, out of control, and just a sense of anger towards my body and my disease in my life. I love bottle feeding because I love snuggling my children and seeing them be satisfied and grow. I hate bottle feeding because it represents what my body has been unable to do for me, and what I feel my disease has stole from me.
Since the age of 14 I have struggled with a variety of autoimmune diseases, which over the course of the following 7 years would each come to be diagnosed. It was extremely difficult being a “sick” teenager. However, once I was into my 20s I really came into my own, managed my health, and lived “normally”: traveling, finishing graduate school, working, getting married & pregnant. My pregnancies were each managed by the Special Pregnancy Program at a University hospital, and my first was born extremely healthy by induction at 39 weeks. I had a very quick labour, no painkillers, and put my son to my breast within seconds of his birth. It was so “natural.” And those first few days went very well. No breastfeeding issues were identified at the hospital. Everyone commented on how naturally I took to breastfeeding my son. He had a good strong latch, and I was able to relax. I was confident I had it down.
Fast-forward 2.5 weeks- little man was constantly at the breast, when he wasn’t at the breast he was crying, and he was a really skinny baby. We go to our 3 week healthy baby check up and little man has not returned to birth weight. I get the name of a lactation consultant and she can come to our home that night. When she observes, apparently my son had to suck 8 times for each swallow. I’m not producing enough. I need to supplement immediately. She provides me with supplemental nursing system that I can try, and recommends 20 mins/side breast feed, followed by supplementing 2oz formula, and also pumping for 10 mins each side. I am to put him to the breast every 2 hours, even at night if he’s sleeping. I do this religiously for the first week, and my disease begins to flare thanks to lack of sleep and stress. My boobs hurt. I hate the damn pump. I’m eating galactagogues and herbs and disgusting tea. I’m doing everything I can. But my production is not increasing.
My dad, a wise farmer, advises me: put baby to the breast, he gets what he gets, and then top him off. Forget the rest, you’re killing yourself and you can’t make milk if you’re dead. I retire the pump & the tea & the waking the baby to eat. I keep taking the herbs but I quit stressing about the food. I focus on resting and eating foods I can digest easily to get my health back. I manage the breast feeding and topping off for the next 3 months. It goes smoothly. It’s our thing. In public, I alternate between feeling embarrassed about exposing myself, my body, and exposing my inadequacy when I get out the bottle to finish off. When people see the whole scenario play out, you can see the puzzlement. Some make comments… “why don’t you just bring a bottle to a restaurant,” Others feel it’s their job to inform me, “you’ll never make enough if you keep offering the bottle.” eventually I cave, and just bring the bottle out in public. It seems easier, but then I feel the glare from the breast feeding mammas at the cafe… obviously I don’t care enough about my baby to give it the breast, since it’s the best. Eventually, following another flare of my digestive system I totally dry up. Simultaneously my son was rejecting me and he was hit by a head cold which made breast feeding that much harder. I had no painfully engorged breasts from weaning. They just stopped producing completely. My son became exclusively bottle fed at around 4 months of age. I was sad, but I accepted it. Next time I would get off to a better start and hopefully I wouldn’t flare. Then things would go better.
Next time rolled around faster than any of us thought it would. Our gorgeous girl was born 3 days after our son turned 19 months. I was armed and ready for my breastfeeding battle. I was a seasoned veteran returning to the front. My herbs and breastfeeding tea were packed in my hospital bag. I had a lactation consultant on speed dial, along with my naturopath and my birthing doula. I had hired help for the entire postpartum season lined up. And then the day after my daughter’s beautiful, natural birth, I was officially diagnosed with insufficient glandular tissue and my daughter had a tongue tie. Apparently this might be a fight I would not win. I was angry because I’m a Type A who usually wins.
Within that first postpartum week, I do some serious soul searching at 2am… We decided to fix the tongue tie to give me the best shot. I decided not to pump after feeding. We decided to supplement 2oz each night before bed so I could get some rest. We said, let’s see where we are in six weeks. Then eight weeks. We had spent hours upon hours breastfeeding every day, typically 15 hours. We went in for extra weigh-ins and she was consistently gaining, but only about 3 oz/week. We never put her health at risk- she always made enough wet diapers, was consistently alert and strong, and very happy. However, at eight weeks my daughter was not yet 9 lbs (she was born at 6 lbs) and we didn’t feel she was hitting her development milestones. It was pretty clear she needed more. And so we began to supplement after each feed. Our feeding began to schedule itself- every 2-3 hours we would breastfeed and then top off. We managed this for 2 months. It was a comfortable 2 months.
At about 16 weeks she began to push me away. Breastfeeding is a lot of work for baby and bottles are easy. That was the hardest part. She preferred the bottle. When I lost my postpartum help at the four month mark, her rejection had already brought on the wean. So we let things naturally finish. It’s been 1 week since her last feed at the breast. It was only 5 minutes. I was sure it would be the last. It had been 2 days since she had last latched. I gazed at her and pet her forehead as we finished our special moment. Like all things in motherhood, when one stage and need ends, another becomes more pressing and my motherhood only evolves. And each day I try to move past my own body anger, and mommy guilt, and be thankful it grew 2 beautiful healthy babies despite its challenges. Sadly, I’m still not able to embrace my identity as a “fearless formula feeder.” I hope to before the journey concludes.
As I finish my breastfeeding journey, and come to embrace bottle feeding, I believe strongly that mothers need to be supported fully in their journey to feed and nurture their children, however that happens. I really felt that support lacking with my son. My experience with my daughter has been somewhat better. We moved cities and our care-team seems much more open and supportive of us. I am so grateful for this support from the medical world. In larger society I still hear critics, and feel that some don’t think I’ve tried hard enough or others that feel I shouldn’t have even tried. Neither feels “good”. What I’ve come to see is that support means embracing with openness. The breast or bust mentality doesn’t help when you’re struggling and CANNOT PRODUCE; but for me the “well just give her a bottle already” attitude really didn’t help either. I just wish society as a whole could embrace mothers and say- “wow, you’re really doing your best!” Whatever that “best” may be.
I also feel like I couldn’t have followed this path of both/and to this point without amazing support. My husband really is clueless about parenting, but his unwaveringly trusts me and provides me with what I say I need, when I need it. My dad, the wise retired farmer, really provides an emotional counterweight for me. My in laws do their utmost to support our family by providing love, babysitting, date nights, and shower time. My Manny this summer really allowed me to give my daughter as much attention as I gave my son in the early days, while knowing he was totally and completely happy & looked after. I didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other at all and I maintained my health. My care team provided me with education and support in a respectful, validating way. Despite what has not worked out perfectly, I’ve really been lucky. Many other Mommas do not have this kind of postpartum circle of care. I hope that as a society we can acknowledge, love, and embrace women as they struggle on the journey through the maze of choices and non-choices of motherhood each day.
Want to share your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org