|Wesley at about six weeks. I felt so proud to be able to nourish my baby in this way. |
I will always cherish this photo, but it is a moment in time, and not the definition of my motherhood.
When Sophie was born, I never considered that I would do anything but breastfeed exclusively, proudly, publicly, smugly, probably until she turned one or graduated college. Why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't anyone breastfeed their baby? It seemed so obvious, what the loving mother did.
And, as is everyone who has never been a parent, I felt that I was an expert. I'd read the book, I'd done the class, I even taught women to breastfeed as a labor and delivery nurse. It was natural. It was easy. It was what my body was made for. Nipples out, ladies!
Probably I doomed myself with so much bitchy pride.
Probably I deserved everything that came after.
Soph didn't have a great latch. She would latch on and fall asleep, and so we would sit, latched and sleeping, for hours. An eternity, even. By the time I realized this was a problem, I was a week or two in, and predictably my milk was not a-flowing.
We spent hundreds of dollars on lactation consultants, herbs, pumps, and a completely ineffective craniosacral therapist. I pumped after I nursed, eight times a day. I didn't leave the house, lest I miss a pumping session. It took an hour every time. I sunk deeper and deeper into a depression I refused to acknowledge. I barely had any milk, even with all the pumping, and Soph mostly ate formula. She screamed all the time, and at 10 weeks her doctor diagnosed her with a milk and soy intolerance and put her on special formula. If I wanted to continue nursing, I would have to go on an elimination diet.
After these 10 weeks of self-flagellation, I decided to call it quits.
It was a good decision, and yet I felt so guilty. I cried that whole day. I told Jon that night "Now I'm not her mother, I'm just a caregiver. Now anyone can do for her what I do."
Fucking seriously? What on earth made me think that?! What made me think that breastfeeding was the only thing that made me a mother? How did I let it define me? How did a lack of milk become such a betrayal?
Soph was raised on hypoallergenic (and outrageously expensive) formula, and she thrived. She is smart, funny, and healthy. There is nothing that breastmilk could have done for her that formula did not. When she graduates college, no one will look at her and sigh "if only she'd been breastfed." She will not look at me like a stranger for our lack of early bonding. And yet I couldn't see that. I'd been somehow made to believe that breastfeeding and motherhood were the same, that nursing defined my success.
The second time around, I was ready. If I start pumping right away, I thought, I'll be gushing milk. "And if it doesn't work, I'll just stop, I won't be emotionally attached," I promised a skeptical husband.
For the first two weeks, Wesley and I seemed to be doing great. Then he stopped gaining, got jaundiced, and developed the milk and soy intolerance that his sister had. I hopped back on the nurse-pump-supplement train, giving up milk and soy in my diet and replacing them with meat, which I hadn't eaten in 15 years, because I didn't know what else to eat. Wes stopped nursing and so I just pumped, managing to eek out 2-3 bottles a day on my low supply. I kept telling myself "I'm choosing to pump. I can quit any time I want. I'm not letting it define me this time." And to a large degree, that's been true, helped largely by the antidepressants I started midway through my pregnancy.
And two weeks ago I suddenly started to LOATHE pumping. It takes time, it hurts, it makes me mildly nauseous when I have a letdown, it's generally a pain in the ass. And so I quit. I weaned down and then gave away my pump. And it feels good. And I don't feel guilty, not even a little tiny bit, and that feels really really good.
For a time, pumping was what was right for my family. It was right for my baby, for me as a mom. It was somehow easily accepted as normal by my sweet Soph. Rather than feeling neglected by the whole thing, she would play at pumping with some of my spare pump parts, or cuddle up with me on the couch and read a book with me while I pumped.
But now, NOT pumping is right for my family, and for me as a mom. I'm ready to take back control of my diet, my time, and my body. I'm ready to reclaim the sad little tube socks that used to be cute perky boobs.
I now know that there are so many good ways to be a mom. Sure we all say that we know that, but I didn't really. Sometimes it's hard to see the other side until you're there. But now I know the anguish of feeling like I couldn't do it, the guilt of "failing." I know that the liquid that may or may not come out of my chest does not define me as a mother. It has almost nothing to do with my motherhood.
And I know that, here in hippie-tastic Ann Arbor, I may be judged when I pull out bottles for my baby. Women who don't know my journey may wonder why I "didn't bother" to breastfeed. Women will think the things about me that I thought before I knew. But now, unlike when Sophie was a baby, I will not feel the urge to explain myself. I will not self-consciously make excuses for the way I nourish my baby. I will not try to cutely acknowledge that it is sub-par ("yucky formula, poor baby" I used to say to Soph when I pulled out bottles in public).
Wesley will be a rocket scientist. Or not. He will be super healthy. Or not. He will be attached to me. Or not. But none of these outcomes will be linked to the number of ounces I managed to pump. I will not look back and wish I'd "made it" to six months instead of five.
Breastfeeding is amazing and beautiful and magical. I continue to celebrate it in my friends, teach it and advocate for it at my work. I revere it and I marvel at it. But I don't do it. And I'm good with that.
Breast is best. Except when it's not.
I could never have understood that until I'd walked a mile in my pumping bra. I'm grateful for the shitty, humbling experience I've had. It's made me a better mother, better nurse, better friend to my fellow Mamas.
Time to move forward.