I have sat down to write this post countless times since Weston was born (because I was never ready to after Logan). I have also written it several times in my head and considered it enough.
But stumbling upon this article made me realize that I have some unfinished business and inspired me to share my own experience. Partially because writing is therapeutic for me, but more so because there might be someone reading who needs to hear it.
For a brief moment, I held Weston in my arms without a care in the world following my second c-section. Back in the recovery room, I relished in those quite, tender moments after your child is born when time stands still and you know your place in the universe. I stroked his hair, held is tiny fingers and gazed at the sweet miracle that was ours to keep. There was no better feeling than holding this new bundle, smelling his skin and anticipating his big sister's arrival that afternoon. I was so in love. And so content. Chris and I smiled and laughed and enjoyed the time we had with just the three of us.
But, those moments were fleeting and eventually an entourage of nurses came in suggesting I try nursing. It had begun. For me, the task was not that simple and I knew the next few days in the hospital would become more stressful than peaceful. With one simple task, the onslaught of questions, suggestions and overall invasion of privacy was about to ensue. Not to mention the emotional and physical tole on the already fragile state of having just given birth.
Of course, I wanted to breastfeed exclusively, but after my experience with Logan, I was none too hopeful that I would be able to. Unlike with Logan however, I knew what to expect this time around and had rehearsed my positive self-talk in the weeks leading up to Weston's arrival. "You are good enough. You don't have to breastfeed. Logan thrived on formula. You are a good mom regardless of the breastfeeding outcome. Weston will not be at a disadvantage". I was prepared for the challenge the second time around and felt armed with new information and new resources. I knew that I would try to breastfeed again but that I wasn't going to kill myself in the process.
Somehow though, the moment I heard, "...we recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months if you can", the guilt just took over. Although I had prepared myself for this moment and prepped my story for the doctors and nurses about "my situation" (which quite frankly, I don't think any woman should feel the need to have a situation if they do not want to breastfeed), the stress of trying to exclusively breastfeed hit me like a ton of bricks. And once again, I was going to do all means possible to breastfeed. I mean, I had to for Weston's sake, right?!
A reduction surgery my senior year of high school made it so that while I produced plenty of milk, I (or rather, Logan and Weston) could not fully express it, therefore not being able to take a full feeding. The surgery was one of the best decisions I have ever made to date but after having Logan, I began to think differently. I began to think that it was a surgery that stole the first precious weeks with my babies. I have since come to realize that in fact, it was the all consuming pressure to breastfeed that did that instead.
In my experience, the choice about whether to breastfeed or not was very matter of fact. It seemed to go like this: If you can, you will. And if you can't, then you had better be prepared to try pretty damn hard at it.
On day two, after the nurses had politely given me a few days to try nursing unassisted, they told us that Weston was losing weight faster than they'd like. Although his latch was great, (the opposite of Logan) and the little man was like a Parana from day one, his weight told the story and once again, I was unable to sustain my baby fully. They told me that it was time to supplement and begin pumping. My pre-Weston plan was to throw in the towel right at that point because I knew the exhaustion that lay ahead. But instead, I agreed to move forward with the dreaded "triple feed" routine much to Chris' apprehension (but also, his unwavering support). I continued the process of nursing, supplementing with astronomically priced donor milk and pumping with a hospital grade machine round the clock during my remaining days in the hospital. I even upped in a notch when we returned home with the help of a daily lactation consultant (whom I adore and ironically was the one to free me from the thought that breastfeeding was the best/only way for us) via home visits and phone call check-ins. I was exhausted and just barley managing so it's no wonder why situations like the following took on an emotional toll all of their own:
When Weston was two weeks old, I took Logan to dance class and sat downstairs with the other mom's watching their children on the tv screen. I had Weston in the Ergo when he started to fuss. I had fed him before going to dance class and at only half an hour long, I thought we could make it home again without having to give him another bottle. But as his fussing grew into crying and the quite room got louder, I began to panic. I knew I was going to have to feed him again. Of course, I had a bottle and formula with me, but I was that ashamed and embarrassed about formula feeding my newborn that I literally panicked at the thought of dispensing the formula into the bottle. I specifically remember going into the hallway, crouching down and shhhsshing Weston, while shaking the powder into the bottle. I thought that if I could get the formula into the bottle without anyone seeing, that maybe the other moms would think that it was the milk I had pumped earlier in the day and brought from home. I walked back into the room, sat down and avoided eye contact with anyone as I held Weston and fed him with a bottle convinced that they were judging.
So why was I wasting precious time truly enjoying my newborn and instead, making myself and my family miserable in the process of desperately trying to breastfeed?
Because no one seems to support the decision to formula feed without a hidden agenda that "breast is (always) best". No one writes stories about the bond between a mother and child with the bottle or the skin to skin comfort one gets with a bottle lodged between the two of you. I have yet to read a book that mentions advantages to formula feeding other than "...it allows more flexibility with your schedule" and "...your partner can lend a helping hand". In short, formula feeding has mostly been offered as a selfish alternative to breast feeding and one that should be avoided. On the other hand, breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of illness, childhood obesity, acid reflux and postpartum depression in addition to increasing emotional bonding, good sleep habits and providing a plethora of health benefits for both baby and Mom. Not to mention it's free and convenient. Of course, I wanted (even yearned for) all of that for my child and felt helpless that I could not provide something "so natural".
Were those moms at dance class looking at me and passing judgment? Who knows. Probably not.
But I do know that there have been countless times when perfect strangers have asked why I chose not to breastfeed. And plenty of situations when other moms have offered (well intended) suggestions and advice about breastfeeding without knowing my full story. I know that no one is malicious in their intent, but it still makes me angry. Somewhat with them, but mostly at myself. I'm angry that I've cared so much about what others thought of me and for truly feeling that I was failing my children and failing as a mom...all because I couldn't exclusively breastfeed. I hate all of the negative energy that I spent with the situation and regret that I did not have the confidence to do what I knew was right for me and my family. My heart equally hurts for those who might be able to breastfeed but for one reason or another do not want to. Hearing from moms, "I wish I had a reason not to breastfeed" makes me cringe
because somehow, they too, feel as though they have no choice and that they will be harshly judged for not doing so while at the same time, doing a disservice to their baby. Talk about some serious mom-guilt.
I wish that I could take back those first several weeks with both Logan and Weston and find peace in the fact that my children were going to be happy, healthy and striving babies....even with formula. I wish that I could erase the stress that I felt and the stubbornness that nearly broke me almost every day. I SO wish that my time with them was spent more with smiles and less with tears and that I was able to look back on those first few weeks with pure joy. I wish that the external and internal pressure to breastfeed had not stolen that very sacred time that is already much too short.
Because, as it turns out? Formula isn't a dirty word*
* A phrase well said by the author to the aforementioned article, Rachael Clarke.