When I was pregnant with Linden, I knew in my heart of hearts that I'd breastfeed. Never did the thought otherwise cross my mind. When it was brought up in conversation my answer was always the same "Yes, I plan on breastfeeding. As long as I'm able." When I started to think about my answer, I found it kind of strange. I kept saying "As long as I'm able" when asked, but never in a million years did I really think I'd have trouble. Before Linden came along, I thought breastfeeding was this totally natural, instinctual thing that we did as mammals. I mean, that makes sense, right? Boy was I wrong.
I've touched briefly on my struggle to breastfeed, but I haven't really discussed it to the extent that I'd like. This might be a long, choppy post so I'll go ahead and apologize. There's so much that I want to get off my chest, but I'm not always sure the best way to go about it. So I'll just free write.
While in the hospital immediately following Linden's birth, he was a champion nurser. He latched right on, albeit a bit shallow, and ate until he was satisfied and then he'd fall asleep. I requested a lactation consultant come by our room a few times a day to check on us and to help walk me through the process, and her enthusiasm made me feel like I was totally getting it. A few days passed and then it was time to head home. I made sure practice the different nursing positions she taught me, and I always fed on demand. But something just didn't click at home. Linden's latch grew more and more shallow, he never seemed satisfied, and he developed a nice little case of thrush. The thrush continued to get passed back and forth from me to him... mouth to breast. Now, for any of you who haven't had thrush on your lady lumps... it's terrible! Excruciating even. Add that to the long list of obstacles that we were facing at home, and I became depressed. I tried keeping a positive mind through those days, but looking back on it now there's absolutely no denying that I was beyond depressed. The postpartum surveys and questions I've had to answer to at the doctors were all the more telling.
Every single feed was met with sobbing... for Linden and me. Rushing him back and forth to the pediatrician (an hour each way) five days in a row was stressful, and I'd cry the whole way there and the whole way back. I started to dread feeding my own baby. And bonding? Forget about it. There was no bonding happening when just trying to feed him would overwhelm me. Just to add insult to injury, it was World Breastfeeding Week and I was inundated with "Breast is best!" "Breastfeeding is bonding!" and all sorts of propaganda that wasn't intended as mockery, but that's exactly how it felt. Guilt flooded my heart and mind. I cried because breastfeeding hurt, I cried because my baby was never satisfied, I cried because Linden kept losing weight, I cried because the doctor recommended we supplement, and then I cried because I was crying. Everything was hard.
When I touched on our obstacles publicly, everyone was so supportive by saying "It gets better!" "Just keep at it!" "In a few weeks it'll be totally different!" but my mind and body just couldn't take it. The first two weeks of Linden's life, I hardly ate anything. I was in such a deep funk that I couldn't even muster the energy or interest to eat. I wasn't even drinking anything. This of course came full circle and made breastfeeding even harder because all of a sudden I wasn't able to produce much of anything. Even when I'd try to give myself a pep talk to eat/drink, I couldn't. So I'd pump. And pump and pump and pump. I called the hospital's lactation department in tears. I was sobbing so hard I couldn't even tell her my name. Even seeing someone in my own home felt liberating at first, but then it all went down hill once she left. But still, I kept fighting. I wanted to breastfeed. I felt like I needed to. How on earth could I love my baby and give him formula?! The thoughts that clouded my head ranged from ridiculous to downright insane. Despite my family telling me that I didn't have to keep forcing myself to do it, I didn't want to give up. I tried nipple shields, fenugreek, oatmeal... you name it.
A few weeks in and it was all becoming too much. I felt like I couldn't bond with Linden and enjoy him the way I should be able. I didn't want to let his newborn weeks slip past me while I wallowed in my own self pity. I kept searching for "permission" to throw in the towel... from family members, from Mike... from myself. I've never once judged another mother for formula feeding her baby, but I just couldn't seem to offer myself the same grace. Then one day I just stopped. I stopped pumping. I stopped breastfeeding. And I only gave bottles. It was like a switch had been flipped. Linden was happy and satisfied, and I was able to enjoy feeding him. Not only that, but Mike was able to feed him more regularly, too. When I would pump, I could only get 1 ounce total in a half hour. Not nearly enough to satisfy Linden. With being strictly formula fed, everyone could get in on the action. For once he had a full belly.
I've been "wearing" Linden since his first few days and despite it not being breastfeeding, it has allowed me to bond with him in a way I can't even explain. I now look at this little guy and love him more than life itself. I felt so much shame for bottle feeding him, but I did (and do!) so much research. The best formulas, support groups, etc. It's because of other moms out there sharing their struggles and their stories that I've come to peace with our decision. Does that mean I don't still mourn the thought of breastfeeding? No way. Sometimes I'll be wearing Linden through the house after a feed and I'll just start crying because I wanted nothing more than to breastfeed. It still breaks my heart to know that I didn't get to experience that with him. But because of other wonderful blog posts I've read from moms just like me, I no longer feel shame about how I've chosen to feed my baby. He's fed every time he's hungry, and he's growing just as he should. I'm able to focus on things that are much more important like actually creating a bond between me and him.
That's not to say I haven't (felt like I've) been met with the stigma that comes with bottle feeding. Mike and I took Linden to the mall one afternoon and he decided he was hungry so I stopped, made him a bottle, and fed him while sitting in one of those little massage chairs in the middle of the walkway. While most people just marveled at how adorable he was, I did get a few stink eyes from older women. I didn't say anything to Mike in the moment, but I told him about it a few days later and I just cried and cried and cried. Granted the ladies didn't say anything to me (so they very well could have been stink eye'ing something else) but the inner shame I felt about feeding him projected itself on anyone who would look at me funny. It didn't feel fair to be shamed for giving my child exactly what he needed. But since then I've come to terms with not everyone being okay with our decision. There are plenty of other things that people give me the stink eye for. Adding one more to the list can't hurt, right? I was bottle fed, Mike was bottle fed, and Toby was bottle fed, too. In the grand scheme of things it can't be that bad. Instead of focusing on what I "missed out" on, I've decided to cherish what I do get to experience... and that's being this little guy's mom. Definitely something I don't want to take for granted.
Maybe I'll be more aware of the struggles that come with breastfeeding the next time around. I think my naiveté about the whole thing didn't help matters much. I never knew it would be so hard. I think I'll know more of what to expect the next go around, provided we're able to have more children. But even if it proves to be impossible, I'll feel completely comfortable bottle feeding that baby, too. Sometimes it's hard to not beat myself up for not "trying harder" or "sticking it out," but I know that if I had kept going the way I was going, I would've found myself even farther down that black hole of PPD.
I definitely want to share the blog posts, websites and resources that I've found to help me through the past several weeks. I think by lifting the veil of the difficulties of breastfeeding, the stigma associated with bottle feeding, and just sharing real life experiences, so many other new (and repeat) moms will feel comfortable making the decision that is best for their family. With his reflux and milk allergy, I just choose to celebrate when we get through an entire bottle without him screaming his head off or refusing to eat. Little victories.
Bottle feeding may not be right for everyone, but it has been absolutely perfect for our family. Whether you bottle feed out of necessity or simply because you want to, you shouldn't be shamed for nourishing your child. I think it's wonderful that breastfeeding is celebrated, but we shouldn't forget about the other moms out there. Rather than put breastfeeding moms on a pedestal, we should celebrate parents in general... feeding their babies when they're hungry. No one is going to know (or care!) if my child was formula or breast fed when he's playing on the playground. It's an unnecessary pressure we put on ourselves. And there are so many reasons for bottle feeding. Adoption, breast cancer, a working mom who can't pump while on the job, etc. We're all doing the best we can. Thanks for letting me share my story. I guess part of me thought it was this "big deal" and that I needed to keep this "secret." Like heaven forbid someone on the internet catch a glimpse of a bottle in the background of a photo. Seriously, those are things that I thought. It's so silly to have that mentality. But at the same time, you can probably tell that I'm still trying to come to terms with everything. While I feel "totally" okay with our decision, I'm still bummed and I still find ways to justify it, even though it's not necessary. Kind of like convincing myself it really is okay, ya know? I hope that if you've experienced something like this or if you do in the future, you'll feel comfortable sharing your struggles and feel proud about the decision you've made. It doesn't have to be some big shameful secret that you hide from. But it's not like you need my permission or approval either! xo