I was wallowing in the Waters of Woe-is-Me, sinking in the Sea of Failure… and I mistook my brestfriend for a life raft. I thought, surely, if I had all the right gadgets – to say nothing for the two (newly) bountiful orbs of fat and muscle dangling from my chest – that feeding my kid would come easily. Maybe it’d even be cute…like that hydrangea-embellished nursing cover.
But it wasn’t easy or cute. It was a wet-shirt-asunder/hyperventilating/tearful/postpartum mess. Nobody told me (or if they did, I wasn’t paying attention) that though my breasts are quite functional and my kid quite capable, feeding her might be really freaking hard. Or impossible. Or dangerous. And I’m not sure that, even if they had, I could have prepared myself for how terrible it felt when this experience I’d been longing to have since before that stick turned blue, sparked some serious
baby blues no-nonsense, legit depression instead.
Now, look, our pediatrician swears nipple confusion is a load of crap, and I’m still deciding whether I believe her. But the story of my botched breastfeeding started with a bottle: the one our kid just had to have because she was born with low blood sugar, time was of the essence and she hadn’t mastered the art of latch-on. By the time she had, she’d also grown tantrum-throwing impatient at the breast. And jaundiced. And lost 10 percent of her body weight rapidly enough that her docs insisted supplementing with factory food was medically necessary. (I never went to medical school, so I had absolutely no idea whether it was or wasn’t. I decided to trust them.) I alternated between bottle-fed formula and breast milk and brought that screaming baby to my boobs whether she liked it or not because that’s what our first lactation consultant advised.
Then I went home and tried-tried-again with the help of visiting nurses and pediatricians and lactation consultants and breastfeeding friends and a wildly supportive Papa Progenitor, all the while trying to tune out that mounting din of (grand)motherly/friendly/perfect-strangerly concern coated in accusation: There’s something wrong with your nipples, no? Perhaps you’re not producing enough milk. Maybe you need to hold her differently. Is she latching? I don’t think she’s latching!
It’s about to get real (personal): There’s nothing wrong with my nipples. They’re flat. Which, fortunately, isn’t a big deal since there are fingers and nipple shields for that. I produced a perfectly adequate supply of milk, which I know because my breast pump and lactation consultants told me. They also told me I have a text-book awesome hold and my kid, when she latched, appeared to latch perfectly.
I knew this to be true, and still I grew self-conscious.
And confused! So confused.
Every supposed expert I encountered had a different expert opinion about how to convert this child to Exclusive Breastfeeding: power through the teet-tantrums, bring her to the breast when she’s quiet alert, withhold the bottle, feed her only when she’s starving, bottle feed her first so she won’t be so hungry. And so on and so on. I tried everything more than once and enough to recognize when it wasn’t working.
It’s about to get “realer” still: I think there’s something to be said for a mother’s primal interest in feeding her baby, heightened here by the facts of the case. (I recovered from anorexia.) So I officially felt like the worst kind of screw-up for these failed attempts to feed my baby. If breast is best, what am I feeding her fifty percent of the time? How do you even pronounce this? What’s an L-Carnitine? How come she appears so damn unhappy to see my boobs? But I’m doing everything they told me! She’s hungry and she won’t take to the breast! She ate first, so she should be calm now. Dr. Google said if I can’t make this happen in the first three weeks of life, it’s never going to happen! What am I doing wrong? I wanted this.
Really, though, what I wanted was the fairytale simple experience I’d read about in the not-ill-advised books on the subject that suggested that breast is best and breastfeeding is this fundamentally natural thing people have been doing since the dawn of humanity. They’re partially spot-on: partially because they leave out the part where you might feel like shit when it doesn’t come easily. Maybe other mothers don’t. I did. But these books are meant to encourage new moms to stick with an experience that, when it goes right, is kind of wonderful.
And, for a moment, it went right. Cuddling without coaxing kept Baby Girl comfortable long enough to discern that my chest was a happy place. She was breastfeeding!
Later that same week, she started projectile vomiting and pooping blood. For, unbeknownst to this already battle-weary breastfeeding mama, she was allergic to something – many things, maybe – and I fed them to her myself. She developed food-allergy-induced colitis thanks, in no small part, to my practically poisonous breast milk.
Enter cathartic meltdown.
I thought I wanted to breastfeed more than anything (and, it’s true, I wanted very much to breastfeed), but more than that, I wanted my kid to eat without getting sick. I wanted meal times to be happy. I didn’t want to resent her for not working with me.
Mid louder-than-my-baby’s sob, it occurred to me: I was the squirrel who failed to notice the cage for the pile of acorns, the prowler who overlooked the spring-loaded shotgun, Chester Copperpot.
On a quest for connection with my new daughter, I got stuck on the means to the end. So I filled a Dr. Brown’s bottle full of prescription-grade hypoallergenic formula, poured myself a glass of wine and never breastfed again.
Some other kid will benefit from my frozen breast milk. Mine will benefit from her mom’s realization that breast is best usually, not always, and definitely not for her: a fundamentally personal decision I feel empowered for having made. This is my breast and bottle-fed success story.