I cried as I drove home that day. It happened again. No, it was not the first time I heard harsh words directed at me, nor would it be the last. She thought she was being helpful. She thought I did not know any better. She did not know my pain. She did not know she had hurt me. She did not know she was being cruel, or that she was not the only one to have been so cruel. She did not know my story.
It is interesting the difference in perspective with your first pregnancy versus the ones that follow. First pregnancies bring unrealistic expectations. That is only because we simply do not know any different. Having never had a baby before allows you only to assume what will be. The trouble is that we often assume what will be is actually going to be reality. Rarely is that true, both in pregnancy and in life. And when reality and expectation do not match up, it usually brings heartache.
When my first child was born she was perfect. Even the nurses said so. There was no struggle or difficulty with the delivery, which left her little pink face looking just as sweet and round as it could possibly be. Everything was perfect. I had made the decision to breast feed, as I knew it was the best nutritional choice for my daughter, it was God’s design, and it was affordable. But everything was not perfect. My daughter had learned to suck improperly in the womb. “No problem”, the lactation consultant said. “We will just have to retrain her.” And, that was just the beginning. Then came the inability to latch on, the lack of milk supply, the hours upon hours and the tears upon tears of trying so hard to make everything work just as it is supposed to. You know, God’s way. The efforts we went to were extreme. The different devices to help the baby eat, but not from a bottle so that she would not learn to prefer it. The different exercises to retrain my daughter’s suck. The pumping with almost nothing to show for it, which meant almost nothing to share with baby. The disappointment day after day, feeding after feeding, when she could not latch on. When she could not eat the food that was best for her. When I could not even produce enough to sustain her even if she had. My reality was no longer my expectation. I felt incapable. I felt helpless. I felt hopeless. And, I felt like a failure.
When it was time for baby #2 to join our little family, we made the decision to try breast-feeding again. However, my husband wisely suggested that we not go through the extremes that we went through with our first baby. You see, while the counsel of the lactation consultant had been well-intentioned, it did not account for my sanity. For two months we had tried to retrain baby #1 to suck properly. For two months I had tried to increase my milk supply. For two months I had pumped with almost nothing to show for it. For two months I shed tears day after day that I could not seem to do what every other mother seemed to do so naturally. The routine for feeding, retraining, pumping, and cleaning up was so extreme that there were only minutes left for sleep for myself. In two month’s time I had lost any ability to reason with the reality of our situation. I was miserable. I was broken. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I just wanted to feed my baby. I remember the day it all ended so clearly. It was evening time. My husband had come home from work to find me in tears yet again. The baby was crying. I was crying. She was exhausted. I was exhausted. My husband looked at me and said, “I am going to the store. I am going to buy a bottle. We are going to feed our daughter in the best way for us all.” And that is what he did. And that is what we did. He was right and I am so thankful for his leadership in that moment. So, as we anticipated the arrival of baby #2, he knew what he was saying when he asked that I not try so hard to breast-feed this time around. I knew he was right, though I did not want him to be. And, while her delivery was almost just as perfect as her older sister’s, the reality was that she too would not be able to nurse. Along came baby #3, with the same reality. Heart break not once, not twice, but three times.
The inability to nurse is one of the most crushing experiences you will ever have as a mother. It certainly was for me. It is for me. That pain and disappointment has never gone away. But, it is the words from others that is often the most painful. That is how I began this blog. As I bottle-fed my child that day in the hallway of the music studio where my preschooler was attending class, a well-intentioned fellow mother began to “counsel” me that I was not doing the best thing for my child by bottle-feeding. Didn’t I know that formula is not as good for baby as his mother’s milk? Didn’t I know that it is selfish to want to use a bottle instead of my body to feed my baby? Didn’t I know that I could potentially be harming my baby by denying him of all the added nutrients that come from breast milk, and the bonding, and the God-ordained design, and the cheap cost, and the…. Why, yes, I did indeed know those things. But what she did not know was the tears I had shed for days, and weeks, and years over feeling like a lesser mother for not being able to feed my babies. What she did not know were the tears I would shed again that day as I drove home because of her words, and the words of so many like her that had come before that day and that would come again after that day.
Ladies, please do not assume you know why a mother is bottle-feeding her child. And, please, do not assume it is your duty to inform her that breast feeding is best. I guarantee you that mother already knows every single word that you feel compelled to utter. You are not helping. You are adding salt to a very deep wound. I would say that only time will heal that deep wound but that is not so. Though it has been twenty years since I last attempted to nurse a child, when the subject comes up today it still stabs me in the heart. It begins innocently with a questions such as, “How long did you nurse your baby?”, or “Didn’t you think such and such was hard when nursing your baby?” The assumption is still there. The question is innocent and devoid of any malicious intent. My head knows that. But my heart, oh, my heart mourns all over again.
I will probably never know why my story unfolded the way it did. But, if my words today, if sharing my story today, can help one mom shed her guilt over what cannot be, then it was worth it. Moms, it is okay to cry over the loss of nursing your child. Moms, it is okay to feel hurt by the careless, though well-intentioned, words of others. Moms, it is okay to bottle-feed your baby, because that is what your reality has demanded. Did you hear me? It. Is. Okay. It will be okay. You will be okay. And, your baby will be okay. While your heart may be broken, you are not and neither is your baby.