It has taken me almost a decade to write this, but right now, somewhere, someone needs to hear it. New moms, if you can’t breastfeed, you’re not broken. As a matter of fact, you just made a life. You’re a superhero.
Before my first child was born, my husband and I attended every new parent class, read the books and prepared ourselves in the ways responsible parents do. I even remember asking one of the instructors — quite smugly — if there really were women who couldn’t breastfeed, or if they were just not doing it right. She confirmed my naive theory. “I’ll be great at this,” I thought.
When my son was born, I didn’t produce colostrum … or very little. The nurses, one by one, came into my room trying to hand-express the non-existent “liquid gold.” They assured me that my son must be getting enough since he was properly latched … or so they thought. I trusted them implicitly; after all, what did I know? My son was constantly crying. But babies cry, right?
His weight kept going down, but, again, they assured me that this was normal. They would not give me any formula, even when I asked for it. I don’t fault them for that because all of the research was pointing — is pointing — to the fact that babies are healthier, stronger, smarter and better when given breastmilk. But sometimes that’s just not possible.
After struggling — and failing — to satisfy this precious, new life I held in my arms, I arrived at my follow-up pediatrician appointment frightened. His weight had gone down significantly, and the lactation consultant rushed to get formula. She explained to me that breastfeeding was not for everyone. I cried tears of relief as I saw my child drinking the formula, knowing he was finally getting what he needed.
The next few months were a blur of pumping breastmilk (I still couldn’t give up on the idea of breastfeeding), giving formula and weighing. Pump/feed/make a formula bottle/weigh. Pump/feed/formula/weigh. Pump/feed/formula/weigh. I couldn’t tell you one milestone, one giggle, one smile, one memory from that time. It was frantic. I was sleep-deprived, disappointed in my body’s shortcomings and empty inside.
When I finally quit pumping and accepted the idea of having a formula-fed child, a magical thing happened … my motherhood began. My mind quit spinning, and I relished each beautiful — and fleeting — baby moment. I breathed him in. I let go of everything I had been told, and I let myself trust my instincts.
I remember reading something that said breastfeeding was how mothers bonded with their children and that the bond of mothers who bottle-fed their children was not the same. Well, I disagree. When I started exclusively bottle-feeding my son, it was the first time I was able to actually look deeply into his eyes while he was feeding. There was nothing like those moments, and there never will be.
When we switched to formula feeding, my husband started helping more. He didn’t know what to do when I was struggling with breastfeeding, and he felt helpless. Now, he could help our family by going to the store to buy formula, mixing bottles and even feeding our son while I caught up on my sleep. Seeing to our son’s needs became a team effort, and I watched their bond grow stronger.
It wasn’t until many years later that the doctors discovered my son’s tongue-tie. When they asked me if he had had a difficult time breastfeeding, I wanted to weep. The raw feelings of being a new mom still live within me, deep down in a place of empathy.
Moms, if it’s not working, it’s okay. It really is. He or she is going to grow up strong and healthy and smart and wonderful because you are his/her mom. When our children are seniors in high school and we see all of them standing on that stage, we won’t know who was fed formula or breastmilk, who walked at 12 months and who took longer, who talked first, who used a pacifier or who needed a cranial helmet. Absolutely none of that will matter. What will matter is that they are children who feel loved, supported and secure … and, mama, you’ve got that.