When my daughter was placed on my chest moments after her birth, I knew we were in this thing together.
She latched pretty well right off the bat from what my inexperienced eyes could tell- and the parade of nurses who checked on us did nothing to dispel that idea. Sure, our doctor told me she had a tongue tie and we would have to watch her feedings for the first few days, but she was happy to wait to do the procedure to rectify it in case it wasn’t necessary.
So we went home on day 3 thinking we were on the way to breastfeeding bliss.
Then the crying started. And I never got that big swell of milk coming in… maybe it was the Cesarean, or maybe the fact we were induced 10 days early. Maybe it really was just the tongue tie. Or my hormones, or GMO food in my diet…. who knows? Whatever it was we were in for the battle of her young life just to keep her fed.
I latched her every 2 hours at least, and when she was latched, she would suck for ages, fall asleep and then wake up crying and hungry all over again. The public health nurse started my worry about my daughter’s weight gain. Then the formula was added- and increased. The pumping took over much of my days and nights. I started every pill and supplement I could get my hands on. I drank the tea and manually expressed.
By the time my daughter was 3 months old, her life had become a blur for me- nursing, pumping, sterilizing, nursing, bottle-feeding, and always the crying…
My lactation consultant finally showed up after our 3rd tongue/lip tie procedure at about 4 months and said the words I longed and dreaded to hear- stop trying so hard! You are doing everything that could reasonably (and unreasonably) be expected of you. You will burn out. You are enough. One bottle of formula- or 2, or 3- are not the end of the world. Give yourself permission to release the guilt and fear. Give yourself permission to sleep, and breathe….
So I did. Slowly I cut back the pumping session frequency and duration. I kept formula and breastmilk in alternating bottles on the top shelf of my fridge- feeling that it was a win if I could keep enough breastmilk in the fridge to equal the number of formula bottles. It was a win if she finished a feeding and actually fell asleep. It was a win if I could keep going for another day…
This became our new normal. I counted the days when she only took one formula bottle and my body could provide the rest. I rejoiced with every gained ounce and every full tummy. I thought to myself,”This is okay. We can do this. We can get to the benchmark 12 months like this. Some nursing, some pumping , some formula…”I even managed to start freezing some breastmilk occasionally.
Then she turned 6 months and started showing interest in what we were eating.
She took to the spoon and finger foods with gusto. She was so much more easily satiated and stayed happier for longer… I was still feeding her 2-3 feedings of breastmilk a day- whether nursing or from the pumped bottles in my fridge….Then I started noticing that I was getting ahead of her in pumped milk and I found myself freezing more and more of my breastmilk every week. Then the doctor said she could start having water. She drank even less milk. She actually stopped breastfeeding except first thing in the morning when she woke up. She is so curious and so strong- she wants to watch the world and sit up, not lay back to nurse. No position brought us any more success… so I virtually stopped trying to put her to the breast and replaced those unwanted nursing sessions with more pumping sessions. After everything we had been through, I didn’t want to lose what milk production I had wrested from my body. I wanted her to still be getting nourishment- at least in part- from her mother. I felt so attached to the process; so identified with our breastfeeding saga…. I couldn’t just give it up.
She is now 8 months old. She still nurses first thing in the morning as we lie side by side in the bed. The rest of her day, she eats solids and drinks maybe 1-2 bottles a day if I really get on her to do so. The soreness in my breasts has lessened. I’m producing less now when I pump. She goes 11 hours overnight without waking so the only time I really feel full is when I first wake up.
I still find myself feeling anxious and looking at the clock through my daily errands and activities. Should I be pumping right now? When was the last time I tried her with her bottle? If I haven’t pumped, and am away from home, I feel very stressed and sad. I need to get home. I need to pump. I need to keep my body in this game. I’ve fought so hard to get here and I feel unprepared to quit…
I know the time is fast approaching when she will refuse the bottle. She already requires coaxing. I have a fridge freezer filled with frozen milk I desperately hope we will use, but fear I will end up having no use for. I fear the process of releasing this bond and allowing my breasts to dry up. I fear having to throw that milk away.
I never expected to feel so much of my identity and value as a mother caught up in breastfeeding. I had wanted a positive and empowering breastfeeding relationship with my daughter to begin our life together. It has not always been positive, or empowering, but we have been in it together. Maybe I now need to hear her when she says, “It’s okay,Mom. We have tried this long enough. I’m happy. I’m healthy. You did everything you could- everything I needed. It’s okay to let this go now. I’m ready”.
If only I was ready