When I was pregnant with my first child, I read all the books, asked for all the advice, and thought I was pretty well prepared for this motherhood thing. Famous last words.
I was going to have a natural birth without an epidural thankyouverymuch. Seven hours into labouring, I went with the epidural. Though it was a bit of a hit to my pride, I knew enough women who chose the epidural, and, did I mention that pain was excruciating? So in the end, I had no regrets and rarely thought it through again. In fact, my next two births would be happily medicated, but that’s another story.
The much more pervasive, and larger hit to my pride would come only a few weeks later, and wouldn’t fully subside until after my third child was weaned – breastfeeding. With the same gusto that I entered the delivery room set on a natural birth, I left the hospital waving my Breast Is Best flag. It wasn’t until a month into breastfeeding that I realized something wasn’t right.
Our daughter was still below birth weight at over a month old, I was nursing around the clock, and my breasts felt perpetually empty and soft. I ate the foods, took the baths, and drank the teas. I considered the doctor-recommended medication but was intimidated by the possible side-effects, and so instead I took to nursing on demand and pumping when my daughter would sleep longer than two hours. Pumping scarcely yielded 1-2 ounces and she would cry for more when my breasts were clearly empty. One night, about two months in, it all came to a head.
Our daughter had slept for five hours straight and had not fed in close to seven hours. I forgot to set my alarm to wake myself up to pump, so it was the longest I’d gone without nursing and she’d gone without eating. She was famished and furious, and my breasts had nothing to give. My husband, my baby, and I were all in tears as we frantically googled information and I fruitlessly willed my breasts to produce milk. Suddenly I remembered that we had a small tin of formula buried somewhere in the pile of things we were planning to take to the donation bin – a free sample sent to expecting mothers in our province. We raced to the kitchen to make our first ever formula bottle and in a few minutes we saw our daughter’s crying cease, her face relax, and her body nourished until she was full – perhaps for the first time.
I still continued to breastfeed for many months after that, but also supplemented with formula after feeds, and eventually full-time. I loved nursing my daughter and did it as long as it made sense for our family. But I also loved bottle feeding her, because it achieved what my low supply couldn’t, and at the end of the day, aren’t all mothers just trying their best to provide for their babies?
For our second child, I went into breastfeeding with the hope of nursing exclusively, but the knowledge that it might not work out, and I’d be no less of a mother if it didn’t. I’d like to say that it allowed me to feed my son without guilt or doubt, but I still struggled with feelings of not being enough. It was less intense, but those feelings were still there.
When our third child came along, I attempted nursing yet again but this time I saw any feed where I was able to produce milk as a gift, and had no assumptions. I enjoyed those feeds thoroughly, especially after discovering the nipple guard – where were those blessed inventions with my first two babies?! And I also savoured my many bottle feeding sessions with her. The first two taught me that the baby stage is so fleeting, and to enjoy each bit – even the parts you wish you could do differently. I wasted so much time regretting that I couldn’t nurse exclusively, instead of savouring the precious moments with my newborns snuggled up on my lap with a bottle.
If you are lucky enough and choose to breastfeed, enjoy every minute. There are a plethora of resources out there to help you if you’re struggling, and things I tried to no avail, may be just the ticket for you. But if you choose to, or must bottle feed, please enjoy every minute of that as well. Nourishing and nurturing our little ones is a high calling, and there’s no one way to do it well.