By Gabrielle. Milk bottle macarons via Raspberri Cupcakes.
There is no shortage of opinions when it comes to childbirth methods — and the opinions don’t stop after delivery! Whether from well-meaning friends and family, the latest issue of a parenting magazine, or even complete strangers at the grocery store, the opinions come. And they often bring a dose of parenting guilt with them. Worst of all, is when the reigning advice, guidance, or child-rearing tradition doesn’t work for your baby or your family. We’ve talked about it before, but it’s a great reminder at any stage of life: Sometimes, what is best for most might not be best for you. And that’s perfectly okay.
In Danielle‘s case, it was all about the breastfeeding. Some of us have been in the same spot as Danielle, some of us have had the completely opposite experience. I think, however, there’s a lesson here that everyone can relate to. Please enjoy Danielle’s story.
On November 7, 2013 I gave birth to a baby boy. On January 14, 2014 I gave him formula in a bottle.
The birth was everything I’d hoped it would be. My water broke at 10:30pm on a Wednesday night, and 18 hours later we named our red, squished baby boy Scott Luca and swiftly fell in love. I was proud. I had given birth naturally and just finished a healthy and easy pregnancy. I credited my success to my determined mindset, the doula we had hired, and the scads of books I had read. Scott lay on my chest and I stared into his alert eyes in exhausted admiration, overwhelmed with the task that lay ahead of me and anticipating the strong bond we would form.
I breastfed my newborn soon after delivery and seemed to do so with ease. However, soon after arriving home, I found myself hunched over his little body forcing my breast into his mouth as he rhythmically arched away. Being a new mother I believed this difficulty stemmed from my inexperience, but my confidence continued to reign assuring me that in a few weeks I’d have it mastered. But things didn’t get better. It took 40-60 minutes to complete a feeding that was accompanied by the cries of my babe, his continual pulling back, and my own tears. I bought another breastfeeding guide and avidly read it in hopes of diagnosing the situation.
Christmas 2013 was spent in southern Oregon with my family and for eight hours a day I was secluded in the guest bedroom trying to feed my son as he flailed about and I became increasingly frustrated. I cried to my mom, my husband, and a few family friends, enormously disappointed that the bonding breastfeeding should have brought was replaced by anger and discouragement. Returning back home to Seattle wasn’t any easier; as my baby grew older he expressed his frustration with more gusto, and I slipped deeper into a dark place.
I wasn’t a happy mother. I was heartbroken that what I had anticipated would be a healthy and wonderful connection with my son was now turning into a chore I dreaded. I became frustrated with him, mad, and sometimes even full of rage that he wouldn’t stay latched on. Instead of enjoying his little soul during these early weeks, I was often angry and blind to the beautiful.
During the first two weeks of 2014 I found myself in offices: one was carpeted in a dark moquette and furnished with a mismatched rocking chair and single sofa; another was cold with white floors and walls, a bottle of hand sanitizer sitting on the high counter the only decoration; another had a bird mobile hanging over a massage table that filled the small space. All were different, but we visited each in hopes of finding answers. And answers we did find: paltry milk supply, lip and tongue-ties, and osteopathic damage. The therapy needed would take at least six weeks.
On a Tuesday, I sat in a plain room in Seattle Children’s Hospital, another specialist in front of me, when she put her hand on mine and told me she knew it was hard. I broke down. Tears smeared my makeup, darkening my cheeks and I let my head fall down. “It is okay,” she told me. “You need to do what is healthy for you.” So, on a rainy day in January I decided to switch completely to formula. I knew it was best for my emotional health and yet my disappointment was so heavy that I sighed big sobs.
My breasts became firm with sadness, a painful and physical reminder of my inability to give my baby boy the nutrition he needed and the physical connection I wanted. Sour tears of disappointment cascaded down my cheeks, spotting my baby’s onesie. I had been so confident that because I had prepared for breastfeeding by reading everything I could, talking to friends, and taking the class offered at the hospital that it had to work for me. But it hadn’t, and that entire week was hard as I struggled through one of the greatest disappointments of my life.
Scott is now happier (and fatter), and I have made my peace. The emotion that has replaced my hubris is gratitude: I am grateful that I am able to grow a human being in my uterus. I am grateful I was able to give birth naturally and that no emergency interventions were necessary. I am grateful my baby boy is healthy, and I am grateful that there is formula available to keep my baby healthy.
Today I am more keenly aware of the disappointments and unwanted pain of the women around me. I am more kind in my judgment of others, now intensely conscious of hidden difficulties and unwelcome sorrow. Too often as mothers we pit ourselves against each other, resigning ourselves to certain ideological camps, and pick at the smallest differences. In this world where life is often accompanied by sadness and hardships, unconditional empathy and kindness towards each other as women is vital. I wasn’t able to breastfeed my son as long as I would have liked, but I have learned this lesson and it is very valuable.
Thank you, Danielle! I’m sorry for your struggle, but so thankful you shared it with us. I know there’s someone reading right now who needed to hear your experience.
I smiled when I read the part about the specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Don’t we all have someone in our lives – usually a perfect stranger – who has somehow changed our lives in such a wonderful way? I imagine the relief Danielle must have felt when she heard the reassurance of “It is okay.” Have you ever experienced a person like this? Have you ever been this person? I hope your answer to both questions is yes.