If you've already read Unsupermommy, you know that breastfeeding didn't work out for me. I told you that, but I never shared my story. I've been holding it close, because it isn't easy to say that you just plain old gave up. That sounds like the worst kind of motherhood failure in our culture.
I've never heard a woman tell me that she also became a bottle feeder without her expressing disappointment. In our culture, the easiest way to get an A+ at motherhood is to feed your baby right. It starts with breast feeding. Extra credit if you struggle with it but persevere through to 15 months. 15 months is better than 12 months--it demonstrates your true grit--but 18 months, that just makes people uncomfortable.
I'll raise my hand and admit, I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted that A+ on my motherhood report card right off the bat. I'd always been a straight-A student until I became a mom and started flunking out on everything I thought mattered (but didn't).
I didn't do anything to prepare for breastfeeding because countless women assured me it would come naturally. Sure, I had already seen two friends give up on it, but I was sure my true grit would win out. I've always been naturally good at things: breastfeeding couldn't be the exception.
My dear first baby was an eating monster. Of course my milk came in late because I was exhausted and hardly eating and childbirth is traumatic. He latched on fine, so for a long time I didn't admit to myself that something was wrong. I didn't know it wasn't normal for a baby to feed 45 minutes each side (total 1.5 hours), then be rooting around to eat again 30 minutes later.
My mom came over one morning to hold Isaac while I showered. He had just finished nursing so I ran upstairs to get cleaned up for once and left my mom with a pacifier. Before I could even dry my hair she peeked in to tell me she was so sorry, but he was gnawing at the pacifier like he was hungry again. I'll never forget that moment, when it dawned on me that this may be beyond the scope of normal.
The problem was that I could never achieve let down. I learned that to get my milk to let down I had to do yoga breaths while trying to completely relax the side of the body he was nursing on. Then my milk would finally let down and he could get something.
Every doctor appointment was a disappointment. Despite feeding almost constantly, Isaac was not gaining weight. At about 2 weeks I started supplementing with formula. I couldn't get anything out when pumping to get enough to supplement with breast milk. Isaac was a champ at supplementing. He was fine with it all: my nipple, a bottle nipple, even a nipple shield.
He was fine with everything, meanwhile I was trying to pump as much as I could, manage formula bottles, and still breastfeed. I found myself feeding him 15 minutes each side, then supplementing with formula because he was always still so hungry, then pumping so I could do some of the supplementing with my own breast milk.
Despite being a woman of ample bosom, my breasts constantly felt empty, like they had nothing left to give. I've never needed a breast pad. I've never leaked. I've always felt sucked dry and insufficient. It's a sad way to live.
I made it about 8 weeks on that feed, supplement, pump gig. I was overworked and exhausted. Feeding him was my entire world. I was sleep-deprived and emotionally spent.
At his two-month appointment, Isaac's awesome pediatrician gave me some advice. She told me that it was more important for Isaac to have a functioning and happy mom than it was for him to have breastmilk. I could have kissed her. Her words were a perspective-shifter.
The next two babies I tried doing every piece of breastfeeding advice I could find, but eventually ended up in the same spot. In that painful place I found this truth:
God is the one who provides for and sustains the life of my baby, whether through the breast or the bottle. We cannot always protect and nurture our children, but God can. When we fail our children, God is there. He is their ultimate source of protection and nurture.
I wish we could abandon the term breast is best. We Christian women should know better. God is best. God provides best. God knows best. God loves best.
If you're in the bonds of a breastfeeding struggle right now, let me challenge you to choose the path that requires more grace. Many women struggle through very difficult moments in breastfeeding and persevere. God has grace for that. Other women admit that they can't always control the best way to feed their baby and that they need the help of formula bottles. God has grace for that.
Take a moment in your heart to consider which path will require more grace for you. Sitting in a place of needing more grace is a painful-good place to be. There isn't a wrong choice, so whichever choice you make, lean heavy into God's grace.
Living in Imperfect, Maggie
I haven't even scratched the surface here of the heart-complications of choosing breast or bottle. If you need freedom from pride or shame, check out Chapter 3 of Unsupermommy.