I have the utmost respect for all of those exhausted mamas stuck in the beginning-weeks-of-nursing trenches. All of the sacrifices you make to feed your child, often including blood, sweat, and tears, have never gone unnoticed. It’s a tough job up amongst sleep deprivation, wondering if your baby is getting proper nutrition, and for many of you, taking on this task while entertaining older children. I admire your strength.
Without exception, the nursing mama’s dedication and commitment to her children should never be overlooked. It’s a tough job that I cried endless tears over while attempting — praying and desperately hoping — to accomplish with my first daughter whose debut in this world did not start easy. After hemorrhaging in the delivery room, I was severely anemic from the get go and breastfeeding was chaotic, tearful, and stressful. Desperate to nurse, we saw lactation consultant after lactation consult and tried everything we possibly could, but it failed over and over again. Two weeks to nearly the hour after her delivery, I had just attempted to nurse when my body began to cramp in a way I had never felt before. I stood up and rushed to the restroom when I heard two giant thuds onto the tile floor.
I was hemorrhaging. Again.
After a trip to the emergency room to stop the hemorrhage, it was determined that I would need a D&C to remove retained placenta. During the days following the hemorrhage and D&C, we had no choice but to temporarily bottle feed my daughter. I was under a lot of medication, including anesthesia, so anything I pumped, I had to dump. I was devastated.
Regardless of my heartbreak, my breastfeeding difficulties were solved: My body had been in complete shock from the first hemorrhage and combined with the trauma and stress of the impending hemorrhage, my body refused to let down any milk.
My postpartum recovery started all over again after the D&C and loss of even more blood. I was no longer exhausted, I was physically unable to function. This was way more than typical “newborn” tired. My mind and body were in shock. Three days later, my beloved grandmother passed away completely unexpectedly and my world was shaken. I simply could not take anymore. After encouragement from my family, with a broken heart, I decided to give up on skin-to-skin feeds and go to the bottle. I pumped relentlessly for five weeks. Feed for feed. I wore myself out completely, would hardly leave my house, and over time, began to fall into a hard depression.
The depression stemmed from personal loss, physical exhaustion, and poor health, but mostly, failing to be able to provide my child with nutrition in the most natural form. I was convinced all of society was judging me for giving my child formula.
Society exudes that the non-nursing mother does not love her child the same or as deeply or as sacrificially as the nursing mother. Society claims the nursing mother has a bond that the non-nursing mother can’t and never will have with her baby. Society assumes that the non-nursing mother simply chooses not to nurse because it is easier. And from these assumptions, my guilt over my decision was formed. I was so ashamed.
Two years and a healthy delivery later, our second daughter was born. I didn’t know what would happen when it was time to nurse, but the answer came quickly after the first night in the hospital. In those short hours that I tried to nurse, I was anxiety ridden and full of panic.
Nothing felt natural. Nothing about it was soothing for my baby or myself. I looked at my husband, tears filling my eyes, and said, “I want to bottle feed.”
And with full support of my husband, we did. For the first time since she was born, she ate and I cried. Just like a mother’s tears when their baby suckles upon her breast, I cried tears of joy and contentment because unlike with my firstborn, there was peace between us as mother and daughter.
I wanted to give this sweet baby something that I could not give my first: All of me. The thing is, “all of me” didn’t fit the mold of the perfect mother. I wanted to be filled to the brim with joy every time I held her and she gazed into my eyes. I was so overwhelmed with stress and sadness in the first three months of my firstborn’s life that I missed out on so many beautiful and wonderful moments of her first year. I was determined to not let this happen a second time and that meant nursing had to go.
You see, our decisions as mothers each look differently, but are made with the same heart. From the outside, it looked like I had made a terribly selfish decision to withhold breastmilk from my daughter, but for our family, having a mother who was present and mentally sound to raise her two children was much more important.
To all of the mothers who could not or chose not to nurse, I know your heart. I know that many of you look at the nursing mothers around you in complete awe, begging for your baby to get the latching down so you can share those sweet, tender moments only to be known between mother and child. Then there are those of you that just didn’t want to nurse, for whatever reason. I admire you, too, because you were able to make a decision not pressured by what society around you thinks.
But most of all, non-nursing mother, I want you to be encouraged that your love for you baby isn’t measured by how you’ve chosen to provide nutrition for your child. You will make many sacrifices for your child over the years, and maybe . . . just maybe . . . your decision was a sacrifice in itself.