I’m really good at sharing cute pictures of my daughter and laughing as I look back at tough times. I can write about the hardest days and eloquently embrace the lesson or the good parts. But some hard times are particularly rough; less fun to write about and remember. Not everyone is going to agree with my thoughts and decisions, I don’t expect or ask you to. But I do hope if there’s someone out there who needs to hear this, it comes at the right time. I’ve debated sharing this for a year, but for some reason I’m compelled to share this now.
Tonight we threw out our last can of formula. Lila is on whole milk now and we finally used up our stores. It felt symbolic.
Instead of the guilt and shame I associated with feeding formula for months, tonight I felt gratitude. That this wonderful alternative existed and was available when I needed it, to ensure my baby was happy and healthy. I felt pride. That I made a hard decision in a dark time and can now recognize that it was the right decision.
When I was about three weeks post partum, the “baby blues,” as they’re so often called, weren’t lifting. In fact, they were getting worse. You know the little black rain cloud that follows Eeyore around? Mine was a little black tsunami.
I was fortunate to be surrounded with support, but unless you’re the one going through it, it’s hard to know exactly how to help. I don’t know that I can share it all in detail in this kind of forum, as much as I love truth telling, but if you’re experiencing anything you think goes beyond typical new-mom exhaustion and stress, I urge you to be brave enough to ask for help. There is nothing wrong with you. No one will judge you.
Throughout this early period, nursing was – for the most part – going really well. I was fortunate that we didn’t experience any of the dozens of challenges so many women and babies experience. I produced enough, she latched. Just the usual learning curve. But as the tsunami darkened, I started to resent this attachment I was told I should be embracing.
One day it came to a head. I completely freaked out one of my best friends the night prior when she came over with food, and I couldn’t compose myself the whole time. I was shaky, unable to eat or sleep, and saw no light at the end of the current tunnel. I saw my doctor around this time, desperate for anything that could make me feel better. And fortunately, her office was nothing but supportive and attentive as I sobbed in a crumpled heap, communicating more through nose blowing and sign language than actual English.
There was no condescending, “All moms go through this,” or “Hang in there, it gets better.” They identified what I was feeling and knew that I wasn’t positioned to be the best mom I could be. It was at this time they asked if I would consider not nursing.
Sound the alarm bells. Were these people…these medically trained experts, who dedicated their careers to bringing babies into the world safely…actually suggesting I stop doing the one thing I was convinced I had to?
I was indignant. No, I would not consider stopping. I’d never heard anything but praise for nursing mothers, and had been subtly convinced through the mommysphere that formula was akin to lead paint. Why would I give that to this perfect human? I was disgusted.
My doctor’s office was respectful, but did their part to educate me that making a decision that could help me and my baby feel better, and bond better, was not “giving up.” It was not failing.
They simply wanted me to see that if I stopped, my body had a much better chance of feeling better faster. And that would allow me to enjoy motherhood.
Without giving you a biology lesson, there is significant regulation of hormones when you stop nursing, more options for medication, and access to better sleep. Things that help in tsunami abatement.
Flustered, I left. Then a day or two later I called my best friend, crying outside a smoothie shop, sweating my face off in the Arizona summer. I laid it all out: I felt weak giving up, like I wasn’t enduring this essential rite of passage that unites good moms. I felt lazy. I felt worried I would change my mind. But I also felt desperate.
I talked to my mom and my mentor and lots of friends – and was touched and surprised that those who’d been the most committed to nursing themselves, were the most supportive that I stop . I think these mommas, being ahead of me in this journey, had the wisdom to know how hard everything is as a new mom, and that you need to do Whatever It Takes to be the best mom you can be.
So I stopped. I switched to formula. For 11 months.
And I’m blessed beyond belief with a happy, healthy and spitfire little girl.
They told me she’d be a picky eater. She’s not. They told me she’d gain too much weight. She didn’t. They told me we wouldn’t bond the same way. We did.
So without dipping my toes into the madness that is mommy wars, I want to share that it took a long time to get here, but I am ok with this decision. Better than ok – I’m proud of it.
And while sure, I sometimes have pangs or moments of questioning and wondering, “what if…” I have those in every area of my life (don’t even get me started on my college major), and I’m sure there will be hundreds more of these feelings on the parenthood path.
I think this whole story supports the notion that when you make the best decision for you, OWN IT. You don’t have to rationalize or explain it, it’s yours and yours alone.
And moms, we’ve heard it before, but my hope is we can all be respectful of whatever feeding choices we make. And acknowledge that there is no “best,” there only the best for each family. Breast, bottle, SNS or feeding tube. If you’re feeding you baby, you’re winning.