As expectant mothers, all we can do is plan. We make labor plans, we plan the nursery, we plan how we will spend our maternity leave. We plan birthday parties, play dates, college graduations.
All this planning before even giving birth. We thrive on a diet made up entirely of good intentions.
What happens when the core of those plans is taken away from us?
What then? Where do the rest of the pieces fall? Where do we stand as confident and capable mothers?
My breasts began leaking as I reached eight months pregnant. I was excited. They were working and that was all I needed to know; the center of my plan was to feed my child using my body. The center of my plan was to provide the most intimate bond I could imagine with my child after removing her from my womb.
I could express the colostrum on demand before giving birth. I had to wear breast pads. Everything was going according to plan.
I gave birth in the middle of the night, via C-section. I was put to bed, in horrendous pain, and told a lactation consultant would visit me the next morning. I was told to not attempt breast feeding until the consultant visited.
I lay, awake, in the hospital bed as nurses in the baby sanctuary fed my newborn formula.
“But, it’s going to be okay. This won’t ruin her. She will feed from me in a few hours.”
Morning came, and morning went. I was not visited. By one o’clock in the afternoon that day, I was asking where this person was. When was it going to be my turn? I watched as my family members visited me and fed my infant formula, as I curled up in bed, clutching myself and wishing for my turn.
I was told to be patient. I was told to wait. I could feel it then, I could feel my plan slipping from between my fingers.
At 6:00 in the evening, after eating dinner, I asked one last time where my consultant was. She had gone home. The day had ended. There were simply too many mothers to get to.
She came the next morning. Late in the morning. She spent eight minutes with me. She showed me an awkward and not natural feeling way to hold my daughter as I tried to get her to latch on to me. She would latch, and then cry. Latch and cry. I was told to be patient. I was told she would eventually get it. I was told to go home and keep trying and pump.
I sobbed, there. I sobbed, holding my newborn like a football under my arm. She couldn’t do it. Worse: I couldn’t do it.
My mother reassured me. Maybe being at home, relaxed, would help. I was not to give up hope.
I arrived home and immediately secluded myself in the nursery. I placed myself and my daughter in the rocking chair that I always planned on feeding her in. I put on the soothing music. I drew the curtains so the sun cast an amber wash over us as we went to work.
I sat and tried to nurse my child for three hours. Visitors came and went. I saw none of them. This was my plan and I refused to give any more ground on it than I had already allowed.
She latched on for about 20 minutes on one side. I will always remember that feeling. It hurt but it felt like a pain I was meant to endure. My body was doing it; I was doing it. I could feel the dominoes stacking back up in place. I tried the other side and she latched on and then released immediately. And then she began to scream.
My child was hungry.
I had done all I could do at the moment so my mother came up, took my child from me and brought her downstairs to supplement with hospital formula, while I pumped for the first time.
I sat in the chair, hooked up on both sides, until it grew dark. The pain was dull, like how you would feel during a tattoo after hour four. I would check the bottles and while one side had accrued maybe two ounces of milk, the other side only held yellow colostrum. My husband took the bottles when I called for him, he fed them to her immediately. We mixed the colostrum with the formula. We did everything we could with what my body was giving me.
My breasts looked like they have been through a poorly fought battle after that much pumping. I felt deformed. I felt humiliated. But, I kept trying. I would try to nurse her, but I was losing ground. She would root against me, trying to find something that wasn’t there. She would scream at me. I would sob.
For two days this routine went on. Four hours of pumping wielding two ounces or less from just the one side, yellow gold from the other.
It wasn’t going to work. It had slipped between my fingers.
My mother told me it was time to admit defeat; to dry myself up and focus on what was important: feeding my child, regardless of where it came from.
We bought a can of formula. I endured the pain of drying my supply up.
People questioned why I was giving up “so soon.” They scolded me for “only trying for two days.” Those were the longest two days of my life.
I was in labor for 22 hours. I pushed for 2 hours. I had an C-section. Those two days were more painful than all of that combined. My child was hungry. It was time to feed her.
And so, I formula fed my daughter through her entire infancy. I watched other mothers blissfully breastfeed their babies. I read articles from highly respected mothers’ journals about the benefits of breastfeeding and how superior it was to formula feeding.
My child, who had initially dropped birth weight due to lack of feeding, thrived.
She grew up into a developmentally sound and sensitive little soul. She is five years old now and here is what I can say about breastfeeding:
It is not the center of your plan. It may feel like the sun. It may feel like the most important thing you can do for you and your child. But, every single mother romanticizes breastfeeding. We picture the room; the ambiance; the feeling and bond we will form in those hours together with our child.
I had all of that. I eventually allowed myself to bond with my child, once I had mourned the loss of breastfeeding. I created the same room, the same ambiance for us to be in together.
I just held a bottle in my hand.
And that is okay.
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