I, like you I’m sure, wanted to do everything “right,” when I became a mother. Month after month that I didn’t get pregnant, I made promises that if I could just conceive, I’d be the best mother this world had ever seen. I’d teach them, be patient, feed them healthy foods, and never let them do things like eat Fun Dips or watch mindless TV. Many of those promises have long since been broken once I realized how weedy the weeds of motherhood are. But probably the most critical promise I made that I broke is that I’d breastfeed all of my babies. I’d been told my children would have health problems and be less intelligent than other children if they weren’t breastfed, and there was no way I was willing to set them up for those problems. And, I selfishly I wanted to drop the baby weight fast.
My son and I got off to a rocky start — with everything. All of my best intentions, as well as the maternal instincts I was sure I’d have, seemed to vanish under the enormity of surviving a 36-hour birth that was worse than any movie scene I’d seen.
Feeding after feeding, every two hours, 12 times a day, I put my best breast forward. Try after try, my son appeared to be repulsed. We ended each feeding session with us both in tears — him from hunger and me from frustration. I was doing everything right, so why was breastfeeding going so wrong?
Determined to make it work, I consulted lactation consultants and brought home plastic torture devices to help pull my already exhausted breasts to new lengths and positions. But after two weeks (that’s at least 168 tries), I reached unprecedented levels of anxiety and guilt over my shortcoming. Between healing, lack of sleep, and mourning how different motherhood was (so far) in real life versus how I had dreamed it, I knew something had to give. And as I struggled with what to do next, a good friend sat me down and told me it was okay not to breastfeed. Wait, what? How could this be? Wasn’t formula feeding like pouring Diet Coke in your baby’s mouth? She said the most important thing was me. Me! Someone I had completely forgotten about as I forced my way through the pain regardless of the cost to me physically and emotionally.
So I started formula feeding, and guess what? Nothing happened. No bolt from the breastfeeding gods struck me. I was still the best mother I could be. My son ate, my son thrived — and he’s still thriving today, at 11-years-old. He hasn’t had any more illnesses than his peers, and he doesn’t suck at school. In fact, he’s one of the healthiest, most athletic kids I know.
When my daughter was born two-and-a-half years later, I knew I would try breastfeeding again. This time, I knew that it would be okay regardless of whether it worked out or not. After about a week of trying, it seemed I would repeat the same path I had taken once before. But the day I was planning to go ahead and go to formula (guilt-free), I was on the phone with a lactation consultant, and we both heard her swallowing. It was thrilling to experience what others talked about. I spent the next six months wearing a nursing pillow like a skirt (the BreastFriend to be specific). She ate, she thrived, and at nearly 9 now, she’s also super healthy and smart. I however, didn’t drop a pound until I stopped breastfeeding. Go figure.
I’ve thought about having guilt for breastfeeding one and not the other. I’ve asked myself if I gave my daughter an unfair advantage over my son. But the further I’ve gotten into parenting, the more I’ve realized that there are so many other ways I can potentially screw up my kids than what kind of milk I gave them their first year.
Breastfeeding and formula feeding mamas, rock on: You have my support to do what’s right for you, and that can be different for every child.