“You’re still breastfeeding, right?” the pediatrician asked Serena Sumadre at the well child check appointment.
The 30 seconds of silence seemed like 30 years. Serena was unsure of how to answer the question and she glanced at the mirror in the examining room, frantically searching for the words to describe how she was feeling. As her eyes met the eyes reflected back at her in the mirror, she was shocked. The thick dark mane of hair that normally softly framed her face was pulled back into a rat’s nest of a bun at the back of her head and Serena was sure that if the doctor felt her hair, it would feel matted and greasy because Serena hadn’t had the time to wash it in days. Her face was wan and ashen. The dark circles under her eyes would put the circles that had been a badge of honor in law school to shame – they looked like the black eyes that her brothers used to come home with after a day on the schoolyards during the summers when they all were kids. Acne worse than when she was a teenager ravaged her normally clear face, evidence of the hormones raging through her body. The look in her eyes was what had arrested her though – they looked dull and lifeless, tired and dead. This was all because she had spent most of the night trying to get the little peanut to feed from her chest and had been unsuccessful. She had eventually caved and had given him a bottle of formula – he was so tiny and losing weight was not an option. She couldn’t risk his health anymore.
“No, I haven’t gotten him to eat off my chest for extended periods of time. I gave him formula last night. I want to pump and give him EBM instead.”
I had always assumed that I would breastfeed my children and that I would be able to do it successfully. My husband and I went to those “learn how to breastfeed” classes they offer – we attended at least two of them. Listening to them describe how to breastfeed, I had a hard time actually picturing myself doing it because I learned better by actually doing the task instead of simply just watching. When it comes to breastfeeding, I have found that this is even more true because not only was I, the mother, learning how to do this for the first time, but my baby would be learning at the same time – they don’t come out knowing how to do this naturally – so it’s often really, really hard to learn how to do this at one of these classes.
I’ll be quite honest – I pump breast milk into bottles and feed those to Nate instead of having it take it directly from my breast. I find that it’s easier for both him and I to do it this way – Nate still gets what he needs more easily and we’re both less frustrated by it. Both he and I were getting so frustrated with the learning process – I swear the kid has my personality (if things didn’t come easily for me, I would and still do get really frustrated very quickly) and he was so tiny. At one point, he had lost 14% of his body weight and went from 6 pounds 6 ounces to 5 pounds eight ounces, so the stress of him losing that much weight really got to both of us as well. Also, when it’s 3:30 in the morning and your child has been at your breast for 45 minutes with no signs of stopping (and you know he’s getting milk because you can hear him swallowing and there is milk in the nipple guard you’re using), you begin to wonder if you’re doomed to spend the rest of your waking moments as a milk machine only to your child.
Of course, this inability to directly breastfeed cause insane amounts of mommy guilt – was my son doomed to miss out on the bonding with me if he didn’t directly breastfeed? Would he love me less because I didn’t breastfeed? Would he love my husband more? Was he going to get whatever he needed if I resorted to milk in bottles instead?
I don’t know the answers to these questions as far as the medical aspects of it. I know that breastfeeding is supposed to be a heck of a lot better than formula. But when it comes down to it, no one should be made to feel guilty because they choose to feed their baby one way or another. You’re still feeding your baby – the simple act of providing nuitrition to a small baby that is utterly dependent on you for everything is what is important, not how you do it and any doctor or person that makes you feel bad for feeding the way that you do can and should kiss your ass. It was really difficult for me to reach this point, I think in part because I do struggle with self loathing just about everyday (self loathing that was exacerbated by the PPD). However, when I finally decided to proceed in this manner, a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders and I felt so good for the first time in weeks.