This week is World Breastfeeding Week.
Can I just say something? (you know I always do...)
I am sick of hearing about boobs. I am sick about talking about my own boobs. I am sick of hearing people proclaim their child's intelligence is because of a super long relationship with breastfeeding...and especially that their child with a disability has fewer delays because they were breastfed for so long.
I get that people have amazing success stories. I am happy for them- really I am. But I am sick of feeling guilted. I am sick of feeling that I have to defend my decisions on this. I am sick of these broad statements making it seem like if we didn't have a long breastfeeding relationship...then the opposites are true (regarding intelligence, delays, and immune systems) and that it is then somehow our fault.
When I was pregnant with Addison, I wanted to breast feed her SO BADLY. You know how badly? I endured a 31 hour Pitocin induced labor- without an epidural. Yes, you read that correctly. I didn't do that to be a hero or have birthing bragging rights. I did that because I was told that an epidural could make her a little sluggish when she was born. Therefore, I wanted her to be able to be alert enough to latch RIGHT AWAY because of her low muscle tone. So I said no to the epidural even though the Pitocin hated me and wanted me to die.
You know how that worked out for me? The 31 hours of hell on earth ended with her being whisked away to the NICU- not only not able to latch...but not able to breathe. Hold her right after my natural birth? Nope. For some reason the doctors told me that the Smurf look was NOT in for babies this season, and they needed to get her to change from bright blue to a bright pink- far away from me in the NICU.
I started faithfully pumping, telling myself that as soon as this small hiccup was worked out of her- she would latch right on and we could start our bonding experience! "this small hiccup" turned out to be a very, very sick little girl that seemed to have no end of an exclusive NICU stay.
Addison got my breast milk. Through a tube in her mouth...or nose- whichever stayed better that day. And then when it became apparent that the muscle tone was so low in her mouth that she couldn't suck on a breast or a bottle- she had a surgery to have a g-tube placed into her stomach so that we could eventually take her home.
After we finally got home (at 5 weeks) I kept pumping. I would pump for 45 minutes, try to get her to latch on for a half an hour, then I would teach her to use the bottle for 45 minutes (she would suck some of it up, but then it would just fall out the sides of her mouth because she didn't have the muscle control to keep it in). After that failed, I would then hook her up to the g-tube bag where another 45 minutes would slowly drain the bag of pumped milk directly into her stomach. After that was done? It was time to start pumping again. (side note: thank you to an amazing blog reader lactation consultant who let me borrow her hospital grade pump. This saved me. Truly.)
After a spending an entire week doing only that cycle over and over again with no break in between- the appointments started. The therapy appointments...the doctor's appointments...there were so, so many appointments I had to get her to almost daily.
I kept pumping. I kept trying to teach her to use the bottle, but it soon became very apparent that her weakness from the Pulmonary Hypertension meant that it was so much work for her to take each little breath- forget taking the milk in herself.
After she had her first heart surgery (at a few months old), we started to make more progress with the bottle use. At this point I was back at work- pumping, trying desperately to teach her to suck from a bottle and yet keeping up with more and more therapy appointments. She was also on full time oxygen which meant I had to keep up with the supplies at the house- clean nasal cannulas, tape for her face, long tubes, cylinders of oxygen of all shapes and sizes, and a cart and bag to carry cylinders around with us wherever we went.
It all just started being too much. I was going crazy trying to balance work with her appointments and medical equipment, pumping AND trying to teach her to use the muscles in her mouth while making the time for the g-tube feed to go down slowly enough so that she didn't immediately vomit it back up. I couldn't do it all- something had to give.
Because I had a ton of milk in the freezer, I made the decision to stop pumping at four months. The frozen milk took us for another two (added to some formula). This gave me a more time to work with her on using the muscles in her mouth. At five months we were able to get the g-tube removed because she was strong enough to drink from a low-flow bottle nipple. (I can't even tell you what a huge success this was for her.)
But no matter how much more manageable my life became at that point, I couldn't shake the guilt. What if I had waited until after her second heart surgery (at eight months)? Would she have been strong enough to breastfeed then? Did I not try hard enough?
When Carter was born, I felt like this was MY MOMENT! Another natural birth- this time he did latch on right away. WHOOHOO! We had a great first few weeks....until I was trying to once again balance all of Addison's appointments with a needy little girl who was still very much a baby herself- alongside my newborn. I had to switch to pumping in order to get everything timed out better in order to do everything I was expected to do (he would drink the bottle much faster).
Once he got that first bottle, it was very difficult for him to go back. For a few more weeks we did both, but then I went to exclusive pumping once again. It was what I knew. Life was crazy- I had no help (my husband had to go back to work the day after we came home from the hospital with no break until Carter was four months old)- Addison still demanded a lot out of me and tended to get into a lot of trouble while I was strapped down with Carter for hours on end trying to convince him to give this another go. Not to mention that Addison's four therapy appointments a week picked right back up when Carter was a few days old. And she had her eye surgery (for crossing) when he was two months old.
I exclusively pumped for Carter for a long time (almost five months....with enough milk in the freezer to take us a few more months), before physical reasons and sanity reasons forced me to once again make the call that I needed to stop.
I did my best.
I have high hopes for this third baby (since my husband will be home for the first few months and will give me the freedom I need to really work on this). But I did my best with my first two, and that's all I can ask for the third baby as well.
I guess you could say that I am a breastmilk AND formula mom. And honestly? I see no shame in that. I don't understand why there is so much pressure and guilt in this area. A lot of the guilt I put on myself, I know this. But I got that guilt from so many things that were said to me or that I read on this subject.
I DID MY BEST.
And like I said (before I started talking about my boobs yet again lol) I am sick of this whole subject. (Confession: This might have a tiny percent to do with pregnancy crankiness...but still.)
I know that breastfeeding is hard work. But it's also hard work to take care of a baby in a situation that is already maxed out difficult and can't afford to add one more thing.
Yes we should educate about breastfeeding. Yes we should talk about the pros. But we should also accept and not judge when situations don't end with a TIMES cover of a beautiful breastfeeding relationship that has extended for years.
Every baby is different. Every experience is different. Every mother's body/story/schedule is different. We all want what's best for our children. And sometimes? That is formula. No shame. No guilt. It's not "lesser" or inferior. IT IS OUR BEST.
If you breastfeed your children? Good for you! I am happy for you and your successes.
If you formula feed your children? Good for you! I am happy for you and your successes.
If your child is g-tube fed with whatever mixture you can manage to scare up? Good for you! I am happy for you and your successes.
Our stories are all different. I'm no longer copying a page from yours and comparing it to mine. I am over it. Done.
A mom who has used formula with her kids and yet who still feels that they are INTELLIGENT and have high immune systems and have as few delays as possible connected to disability.
p.s. you can use that same statement for different birthing plans. If you were wincing at my mention of natural birth...I think that no matter how birth goes down for us- it is a success when we have a baby at the end of it. No pressure, judgment, or inferior vs superior comments. Same rules apply. Motherhood is tough. Let's stop making it harder than it already is.