Breastfeeding – May the Force Be With You.
This post was previously posted on The Kindred Women, but since that blog has since been on hiatus, I’m reposting some of my writings onto our blog here. I hope you enjoy!
I’m only half-joking with that title up there. Seriously, sometimes I think you have to be half-wizard to be able to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding… whoa. That word seriously stirs up some hard chaos inside my heart. Like, double double toil and trouble, style.. with the big spoon and cauldron and everything. Normally when I share my story, I make light out of the situation, because now that I’m out of the trenches, I’ve forgotten what is was like back then.. I can look back on that time with humor. But let me tell you, the day I finally threw my hands up and told myself I was done, and all the days before it, was most assuredly not filled with humor. The days were long, hard and full of awkward let downs (both emotionally and physically) until the day the Lord revealed to me the depth of the unhealthy expectations I had placed of myself.
When I was pregnant, I would get the question all the time “Will you breastfeed?” and I would swiftly answer, “Yep, I plan to!”
Now, with a 5 month old drooling all over me at the moment as I try to type, I would want to tell the old me,
“That’s awesome, really, you go girl. Breastfeeding is really great! But if for some reason it doesn’t work out, don’t be too hard on yourself.”
Because I was.
And it was only after I made the decision to stop trying to latch him and just pump (only lasting for a month longer after that), I told Eric out loud the single thought that had been plaguing me for some time:
“I feel like I failed him.”
Though everyone was encouraging me, I couldn’t find the space within me to forgive myself for what I considered to be a failure. I just couldn’t understand it. How did this happen? This isn’t supposed to happen. We had a plan!
Even though I knew in my mind the truth that breastfeeding wasn’t the most important thing in the world, my heart struggled to let it go and admit defeat. I truly thought I had failed Edison.
It was then that Christ began teaching me that in parenting, true failure is rare. Instead, what we really have in most cases, is a million chances to get back up and try again. Parenting is full of choices, forgiveness and loads of grace (and Oxi Clean) …
….but I’m getting ahead of myself.
When Edison was born, after 2 minutes of the cord pumping, 10 minutes of tests for him, 20 minutes of sewing for me and what felt like a lifetime of joy, we tried to latch him on my breast. We struggled for 20 minutes while he screamed, cried or was completely apathetic to it all. It was then that our first lactation consultant made the comment, “Wow, he has a high palette. That’s going to be challenging.” But I didn’t let that deter me. I would figure it out.
Fast forward through the next two days. Edison has developed jaundice has spent hours and hours under a billy light, screaming and crying for food, and I continued to fail to latch him properly…
every. single. attempt.
I was exhausted and he was hungry, so we began feeding him with a syringe. Milliliter by milliliter.
I can distinctly remember the joy I felt getting 1 ml of colostrum out of the pump to give him, rinsing every part of the pump drop by drop with sterile water.
A couple more days pass. I’m now sick with 104 fever and a UTI, and Edison is still struggling with jaundice and has lost a pound. At this point, I’ve gone through 6 lactation consultants, 2 nurses, my mom and the best breast-feeding Jedi I know, my sister-in-law. Advice, support – you name it, they’ve given it to me. I was beyond blessed with incredible women at my side to support me.
Every lactation consultant was more patient than the last, but Edison was still to struggling to latch. They’d all say the same thing,
“Man, that’s a high palette.”
But I didn’t let that deter me – we’d figure it out.
It became this horrible Groundhog Day rerun, every 2 hours. I’d try to latch him for 20 minutes first (doctor’s recommendation), he’d scream and cry, which would make me let down all over him and God’s creation. I’d finally give up after about 10,000 kicks to my other boob and 20 minutes of complete and utter chaos. In pain and covered in milk, I would then feed him by syringe (taking up to 30 minutes or more) and then pump for 25 minutes. And then, it’s time to be up and start the charade over in less than half an hour.
I’m so thankful for Eric. With his help, it took half the time. I remember one time we tried to latch, got him fed, back to sleep and I pumped and we still had an hour to sleep. An hour y’all!
This went on forever. As he got bigger, he would try to latch on more and more, but just couldn’t get a good latch going even on a pacifier. When he finally got some sort of latch, I’d end up with huge milk blisters or cracks. Even creating plugged ducts from his improper latch, which ended with me bleeding into my milk.
I remember at 7 weeks saying to Eric, ”
When am I supposed to stop trying? This is exhausting!When am I supposed to know what’s best for us?”
And so I just threw out a number and randomly decided, if by 9 weeks he hadn’t latched, I’d go strictly to pumping and try to latch him once every 3 feeds.
So you get the picture. I even introduced a bottle, hoping to help him latch and then walk him backwards into latching on the breast. Yep, nope, didn’t work.
It just wasn’t working.
It was through all of this that a wise woman I work with named Michele said to me, “Think about [our mutual friend and her baby], he’s on formula, do you think that’s bad?” And through that one little question, it was so simple for me to see my situation from the eyes of another person. “Of course not,” I told her. It was like a light bulb went off. (no Edison pun intended ;)) Why was I being harder on myself than I needed to be?
It was as if I was awaiting permission from the world to do what was best for me and Edison. I had listened to society and culture shout from the rooftops that by me not breastfeeding, I was failing him. And I was terrified that others would think I didn’t do enough, didn’t try hard enough. And let it be known, my support system was on board with whatever I chose. I was drowning in a sea of expectations that only I put on myself.
And so it was then I found God working in me to be more gentle with myself and with the struggles I was facing. That this whole parenting doesn’t work well without having grace with yourself and your partner. That ultimately, you don’t “fail” at anything.. somethings just don’t work for some people. Everyone is different.
My success or failure of being a mother, doesn’t exist in allowing my baby to watch tv at an early age or not, or if he does babyled weaning or if he eats formula or latches perfectly and takes the breast for 2 years. It’s not found in cloth diapering or if I make my own baby food or if my mattress is BPA free. It isn’t in organic clothes, food and plant based lotion. Even though all that stuff is great, it doesn’t define success.
My success in being a mother is based in how well I give Edison back to Christ each and every day. And that for me, remembering that it is from Him my strength comes from and my value is found, not in this world or in a silly boob.
I hope that my experiences, trials, struggles and breakthroughs will help you somehow. That maybe, you will find the strength to make the best decision for your family, no matter what is is about breastfeeding, education, discipline, etc. in the heart of Christ.
And my prayer is that you’ll learn from my mistakes.
Don’t be harder on yourself than you would be with others.
Treat yourself with gentleness and understanding.
The thing is.. no one has this parenting thing figured out, we’re all learning together. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants. And anyone who says otherwise is either lying or Aunt B from Andy Griffith.
And remember, at the end of the day, if your little one is asleep, fed, healthy and safe, that’s a gold-star day in my book.
Thanks for listening.. I better go make a bottle little man is hungry.