“Your daughter is not gaining weight,” the pediatrician explained to me at my daughter’s two week checkup.
That pediatrician’s appointment still haunts me. It took me from a place where I thought my milk was just slow in coming into full panic mode. It took me to a world of pumping around the clock, supplemental feeding devices, formula, herbs and teas, weight checks, never leaving the house, and endless tears.
I wanted the best for my daughter and through classes, books, websites, and government promotion, I heard from every which way that it had to be breastmilk. And if I couldn’t give it to my daughter, what did that mean? I was a failure or a bad mother or both.
Feeding my daughter consumed my entire life. I wasn’t able to do anything else with her. After every feeding I pumped for 15 minutes, washed all my equipment, tried to take a nap or feed myself, and then started again two hours later day and night. I always needed a second person around to finger feed my daughter her supplement whether it was formula or breastmilk. This was certainly not the natural way to feed my child. My head was swimming from all the suggestions people gave me to increase my supply while balancing them with the need to actually feed my daughter and keep my sanity. Feeding my daughter came first but on the other two issues, I was desperately coming up short.
On the advice of a pediatrician and my lactation consultant, I cut the supplements in half once my daughter surpassed her birth weight. A few days later her weight gain had slowed so I resumed my previous amount of supplementing. That’s when I knew that the goal I was still rattling off–of breastfeeding exclusively for a year–would never come to fruition.
I turned a corner when I spoke to a family friend who had both breastfed and formula fed all three of her children. With my actual situation, not dreamland where I had copious amounts of milk, that is what I wanted. I didn’t know what it looked like though. I knew people who only breastfed twice a day for comfort, I knew people who exclusively breastfed, and I knew people who formula fed but I didn’t know what this land of combo feeders looked like. Four two ounce bottles of formula a day brought me this: no longer being a slave to the pump to get every last bit of milk out of my body, no supplements, and no weight checks. In exchange I had walks on the lake, play dates, and smiles. I could do what came naturally to my body and still feed my daughter; just not exclusively with my milk.
While I was accepting my new feeding routine, I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that something had gone haywire with breastfeeding promotion. Women should not feel that they have to go through what I did. I was angry: angry that I felt such guilt and angry that I had wasted all these weeks on something that in the long run didn’t matter. I found a lot of kindred spirits in the internet and in books: Hanna Rosin (The Atlantic), Joan Wolff (Is Breast Best), Ayelet Waldman (Bad Mother), and Suzanne Barston (FearlessFormulaFeeder.com). And guess what? Every one of them is a Jew. I wonder if Jewish guilt is particularly strong in this area because really, what is a Jewish mother if she can’t feed her child? In those first few weeks I felt like my value as a mother was completely measured by how much breastmilk my daughter received. But it shouldn’t be, and I’m so thankful for these brave women for speaking out.
To really embrace my new motherhood role I had to let go of this guilt. I had to let go of the picture I had in my mind of what breastfeeding would look like and that I had to breastfeed exclusively. I could enjoy my breastfeeding sessions and appreciate that my milk was nourishing my daughter while valuing formula for giving me the time and sanity to be a mother.