My Breast Was Not Best
Above is a picture of a few ounces of breast milk I pumped for my daughter four years ago. This bag still sits in the back of my freezer – I cannot seem to throw it out, despite the fact that my daughter has been weaned for three years, and at the age of forty-three, I am not about to be having another baby (not that I would give a newborn years-old frost bitten breast milk anyway).
I keep it as a reminder. Well, I keep it as a kind of weird yet still sentimental token of my daughter’s babyhood. But I also keep it as a reminder of the first motherhood lesson I learned: that one’s parenting expectations rarely align with reality. The parent you think you are going to be before you pop out a kid is rarely even in the same ballpark as the parent you actually become once the child in question is no longer theoretical, but an actual small human who comes out of the womb with a unique temperament and a will of their own.
I live in an area of the world that some folks might call “crunchy,” or “hipster-y” and others might malign as being full of “whiny ass liberal types.”
Where I live, there are quite a few gluten-free bakeries and lots and lots of dedicated bike lanes. People around here give you the side eye if you use paper plates at parties (so not environmentally friendly!) and if you happen to give your child Cheetos at the park instead of whatever organic snack you should be giving them, prepare to be judged harshly by the other park mommies (not that I am speaking from personal experience here of course).
My point is: I am surrounded by attachment parenting, co-sleeping, baby-wearing earth Mommas who breastfeed their five year olds while doing yoga at the same time.
Which is all fine and dandy. In fact, if I see you with one baby strapped to your back while you have another in a sling around your front, while you are apparently also eight months pregnant – really it is all I can do to refrain from giving you a standing ovation.
Because I wanted to be the one nursing my five year old, too. Okay, perhaps I didn’t want to go quite that long – I would have settled for at least a year of exclusive breastfeeding.
Because everyone knows that breastfeeding is best. Shout it from the rooftops: BREAST IS BEST!
Except, for me and my little girl, it wasn’t.
Despite my every intention to breastfeed exclusively. Despite living in a community where women regularly whip out the boob (uncovered) in coffee shops and restaurants and no one even looks twice. Despite my daughter being put skin-to-skin and latching on within 10 minutes of her (natural!) birth. Despite seeing four different lactation consultants and pumping every two hours around the clock with a hospital grade pump in between nursing sessions (note: That amounts to roughly 18–20 hours within every 24 hour period that were devoted to feeding my baby).
Despite doing all that for 12 weeks straight and still having a baby who screamed all day and night due to reflux and being fucking hungry all the time, because I was amoung the 5–15% of woman who could not make enough milk – when I finally broke down to a public health nurse and suggested that maybe I should just give up because I could barely walk from being so exhausted and I was having some pretty disturbing thoughts about harming myself, she smiled at me and said, “Well, as you know, breast is best…I think we just need to try a bit harder.” (And by “we” she obviously meant me. She wasn’t offering to be my wet nurse, sadly.)
The day I decided to throw in the exclusive breastfeeding towel and switch to exclusive pumping and giving my daughter breast milk (topped with formula, as needed) via a bottle, I thought I was taking the easy way out. That day, I felt my first crushing blow of Mom guilt.
Here I was, my baby not even four months old, and I had failed to do the most basic and natural thing for her. I had failed to give her the best.
At the rate I was going as a Mom, she’d probably be addicted to meth by the time she was twelve. I was despondent. I pumped a few ounces (which took me 45 minutes of pumping, on average), gave my significant other instructions on how to warm up the milk so as not to destroy the vital enzymes contained within it, and I went for a drive.
I spent the nearly three hours I was away from my house that day sobbing almost uncontrollably. I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding. It felt like I was grieving, and in a way I was.
I was not ready to let go.
I did not want to let go of that part of motherhood. After all, it had only been a handful of months since my girl had been kicking my bladder from the inside. I had spent hours upon hours with her in a rocking chair, checking and re-checking the latch. And I had nervously put her on the scale at every doctor’s appointment, only to be admonished again about her failure to gain weight properly.
I did not want to let go of that part of being a Mom because I felt like I’d hardly had any time to get to know her at all….because I was obsessing about my milk production 24/7.
And that is when it hit me – in my quest to be a “good Mom,” I had forgotten to actually mother her. Or rather, I had assumed that feeding her in that one way was the only measure of me as a mother that counted.
I had missed the forest for the trees. Or the boob for love, either way.
I came home after my cry fest and made up a bottle for her next feed. I mixed the little bit of breastmilk I had been able to pump since arriving home with a few ounces of formula. I sat in the comfy chair by the window and cradled my daughter in my arms and I fed her until she was full and satisfied. She looked into my eyes the whole time I fed her (unlike the frustrated squirming she did when I was trying to nurse her) and after I burped her, she gave me a huge smile.
I knew then that I had absolutely made the right decision; that I was indeed giving her the best.