Jill and baby H
Parenthood is such a mysterious journey. I think we all begin with a certain set of expectations, based upon how we were raised and what we see in society. Then it finally happens, here you are holding your own new baby...and nothing can really prepare you for the crash of nearly all your expectations as you start to build YOUR reality of parenting into your life.
Breastfeeding was one of those things I had built up a set of expectations for myself to live up to: it was natural therefor it would come naturally, I wouldn't use formula, I would nurse her whole first year, I'd steam-sanitize all the bottles, I'd make plenty of milk pumping when back at work...Well, some of that happened. And some of it I gave myself some grace over once I had time for perspective. It's World Breastfeeding Week, and it seemed a good time to share my breastfeeding journey. When I had Adelaide, I she nursed well in the hospital but in less than a week, because of latch issues and my own inexperience, I had cracked & bleeding nipples. She would nurse for half an hour on each side, one right after the other, and sleep for 3 or 4 hours after (don't get me wrong, the long nap part was A-MAZING!), but the pain was wild. I wanted to keep going so badly, so we found silicon nursing shields and I used them for over a month while I healed and figured out how to get a good latch. At 8 weeks I went back to work and had to pump in a tiny cold room, one of my least favorite parts about breastfeeding as a working mom. The bottles and nipples and pump parts piled up as I struggled to keep on top of cleaning my house and baby laundry. I was grateful for the energy to just get the dishes done, forget steaming things now that she wasn't a newborn anymore. A few months along, because I could never produce as much using the pump, I wasn't making enough milk to keep up with what she ate at daycare. I felt so stressed and disappointed, like I was letting my baby down because of my own high expectations. We started using formula to supplement and I also took a medication recommended by my doctor to increase my supply, and things were easier for a while. She was eating so many foods and we had gone down to just bedtime and naps on my days at home with her. My goal with Adelaide was a year, and one of our last times nursing together was the week of her birthday. I had wanted to go without formula, but by the time the year was over I just felt proud that even though it wasn't exactly how I imagined it, I had met one of my goals and my daughter was happy & healthy.
Four years later Cecelia was born. I thought "I've done this before, I've got this!" She was her own person and this was one of the first ways she showed it. She'd nurse for 10 minutes, sleep 15, nurse again, short nap again. She was (kind of still is, at almost 3yo) the "don't set me down Mama or I'll wake up, I need constant physical contact all the time" kind of baby. I took 3 whole months off work this time, and thank goodness because it took all that time to get that girl to even think about drinking anything from a bottle. She was all about breastfeeding, all the time. We tried 4 different types of bottles before we found one she'd drink from, and even then she wouldn't eat much consistently. I sing in the Freeport Community Chorus, and for our spring season she came to almost all my rehearsals (because who can pass up a season of all Sondheim music???) I sat on the side so she could play on the floor when she got wiggly, sometimes my chorus friends/surrogate grandparents held and bounced her, and when she was hungry I nursed her. Right there in the middle of 70 people. One of her first noises was a chorus lip warm-up :) Pumping went about the same back at work, some good days, some bad, and because she didn't like her bottles as much, there was enough. Not the best reason to have enough milk. She cried frequently at daycare because she still wanted to be held a lot. A different kind of stress, the kind that makes you ask, "Do we really need the money from my job, is it worth working when my baby is unhappy???" We ran numbers but we did need the money, so we soldiered on and as she got a few months older it got a little easier. She LOVED solid foods, so it was easier to keep her happy. She started wanting to crawl, so she didn't need to be held so much. We added in some formula when we needed to and it wasn't upsetting this time, in fact I appreciated having the pressure off so I wouldn't feel guilty when my pumping wasn't productive enough at work. We made it past the one year mark, and kept on going. I didn't share with everyone that I still nursed my toddler who could walk and talk, afraid of judgement from others, those out there who for some reason or another feel like its somehow their choice how long I should nurse my baby. I knew I shouldn't care, but there were days I just couldn't help it. I knew Cecelia would be my last baby, and I wanted to enjoy this special time together as long as she did. I took lots of cell phone pics because I wanted to remember it better. We cut back to morning and night, and then just bedtime. She called our time breastfeeding "Noni time" and would tell me "I want noni" when she was ready to nurse. I would hold my toddler in my lap in the dark in their shared bedroom and sing my two daughters bedtime songs. Cecelia grew less interested and nursed for shorter and shorter times until one night in the fall she didn't ask, and that was the end of it. I'm happy for the bond we shared, how we made it through feeding in public places that were both welcoming and not, how we survived bottles until we made it to sippy cups (she loved those so much more), how grateful I was for formula and regular milk options when she was over a year and I just couldn't deal with using a pump at work any longer (although thankfully in a slightly larger and much warmer room this time). These journeys were ours, and no matter what I hoped in the beginning, I don't regret any of it.
I hope all Mamas out there get the chance to try breastfeeding, to feel the pull from inside their bodies as their newborn learns to suckle. Then, I hope they all FEEL FREE TO CHOOSE WHAT WORKS BEST FOR THEM!!! Maybe there are medical issues getting in the way of your breastfeeding plan, maybe there are latch issues and you don't have help, maybe you can't make enough milk, maybe you just plain don't want to breastfeed!!! Whatever it is, I hope we all GIVE EACH OTHER SUPPORT and the grace to follow our own journey. The baby is fed, not hungry? PERFECT. At home, in public, breast, bottle, formula, covered or uncovered. Fed is best. Follow YOUR path.
Bottom two photos thanks and much love to Christina Wnek photography!