For whatever reason, I couldn’t breastfeed. It may have been genetic- my mom also had very little milk, or a health-related condition, as I had an emergency c-section after months of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. It could have been stress and anxiety, or a mix of all of these things, but after buying breast pumps, seeing lactation specialists and midwives, and trying everything from squeezing it out into a bottle with my hands to an hour letting my baby wriggle and look at me like “no thanks” it was clear that breastfeeding wasn’t going to go any further than a couple of sad ounces and a lot of boring, awkward pumps.
So that’s when the shame and guilt set in. But breastfeeding was so much better! Maggie Gyllenhaal made it look so easy and empowering! What kind of a woman was I anyway? Breastmilk had all of the nutrients and individualized immune support and various minerals and vitamins the baby needed right then and I was the only person who could provide that crucial element of nutrition that would build the foundation for all of her future health and brain and heart development. I was ruining her life before she could even stand!
This is not actually the whole truth, and if you’re struggling to breastfeed I was to tell you about a little girl who is perfectly healthy and incredibly sharp and observant and beautiful. That’s my little girl and drinking formula from a bottle may not have been her gourmet choice, but it was a good alternative. We alternated formulas for a few weeks until we found the one- a non-GMO, sensitive tummy formula. I retired the breast pump. I stopped lying to be pediatrician about breastfeeding most of the time. I drank some wine.
What’s more important than fine dining: a healthy and happy mom. If you’re struggling to get your health and sanity back, and to express joy with your child, then that’s the priority you need to develop a connection. You can still dance with her, and hold her tight. You can be the source of her security and love, comfort and education. But it will just come in more forms than the breast.
Some people- like researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology- even attest that the breast isn’t as vital as once thought. This is partly because a baby’s health is determined primarily before he or she leaves the womb. Formula is slightly less nutritious but it’s not a game changer. They also say, “Breastfeeding is less common in younger women, smokers, women who have had preeclampsia or are overweight, or with lower birth weight or premature babies, or in women with PCOS, and when the child is a boy.” So I had preeclampsia, and my body created a healthy baby girl who made it, with absolutely no health problems, to 38 weeks before an emergency c-section. So we had some struggles, but I have somehow procured the most delightful, farting, smiling, joyful little elf.
“There are many good reasons to breastfeed. But concern for the child’s health is not one of them. There is no reason why women who are struggling to breastfeed should have to go around feeling guilty, or think that they are giving their child a poor start in life if they can’t nurse. Baby formula is as good as breast milk”, Professor Sven Carlsen says. He added that it was far worse for babies to have a tired, stressed-out mother with a guilty conscience, than to forgo breast milk.
I don’t need a university in Norway to tell me what I could already figure out, but it’s nice. I have this strong furious ball of potential and joy to wake up to every morning with new forms of expression curating this new being, and my own body is slowly finding its old form again inside the stretch marks and changing silhouette.
We tried banana yesterday and are trying sweet potatoes today. I see the faint white point of a tooth on her bottom gums. Every day is an exploration, and my guilt is completely buried under the reality of the greatest connection I have ever known. This is true love.