I finally did it.
Last week, after months of quickly walking by the aisle in Target, refusing to make eye contact, I accepted the inevitable and bought it.
Let me start by saying I really, truly know and understand there is nothing wrong with using formula and everyone has different reasons for how they feed their babies. But for me, this feels personal.
I’d always wanted to breastfeed. To me, it was part of the motherhood experience. My mom still talks about how wonderful it was for her and will recount how she held onto the nighttime feeding for so long because she didn’t want to give it up. I want that, I always thought.
My first baby and I did not get along on the breastfeeding front. She had a horrible latch and at six weeks old developed a hemangioma on her lower lip, which further complicated our struggles. She screamed and cried through feedings. I cried (and wanted to scream) through feedings. It wasn’t pretty. But three months into motherhood I was back to work and pumping most of the day anyway, so by the time my baby was five months old I made the switch to exclusively pumping. I felt defeated, but took solace in the fact that I was still her main food source. I was at least succeeding at that. Eventually my supply couldn’t keep up with my growing girl and I began supplementing with formula around nine months. Defeat crept back in yet again, but I continued to pump until my baby’s first birthday.
Baby Number Two was a completely different experience. She latched like a pro immediately and I finally understood what it meant to enjoy breastfeeding. While on maternity leave, I still pumped about once a day to build my freezer supply for when I went back to work. As the weeks went by, my husband began to gripe about the lack of freezer space. The more he complained, the more satisfied I felt. Look how much milk I was producing for my baby! At one point I suggested buying a separate freezer because where would all the milk go? It was such a point of pride. I was determined to make it the full year without having to supplement.
At the time of this original posting, Baby Number Two is nine months old and between working full time, having to occasionally travel and feeding my hungry girl, my freezer supply has taken quite a hit. I’m at the point—again— where I can’t keep up. And this time I’ve been in straight up denial.
This time it’s different. It’s not a feeling of failure, but rather frustration. When I’m home with my baby on weekends, I can nurse on demand and she’s completely satisfied. I’ve realized the breast pump doesn’t empty me in the same way she does. She’s far more efficient and can get more milk out on her own. Pumping multiple times a day just doesn’t have the same result. So I’m frustrated and conflicted.
Frustrated that being a working mother means being away all day and being unable to sufficiently feed my child, but conflicted because I want to work and provide for my family.
Frustrated that my body can’t produce the same amount with a breast pump, but conflicted because, how amazing that it knows the difference.
Frustrated that I have to now rely on an outside food source to nourish my child, but conflicted because how wonderful to have another option.
Underneath the frustration and conflict is also a tinge of sadness. This is most likely my last baby, which means it’s my last chance to enjoy breastfeeding. There is no next time.
Every month that we get closer to her first birthday I know breastfeeding will taper off and I’ll be moving into a new phase of life. The frustration, conflict and sadness will likely still be there, but I need to remember that everything I’ve done along the way is the best I can do for my child. She’s happy and thriving (and based on her delightful baby rolls, definitely not starving).
The other morning, when I was doing my bottle prep for the babysitter, I made two bottles from pumped breast milk and one bottle of formula. For the first morning in awhile, I didn’t have to dip into my freezer supply. I realized I built up this ridiculous anxiety around introducing formula to my daughter, because the emotion I actually felt in that moment was relief.
So, I have decided to not let formula define my breastfeeding experience, though it will be a constant reminder that being away during the day takes a toll. Formula isn’t the enemy and in fact, it has allowed me to take a little pressure off myself.
Maybe my next trip down that particular aisle at Target will be one of acceptance and appreciation. And then again maybe it won’t. But I’m going to do my best to move through each phase of parenting with a little more grace for myself and what I’ve been able to do as a mom.