When I was pregnant with my first, I was determined to do things my way. I wanted an unmedicated vaginal birth, to exclusively breastfeed for at least eight months and to do it all with absolute grace and beauty. After all, this is what our bodies are meant to do, right?
Well, I was wrong.
My first baby had plans of his own when it came to arriving into this world. My husband and I went in for a routine check at 37 weeks and learned that the baby was breech. After trying absolutely everything to turn him around, we decided to try an external cephalic version, or an ECV. I was a bit nervous, but I didn’t think that anything could go wrong, so I didn’t even shower or bring the basics to the hospital. As soon as the ultrasound tech put the wand to my belly, she gave a look to my midwife thenthey both left the room.
He was born that same day via C-section due to alarmingly low levels of amniotic fluid, one of the many things on my list of “stuff I didn’t know could happen”.
Now that my birth plans had gone totally and completely out the window, I focused all my energy on breastfeeding. And, at first, it went really well. Nurses and lactation consultants at the hospital were very surprised at how naturally it came to me and what a good latcher he was. It wasn’t until hours before we were discharged that a nurse suggested we add formula to his diet to help him gain weight. I declined and we left with our tiny 6 pounds 8 ounce baby to the formula-free safety of our home.
Days later when he was still struggling to gain weight, his pediatrician told us to just keep doing what we were doing—he wasn’t losing weight, he was just a slow grower. So I kept offering my boob every single time he requested it, which meant I would just walk around topless and leaking all day long because he wanted to eat every single hour for 45 minutes each time. We kept doing this for weeks and weeks, including at night.
I was exhausted, but more so, I wasn’t enjoying my baby at all. All I could think of was his weight, his feedings and recording absolutely everything that happened while he fed—which boob, for how long, and how much we weighed at the end of each day.
I saw lactation consultants. I had them come to our house to see our routine. I attended breastfeeding classes and I called my doula in tears because how was it possible that we couldn’t do this. I tried absolutely everything everyone told me to: nipple shields, the football hold, corrected his lip and tongue tie, woke him to feed on a schedule, and blew air on his face if he fell asleep on the boob. When I say we tried everything, I mean absolutely everything
Finally at six weeks postpartum, I broke down. No one was telling me I could stop, so I kept going and going and going and going until I just couldn’t anymore.
I looked at the breast pump that had been gathering dust in a closet in our apartment and decided to give it a try. It was terrifying, intimidating and so weird at first. But as I saw my milk flow into the plastic containers, which then I poured into a bottle for my husband to feed our son while I took a break without holding a baby for the first time in forever, I realized this is what I needed to do.
So I stopped trying to breastfeed him and moved to exclusively pumping. As soon as he started taking those bottles, his weight gain normalized and he was a much happier baby. I was definitely a much happier mom.
Eventually his hunger outpaced my milk production and around six months I introduced formula to the mix. I had so much guilt in doing so, as if my body had failed me yet again in something that should be so easy for it to do. But once again, after feeding my hungry baby a bottle of formula and seeing him happily drift off to sleep peacefully, I felt so silly. I had been trying so hard to accomplish something that just wasn’t going to happen, and I could’ve enjoyed the first few months with my son had I given up on such strict and idealized ways of doing things.
I had to do what was best for him, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do initially.
When I found out I was pregnant again, this time with twins, I knew I had to let go of everything I had planned yet again, but this time before the babies came. Yes, I wanted to try for a vaginal birth and breastfeeding, but if it didn’t happen, it was going to be okay.
And guess what? It didn’t happen again.
One of my babies was breech, which meant I had a planned C-section. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since the baby that was head down had a true knot in her umbilical cord that even shocked my OB when she saw it. And for breastfeeding, well, COVID-19 happened and we lost all of our support network, leaving my husband and I outnumbered with three under 3. So even though my twins were way better than their older brother was at the breast, I needed to optimize time—and here I am, six months into exclusively pumping.
My journey in motherhood is nothing like what I thought I wanted it to be. But my children have taught me that being a mom means forgetting about what you want and focusing on what they need, especially when it comes to feeding.