When I first found out my husband and I were expecting, I was thrilled at the thought of becoming a mom. I could clearly picture what I wanted motherhood to be like and part of that vision was breastfeeding my baby. I figured that while I may not get all of motherhood right, I could surely feed my son.
Sam made his first appearance after 19 hours of natural labor and delivery. As I'm sure all you mamas know; after delivering a baby, you feel invincible. As I snuggled my precious newborn, I was sure that there wasn't anything I couldn't do.
Right away, I tried breastfeeding, and Sam latched like a champ. It was such a natural, beautiful thing for Sam and me.
A few weeks into Sam's life, though, we discovered he was not gaining weight. I thought it was just "how he was." He was, and still is, a very active baby. Both my husband and I are lean, so I assumed he was going to be a little baby. My doctor, though, was concerned. He believed that Sam was not getting enough fat from my breastmilk.
I began eating fatty foods, pumping all day, and feeding Sam any chance I had in a desperate attempt to get him to gain weight. I began to cry each day Sam would not gain weight, frustrated with my inability to feed him the way I had planned. I was determined not to supplement. In my mind, breastmilk was the best thing for Sam. Supply and demand, right? I was going to make it work.
It was about this same time that Sam stopped latching. He would push me away, crying each time I tried to feed him. I attributed it to a nursing strike and began pumping even more each day. Each time I pumped, though, I would only produce an ounce or two. No matter how long I pumped or how many "milk producing oatmeal bites" I ate, I just couldn't up my supply. I finally gave in and started giving Sam a bottle of formula each day. Each time I made his bottle, I'd get upset with myself.
I shouldn't have to do this. I shouldn't have to supplement. I should be able to give him what he needs.
It was also about this time that some other health issues began to make an appearance. After a series of bad days and an awful first day of daycare, my husband and I ended up in the ER with Sam. We discovered that Sam had severe Laryngomalcia and GERD. My poor baby had a narrow, floppy airway and extreme acid reflux. Even with a diagnosis that gave physiological reasoning behind why Sam struggled to eat, I still blamed myself.
I ended up taking a leave of absence from work to take care of him. Eating became an everyday battle, and I was still set on breastfeeding him. By this point, he altogether refused to nurse. I was pumping around the clock, trying to supply my sick baby with the nutrition he needed. I would cry each day, even more frustrated at my inability to feed him.
When Sam continued to struggle to gain weight, we made the decision to put him through surgery to hopefully fix the Laryngomalacia and GERD. The two weeks following the surgery consisted of viciously cycling between pumping, comforting Sam, and pumping some more. It was awful.
While the surgery was somewhat successful, Sam still struggled to eat. Throughout all of this, I stopped taking care of myself.
I stopped eating. Stopped sleeping. I still blamed myself. If I could just have fed my baby, none of this would have happened. Each time I abandoned taking care of myself, my supply dropped even more. I was forced to supplement more. I would spend hours attached to a pump in a feeble effort to produce just two or three ounces a day, and then I would berate myself for having to give my baby something other than breastmilk to eat.
Then one night I reached a breaking point.
It was 2 am, and I sat crying in our dimly lit living room, attached to that damn pump. I was so tired. So frustrated. So defeated.
My husband, bless him, came downstairs to check on me and found me crying. He unplugged the pump, looked me in the eye, and told me to give myself some grace. He couldn't watch me torture myself anymore. He reminded me that while formula wasn't my original plan, thank God science had given us something that so closely mimics the nutrients in breastmilk. He reminded me that Sam would still be a healthy, happy baby, even if he wasn't breastfed.
If only I had someone tell me that sooner.
After that moment, we began supplementing even more. While I continued to pump two or three times throughout the day, I stopped torturing myself by being attached to it all the time. I gave myself some grace, and I began to realize that this whole thing was not all my fault.
It finally sank in: I was doing the best I could, and that was enough.
Now, five months later, Sam is a healthy, very happy baby. I am a better mama because I gave myself some grace. I stopped beating myself up over what I could not control, and I started focusing on what was best for Sam, despite my preconceived image of what motherhood was supposed to be.
So, to all you mamas out there struggling to breastfeed. This is your 2 am wake up call.
Give yourself some grace.
For whatever the reason, your plan to breastfeed may not go as you envisioned it, and that is okay.
Stop torturing yourself over a decision to supplement.
Do the best you can.
Love your baby.
And that is enough.