The Best We Can

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m a hippie. My pulled-together, hair and makeup in full effect, trendy handbag carrying image might say otherwise, but I am a granola-crunch masterpiece to the core.

I had a (mostly) unmedicated birth, and I would have squatted my kid out somewhere in the wilderness if it had been a feasible option at the time. I cloth diapered. I vaccinated on an alternate schedule. I gave my kid strawberries and honey and peanut butter way before it was “recommended.” I did more baby-wearing than any sane human should ever have to. We bed-shared from Day One.

Of course I breastfed.

Well, I tried, anyway.

Breastfeeding was the one thing that eluded me. I should have known we were doomed from the start. After a very frightening, traumatic emergency Cesarean section following a life threatening complication, my body just…failed. It failed at giving birth to my daughter the way I “should” have given birth. My body failed to recover properly. It failed to produce the right kind of hormones.. My body failed to produce enough milk. In short, I failed at the one thing that I was brought in existence to do – birth and feed a baby.

Oh, I tried to breastfeed. Boy, did I try. We tried in the hospital, but the baby needed more milk than I had just yet – so instead of a pump and a lactation consultant, they brought me a bottle of formula. I was too sick to know the difference, too sick to fight for my right to keep trying. I was violently ill and barely able to hold her. And my bushwhacked husband just wanted everyone to stop crying, so we fed her formula. But I really did try. No one brought me a pump. No one taught me anything. And the lactation consultant they finally brought in just yelled at me.

I tried when we got home five days later. But her screaming and her weight loss were no match for my milk ducts. We fed her formula because she was screaming and she was so skinny and because the words “failure to thrive” are so very, very scary to first-time parents.

I tried for the first twelve weeks. The twelve weeks I spent in the motherhood version of boot camp, attached to a pump on some insane regimen called “power pumping” where you do nothing but assign yourself quality time with a hospital grade breast pump. That is, when you’re not attempting to feed your screaming child from your breast for hours on end. And oh, by the way, make sure you’re eating! And hydrating! And are you taking fenugreek? Does your body give off the strong scent of maple syrup yet? Well then, you’re not taking enough.

I tried for months and months. The months when I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and finally, postpartum psychosis. The months where I went to several doctors’ appointments a day, trying to discover why I never produced more than 1 oz of breast milk per day. The whole day. The months I took Reglan and Domperidone (though not technically FDA approved for off label uses the US) and bought bags of fresh lactation herbs on the East Side, hoping not to look like a marijuana dealer. The month the doctors threw up their hands and said, “I guess you have Insufficient Glandular Tissue.” The months where everyone around me cowered in a corner (or just checked out altogether) because they didn’t know what to do with the irrational, obsessive, breast-or-bust type of person I’d become.

And through all that, we prevailed. My daughter and I, we hung in there. I fed her on demand, anywhere and everywhere – in public, in the open, though she got only drops from me. After we finished each time, breast still bared, I broke out the bottle and topped her off. I hung in there for months with that damned hospital breast pump, too. They day I pumped almost 2 oz (albeit, after 8 hours of no breast stimulation whatsoever and 45 minutes of solid pumping), we celebrated. And the day I returned the expensive torture device to the rental company, I wept. But it didn’t stop us like I thought it would. We actually prevailed.

Did my daughter eventually get only breast milk? Sadly, no. Did I ever produce enough to keep up with her demand? Hell no. Did we achieve the perfect breastfeeding relationship?

YES. We did.

She got what she could from me, and she loved it. She filled her tummy with a bottle of formula afterwards. I nursed her when she was sick, or tired, or bored, or needing closeness. And it was all okay in the end. It was enough.

I know now that feeding your child isn’t a race. It isn’t a competition between moms that exclusively breastfeed and those who supplement with formula. It isn’t a battle between those who are doing the “natural” thing and those who just…can’t. It’s about establishing the nursing relationship with your child that best suits your needs and the child’s needs. It’s about finding a balance between what you can reasonably expect your body to do (and do with your sanity intact) and keeping your child alive. It’s about both of you being happy and connected. It’s about a healthy mom and a healthy baby. Heaven knows it’s hard enough to do that without the added stress of nursing in public. But I believe you can’t have a full dialogue about how to normalize breastfeeding without also normalizing EVERY way a mom chooses to breast feed. Sometimes that is for two days, for many weeks, for months, or for years. Sometimes that’s in private, or sometimes in public. Sometimes that means a little bottle, a little breast. Sometimes that means a little or even a lot of formula. You know what it always means? It means a mom is feeding her child.  Period. So let’s just get along with it, shall we?

I will absolutely go to the ends of the earth to breastfeed again, should I have another baby. I will fight like hell to uphold the rights of moms who breastfeed, anywhere and everywhere. I will mentally high-five every single mom I see every day, because we are all battling the hardest fight we will ever know. It’s called motherhood. And we’re all just doing the best we can.


Postscript: I am resurrecting this blog after a very long hiatus, inspired by World Breastfeeding Week. I hope to use the blog as platform to discuss Postpartum Depression and other peripartum mood disorders, parenting, sanity (or insanity as the case may be), and all the roads of this beautiful, crazy ride we call motherhood.