I failed at breastfeeding my newborn.
With tears I write this, even now. Three months in and I can’t separate my feelings from my reality just yet. There’s a story, of course, involving a struggle. NICU, weight loss, pumping, failure to thrive-the usual suspects. It all sounds like excuses now, bluntly thudding against my breastfeeding dogma and desire.
Breast is best and I wish everyone would shut up about it. I turn to the Internet when my instincts prove limited on the subject of infant formula. Until now I’ve only been a part of the breastfeeding community and I sheepishly come knocking at the door of the bottle feeders, looking for help but with a serious chip on my shoulder. All I want are cold hard facts, but I can’t get to them without encountering, “breastfeeding is recommended the first two years, but if you can’t…”
Something feels broken and I don’t know if it is my pride or something deeper. I figured things would right themselves after the hormones settled down, whatever that means. But something primal hangs in there deep and I feel that connection to ancient life giving mothers everywhere. It’s this thing that mothers can do the world over, unthinkingly if necessary, without husbands or money or lactation consultants-just a mother and her strength. And she doesn’t give up over cracked nipples or sleepless nights, or anything, because if she does she loses everything.
Maybe my body feels like it has lost. It knows that it should be producing milk right now and grieves over an apparent loss of life. I wanted to give this to him. It is one of the few things that I alone can give and I know it is best. I also know all the rest-about no judgement and doing what is best for me, and how I tried so hard but sometimes things just don’t work out.
It all sounds like rhetoric.
So he takes a bottle. I bought these expensive ones, maybe out of guilt. And formula. You know I researched the heck out of that stuff, nasty business. And I worried that we wouldn’t know each other in that special way that closes the door on everyone else. I didn’t like the thought of other people being able to feed him-not yet. I worried that our connection wouldn’t be strong enough to wake me up at night when he stirred, and that he wouldn’t seek comfort from me.
But he likes to be held tight, wrapped right up in my arms with no patience for swaddle blankets. I fall asleep with him like that and all it takes is my breath on his head to send him off. He demands nothing of me and treats the bottle as only a vehicle of nourishment. Bottle feeding has been much less intuitive, but thankfully not all has been lost. Many of the things I associate with breastfeeding have carried on as naturally as ever-physical closeness (skin to skin), co-sleeping, close eye contact, and being able to physically comfort.
I know I can be hard on myself, but why not? When did trying and failing become unacceptable?
I think I will be disappointed with this outcome forever-I failed at breastfeeding and I would like to own that. It is possible that I could have worked harder to succeed-this may be true even as a dozen reasons “why” run through my mind. Platitudes abound, but I would rather explore my grief over this and uncover something more true. I won’t let this failure (or any) define me, but I will gather it up like broken glass, not sweeping it under the rug, so that it’s sharp edges don’t catch me unaware in the future.
I would never presume to write someone else’s story, especially about such a sensitive topic.