Recently, I had to feed my baby formula. Roman was just over six months and had been exclusively on breast milk since he was born in July. I cried.
I could hear the moms in the online breastfeeding groups now, “Take Fenugreek!”, “Eat more oatmeal!”, “Up your calorie/water intake!” and all the other advice they often give to moms having supply issues. I could hear the judgement in their words before they even typed them out. I was judging myself for it too. I felt guilty. I felt like I hadn’t tried hard enough, like I didn’t want it bad enough or value the relationship I had created between myself and my child.
Then I realized, in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter. I had not been able to breastfeed my daughter. She was a formula fed baby after two weeks. During those two weeks my nipples cracked and bled, she attempted to latch and became frustrated, I was producing a quarter of what I needed to produce to keep her nourished and finally got mastitis. I was so sick that I actually wished I would die and the doctor’s office wouldn’t let me leave until they brought my fever down from its 104+ temperature. It was the nail in the coffin for breastfeeding her. I cried then too. I felt guilty then too. I felt like a failure in motherhood before it had all even really started.
But my son, he was different right from the start. He was an amazing latcher, even with a fairly sever tongue tie. He just got it right away and in the beginning, I placed lower expectations on how he was fed knowing full-well that he could end up on formula full time too.
The first eight weeks with him were still a struggle. You don’t really understand cluster feeding until you go through it. Sitting, day after day with a tiny human latched to your nipples, ALL DAY LONG. You don’t really understand how it can make you feel like a human cow. You don’t really understand frustration until your husband comes home and asks what you did all day after looking at you covered in spit up, wearing the same clothing you’ve been wearing the last two days. You don’t really understand sore nipples until you’ve had a nipple bleb and have had to muffle a scream in the middle of the night each time the baby latches. And of course, like all moms, you’re doing it on very little sleep.
Then comes the food intolerances. Dairy seemed to make him gassy. So, I cut most of it out. No small feat for me because dairy is like my food BFF. (Not cheese!) Coffee didn’t seem to sit well with him either so I limited myself to one cup per day. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ve survived.
But, we did it. And somewhere along the way it became easy. It became painless. It became joyful. I relished in the fact that I had made it.
Then, I went back to work.
Work changed the ballgame. I hadn’t been pumping much at all and had been exclusively breastfeeding on demand. I didn’t have a “stash.” I had to pump each morning for two weeks straight to squeeze out enough milk so Roman could get through his first day without me. But, I did it.
I continued pumping each morning and I pumped three times a day at work just to try and keep up with my baby’s daily appetite. I was becoming a frazzled mess.
In the mornings I felt rushed. Instead of feeding him naturally a little longer, I had to get him off so I could pump and get everyone out the door in time for me to arrive at work – late.
During work each pump session was taking 20-30 minutes out of my day. I was working a modified schedule already so the time it took to pump was eating into valuable time I needed to make progress on my projects.
Work never said a single thing to me about it. They were, in fact, wonderful about supporting me in the journey. It was me. I felt like I wasn’t living up to my potential, for them or for my son.
Over the Christmas holiday I vowed to pump more often. I vowed to build up my stash. I wanted to be one of those women in the breastfeeding groups that boastfully posts pictures of the hundreds of ounces of milk they’ve stored up in independent freezers. I dreamed about building up a stash so that I would be able to give up pumping all together by nine months.
But, the holiday vacation came, and I went back to my old ways of almost exclusively breastfeeding. Because let’s face it, pumping fucking sucks.