You would think that by now I would realize that life, and especially parenting, rarely goes as planned. Between babies that didn't make it, IVF, preemies, twins and all the other twists along the way, surely I would have learned this lesson, right? Of course not. When I found out Shep was on his way to our family, I immediately assumed that we would have a lovely, intimate, storybook nursing relationship...and I was thrilled. As I've written before, that's not exactly how things went down. After two weeks of consistently losing weight, we realized that Shepherd was not eating from the breast and had to begin feeding him expressed milk. Despite swearing that I would never exclusively pump again, I tied myself to that yellow machine at least four times a day every day for over six months. And I made his milk. I'm proud of myself for that. I don't think it makes me a better mother than feeding him in any other way, but I am proud of the sacrifices of time and comfort (and cheese!) I made to give my son what I thought was the best choice for him at the time.
But that's not the full story of our journey. When breastfeeding didn't work, I grieved. And I don't mean that I was a little sad...I truly grieved the loss of something I had so eagerly anticipated. In those first two weeks when I was nursing my Shep, it was intolerably painful and definitely not going well, but it was also beautiful. Those moments of looking down at my son felt so special and love-filled. When I realized those moments were ending, I was heartbroken. Through time and therapy and reflection and prayer, I now know that the heartbreak tied into so much more...my feelings about my reproductive system and body never doing exactly what it is supposed to do...but at the time it felt like the loss of breastfeeding my son might just bring my world crashing down. I had to remind myself over and over again that when I prayed and longed for a third child, I wanted just that--a child. And I had a healthy son...so much more than I could have ever imagined! So I processed my grief and I pumped, and I found solace in my ability to feed Shepherd my milk exclusively. It felt like an accomplishment--something that was right--amidst a situation that disappointed me immensely.
But a few months in I found myself doubting my efforts, feeling like I hadn't tried intensely enough, hadn't pushed hard enough. So at two months, I hired a lactation consultant to coach Shepherd back onto the breast. I had so many hesitations. I know myself well...I knew that the first time it failed was gut wrenching, and that a subsequent failure would likely set off the same emotions. But I wanted it so badly. So we tried. And to say it failed is an understatement. Shep was miserable. I was in pain. Everyone was crying. For five days we spent agonizing hours "breastfeeding," and it was anything but a bonding experience. And I finally accepted that being a good mother to Shepherd meant the same thing being a good mother so often means--putting my own desires aside for the sake of my child. While I so wanted to breastfeed Shep, that desire had become about me. I wanted it. I wanted that closeness and those sweet moments. It wasn't about him anymore, so it was time to stop.
And once I finally accepted that Shep was going to be bottle fed, I was able to more fully embrace the beauty of that route. Cuddling him close while he drank. Being more available to the twins while feeding Shep, keeping them from resenting those moments. Seeing the love in Andrew's face as he was able to participate fully in the feeding process. For us, for our family, bottle feeding ended up being the best decision. And that's okay.
By the Numbers:
- Over 784 pumping "sessions"
- Over 392 hours pumping (or over 16 full 24-hour days)
- Over 5,880 ounces of milk pumped= 183 liters= 92 two liter bottles