As any new parent knows, choosing how to feed your newborn is a significant, perhaps the most significant, decision you will make in the first few months of your baby’s life. I am going to tell you about my journey of how I fed my two daughters in their first months of life. My story is unique, special, and beautiful – every parent’s story is.
You know the word: breastfeeding. When I was pregnant with my first daughter Lavender, my husband and I took a breastfeeding class together at the hospital. At the end of the class, many parents-to-be lined up near the instructor to ask her their individual questions. I turned and asked my husband, “Should we stay so I can ask her about my inverted nipples and how that might affect how I will breastfeed?” We looked at each other – nah, and went home.
Looking back, I smile a little bit at how innocent I was. I didn’t know what I was about to go through in regards to breastfeeding – or trying to. Lavender was born with jaundice so we gave her formula in her first few days of life to hydrate her tiny little body back to health. The weeks that followed, Lavender’s first few weeks of life, were some of my darkest days. Sure, I was overjoyed at the arrival of our new baby girl. But Lavender never truly and properly latched onto my nipples despite getting a lactation consultant (expensive) and a frenulectomy (bad idea, very traumatizing and a decision I will always regret). The few times that she latched, it caused my nipples searing, nearly unbearable pain. Lavender would scream bloody murder at my nipple and then calm down and start suckling right away at the bottle. Everything about it was discouraging and horrible.
I debated giving up breastfeeding and distinctly remember thinking to myself, “How is she going to know that I’m her mom?” How sad. I feel sorry for that me. I had this vision my baby girl and me having a breastfeeding relationship like those fake-beautiful pictures you see on Instagram. I felt so cheated that I couldn’t have the same. I wanted it so very badly.
When Lavender was two and a half weeks old, I gave up. It was the most freeing decision I ever made. No more trying to breastfeed meant no more dreading Lavender’s next feeding, then guiltily waking up in the middle of the night to find my husband dutifully giving her a bottle, hating myself because I felt like I should have tried. I did, however, commit to continuing to pump and I did it religiously until Lavender turned one. I was so dedicated to pumping often, building up my milk supply, and making sure Lavender had breast milk until her first birthday that I ended up with a giant, unplanned freezer stash of breast milk that I eventually donated to another mum and her baby.
Three years later, Lemon was born. She is now almost ten weeks old and I find myself exclusively pumping again. In the delivery room, Lemon latched onto my nipple and sucked happily. My husband and I looked at one another in surprise. When Lemon was a few hours old, the maternity ward nurse said that she was nursing like an “older than 24-hour old baby” and the lactation consultant even gave her an A+! I realized that what I perceived as my “failure” to breastfeed Lavender the first time around was not actually my fault – it was Lavender’s fault! What new perspective! I could see in Lemon so much more of a wiliness to try and latch on to breastfeed than her sister ever did.
So what happened? Three days later, my milk supply came in and changed the shape of my breasts and nipples – Lemon was confused and did not want to latch anymore. She screamed and struggled at my nipple, dredging up my old, bad memories from Lavender’s newborn days. When she was 4 days old, the paediatrician sounded the alarms and said Lemon was dehydrated and her health was quickly going downhill. She was losing too much weight and her bilirubin levels were high – in danger of developing jaundice. So we relived history. We gave Lemon formula and got her back to health quickly while I reacquainted myself with my old friend, the pump.
Over the past two months, I have reluctantly tried here and there to breastfeed Lemon, usually out of guilt that I should at least keep trying. Usually she is willing to latch on, but is rarely willing to stay on and suck long enough to actually drink enough milk, so we fall back into old patterns – pumping, bottle feeding, and tackling a sinkful of dirty pump parts and bottles. Maybe I am just sticking with what I know. I ask myself, if I am not really trying that hard to breastfeed Lemon, do I really, truly want to? Am I missing out on something extraordinarily special that only other super-breastfeeding mummies know about? Perhaps I will never know.
In times of weakness, the thought of resorting to formula crosses my mind, but I silently snort and brush the thought away. I am too stubborn and proud. When I look at Lemon, my heart is filled with indescribable love. I want to give her the best of everything that I can – I will suffer-pump through her first year of life because she is my last baby and I can withstand the pain of cracked, bleeding nipples just this last time. I do it because I want Lemon to feel that her mummy loves her when I am work and she is at home having her bottle with her nanny. I do it because I look at Lavender, so grown and smart, so healthy and incredibly wonderful in every way, and I know that I pumped for a year for her.
Does my journey have a lesson attached to it? Maybe it is that feeding your newborn, and in a larger sense, parenting your child, is such a personal journey with meaningful nuances – decisions and struggles and successes – weaved throughout. There is beauty in it all.