Sunday, August 7, 2016

When Bottle Fed Became My Best



This picture is from March but still very special to me. Here are my almost Irish twins coming as close to tandem nursing as we will ever get.

 

I've always been all about scientific facts. I'm pretty much the biggest breastfeeding advocate there is. The science supports that breast is best, so I had every intention of feeding all of my babies exclusively breastmilk. I spent my last year of medical school pumping despite lack of sleep and an insane work schedule to make that happen for my firstborn.

But I bottle fed my second baby. 

became pregnant when he was less than 6 months old. While exclusively breastfeeding around the clock. By 9 months, he self-weaned.

Despite the scientific fact that breastfeeding is perfectly safe during pregnancy. Despite the many articles I read stating that self-weaning would not happen before a year. Despite the countless women I read about who nursed through their pregnancies and then tandem nursed for months afterward. Despite my envy for them. But most importantly, despite anything I did. 

I nursed around the clock. When my baby began to refuse the breast, I pumped. And I pumped. And pumped. 

Increased demand will increase supply!! My brain yelled the scientific facts.

I nursed and pumped until my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I continued pumping even when my baby refused my breast completely. I pumped as the hormones and guilt raged and countless tears fell. I pumped even when I was down to an ounce from a 20 minute session.  Even when I was so strung out from caring for two littles 2 and under all day while being pregnant that I wanted nothing more than to curl into the fetal position and sleep for 14 hours straight.

I pumped until my husband finally helped me see that it was time to let go. That I was causing more harm than good. That sometimes, breast is not best. And it was no longer my best.

I had to re-define. Change. Realign my expectations with reality. My reality. 

But isn't that the beautiful surprise essence of motherhood? We go into it imaging what we will impart on the lives of our babies only to find out that it is we who are most deeply changed. Endless learning, shifting, stretching, re-thinking, re-discovering.... It is true that the day a baby is born, so is a mother. 

My precious boys have changed me into who I am today. Changed me for the better. Changed me from knowing endless scientific facts about parenting to being one.

Not that change is easy. And comparison with a hefty dose of guilt is hard to let go of. I'll always marvel at the beauty of tandem breastfeeding photos and feel a tiny twinge of envy, but that doesn't change my reality. My body cannot sustain breast milk production and a pregnancy at once. I lost a baby while nursing my oldest then could not conceive again until I weaned him a half a year later. This time, my milk dried up as my pregnancy progressed.

But my reality is beautiful too. I have 3 growing boys that my body has cumulatively nurtured for 27 months inside and 30 months (so far) outside. I'm grateful for each of those days and the special bonds of pregnancy and breastfeeding I was able to experience.

On this last day of world breastfeeding week, while we celebrate the beauty of a mother's body continuing to sustain her infant outside of her body, remember to be kind because motherhood is hard enough without criticizing each other. Let's support each other instead. And remember that not everyone's reality is the same as yours. 

And truly, fed, nurtured, and loved is best. The face of best looks different because our stories are different.