Why am I writing a post on breastfeeding right now, almost a year after I quit breastfeeding Charlotte? The truth is I’ve had variations of this post drafted in my head, but I never had enough courage to post anything for fear of being judged as a bad mother. Motherhood is an intensely personal experience for me, and breastfeeding in particular is an intensely personal thing. However, I have decided to share my experience in the hopes that some young mom who is also having a hard time will stumble across this post and take comfort in the fact that she is not alone.
I struggled mightily with breastfeeding Charlotte due to an improper latch that I could not correct no matter how hard I tried. When I did eventually stop breastfeeding and switch to formula when Charlotte was only 4 weeks old, I tortured myself about it for days–months even. There are moments even now, almost a year later, when I still think, “I should have kept trying.”
But in those early days, I didn’t see how I could keep trying. I was mentally exhausted from having to psych myself up for every feeding, only to have it be painful and stressful; I was physically exhausted because of the lack of sleep that accompanies caring for a newborn; and I was emotionally exhausted because I never expected the basic act of feeding my child to be so painfully difficult. It wasn’t as if I didn’t try: I read books, blog posts and forum discussions; I watched online videos; I sought help from friends; I visited a lactation consultant. Still the problems with latching persisted, and every feeding was a source of extreme anguish for me. I cried and prayed and cried some more. I tried pumping as well, but was barely able to pump enough to keep up with Charlotte, and pumping was also painful. I didn’t know what else to do.
Despite assurances from Stephen that it was okay if we had to switch to formula, I wrestled with the decision. The truth is, I felt like a failure for not being able to do what only a mother can–breastfeed. Almost all of my friends with children breastfed their babies, so of course I felt like less of a mother when it didn’t work out for me. In some strange way I even felt as though I must have let all of my friends down, though I know they would never say that. In addition, I felt like I let Charlotte down, which I know is ridiculous. She had no expectations, no realization of what was going on. All she knew is that when she was hungry, she would be fed, and it was enough for her. But not for me.
What convinced me to give it a rest and switch to formula were my feelings toward Charlotte. While I had loved her from the moment I held her in my arms, I had begun to feel resentment toward her because she wouldn’t “cooperate” and latch properly. (Even writing that makes me cringe inside.) These feelings made me feel terrible, and the last thing I wanted to do was resent my sweet baby girl. And while I truly believed that breastmilk is best (and still do), I also knew that it was best for Charlotte to have a mom who wasn’t stressed and verging on an emotional breakdown.
The amount of relief I felt when I finally gave up was tremendous. I felt such a burden lift from my soul, and I was able to focus more fully on Charlotte instead of obsessing about breastfeeding 24 hours a day. Our family was happier, and I was calmer and less anxious and tearful.
Anyone who is a mother is familiar with “mom guilt,” and I became acquainted with it very early on in my days as a mother. I want to say I have made my peace with stopping breastfeeding, but I still mourn the loss of those months of nursing that I didn’t have. Every time Charlotte got an ear infection, I wondered if it was because I didn’t breastfeed her longer. I cringed inwardly the first few times we had to buy formula because it is expensive and breastfeeding is free. I secretly blamed myself when she got tubes, telling myself that if I had just breastfed her, her immune system would have been stronger, and she wouldn’t have had so many problems. In the end, none of that matters. I can’t go back and change the past. I can’t erase what’s already been done. I have to stop myself when I go down that road of guilt and remorse because it takes me away from the peace of Christ. Guilt is not constructive; it is a tool of the enemy, and I have to recognize it and work against it before it consumes me.
I don’t know why breastfeeding didn’t work out for me, but I know that God ordained Charlotte for our family, and I take great comfort in the fact that she is growing and thriving and happy and healthy. Ultimately, what more could I ask for?