My (Non) Breastfeeding Journey
I was afraid of sunsets. Once the sky displayed a light show of blue, red, and orange bleeding into one another, my body stiffened, my heart raced. I would stare at it from below, in a beautifully curated garden, bracing myself for a night of struggle ahead. The deep, dark night cast a spotlight on pain of all kinds: physical, emotional, mental. They all found their roots in the act that was supposed to define me as a new mother: breastfeeding.
It was unbearable for so many reasons. First, the pain was excruciating. Even as I look back at it now to tell this story, a heaviness takes a hold of me. When my baby would cry, many times over, I had to take a deep breath, get up, and place him on my breast. Once he found it, I would silently scream, shed many tears, and look at my sleeping husband, resenting him and fathers everywhere. I had to go through it alone during the darkest hours of the day when everyone was asleep. The solitude magnified the pain even more. So I tried to find solace in Google, a modern mom's best friend and worst nightmare. While he was getting his milk, I was frantically searching for answers as I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I would type: How to get baby to latch? How long should he stay on each breast? Is he even swallowing? So many questions when all I wanted to ask, plain and simple, was Can someone please save me? Too many answers from the search engine, none of them delivered me from my anxiety. When the sunlight returned, I wore the struggle on my body: my nipples were cracked, my breasts were sore, my arms were weak. I was fatigue on feet. That did not mean I could get my rest because for a newborn, to eat is to live.
And then one day, as I carried my babe, I noticed something but I did not want to admit it, not even think it. Was he losing weight? He felt much lighter in my arms; it was an ease I did not want to have. A couple of trips to the pediatrician confirmed the worst thing a new mother could hear: yes, he wasn't getting enough. My once pudgy son looked like he was shrivelling up. So I scrambled for solutions. I had a lactation consultant come to the house, massage me, and remind me to keep on trying for I should never, ever give my baby It Which Must Not Be Named (for all you non-parents out there: formula). I ordered lactation treats by the dozen, finding comfort in the chocolate chips. I requested for malunggay soup during every meal. I pumped even though what spilled out - or rather, trickled down - was meager in portion. I bit my lip, sucked it in, as I handed over my breasts, handed over all of myself to my son. They say it just takes time, hang on.
But eight weeks had passed and the physical pain had subsided a bit but my son was still crying too much and gaining too little. I was already thinking of succumbing to the F Word. My husband and I were discussing it in secret lest I fall to the judgment of the people around me. But my baby was not healthy and that alone was enough for me to drown out the other voices. So we bought a can of formula and some bottles, prepared the milk, and gave it to my son while crossing all of my fingers, toes, and wishes. In a second, he sucked the bottle with gusto and drank the milk like it was his first in forever. He never looked so satiated. And my heart never felt lighter than it did at that moment.
He grew so quickly, cried much less, and soon became a baby with all the rolls I always dreamed of pinching. At that point, we were at our healthiest and happiest. Yet I still had to fight off some demons. Voices nagged me. I remembered the lactation consultant comparing breastfed babies and formula babies (guess who always won?), the posts of influencer mothers marking their victory of breastfeeding their babies for 2 years (I couldn't even last 8 weeks!), the romantic and ethereal image of a babe on a mother's breasts (why couldn't we look like that?), the questions of elders and others asking how much milk I am producing (I would tell you but I don't want to see you wince).
The reality of it all is that I know I am not alone in this struggle. There are mothers who can't produce. There are mothers whose circumstances cannot afford to feed all on their own. There are mothers who simply do not want to breastfeed (remember: thou shall not judge). You see there's a problem when we resign motherhood to taglines that tell us what is best. Taglines are for companies, brands, and rallies who cater to a target market, to a certain demographic. Mothers are neither of those. We cannot be categorized because just as there are a million mothers in the world, there are a million ways to love... and in this case, to feed. So we should embrace each other, welcome all to the club: the ones who believe #breastisbest, the ones who stand up for the #fearlessformulafeeders, the ones who do a little of both.
Motherhood was given to us not as a goal to accomplish or an image to develop. Rather, it's a beautiful mission bestowed on us to guide our littles, to help them grow. The spotlight was never meant to be on us. It's meant to be cast on our children. That's why motherhood is the most humbling role in the world - we forego ourselves for them. All of our plans, idealisms, reputation. So then: does it matter if we breastfeed when our babe is not growing? Does it matter if we choose a natural birth when our baby is struggling to get out? Does it matter if we co-sleep when our child doesn't actually get to sleep? Instead of fitting our child into the goddess myth, we must refashion our motherhood to do what is best for them.
Two things here:
1. Love the way you know how.
2. Some are breasts, some are bottles but we are all mothers.
When these two things become central to our motherhood, maybe more moms don't have to be afraid of sunsets anymore.
*For the record, I tried different formulas but Noah liked this organic one the best. Thank you HiPP for saving this family.