Sunday, March 22, 2009

sometimes it hurts

When the things I believe and know and want don't line up with reality. Eli is 7 months old, he's happy, growing, wonderful. But there's still something that pains me as I watch him grow.

He weaned at not quite 5 months. Those of you who regularly read my blog know the story. He stopped gaining weight at 9 lbs (weighed at 10 wks). We tried everything. EVERYTHING. feeding constantly. Pumping constantly. Teas, herbs, medications (that made me go nuts), everything. I did all I could to keep him from having formula for over a month. Trips to Drs and lactation consultants. Telling Hana I couldn't play with her because I needed to feed Eli. Getting up at night to pump and to feed. So much work, so many tears and so little gain.

In fact, the gain was only 2 oz. In over a month. He was malnourished. You could see his ribs. It kills me to think that my desire to breastfeed, to keep him from having formula could have caused him harm. It could have affected his growth and the development of his brain. I was under the guidance of medical professionals, which is good, because otherwise my dreams could have killed him.

So I switched to formula. I still nursed as much as I could, but after a while my supply got to the point where nursing frustrated him too much and he wouldn't latch on. He refused me. At five months he was not getting any breast milk at all. Yes, I know, I could have found donor milk for him. Honestly tho, I didn't want to. At that point I think feeding him milk from another woman would have broken me. At least with the formula I was preparing it so I could sort of trick myself into believing I was the one providing the nourishment for him.

For some of you this wouldn't have been such a big deal at all. Some probably think I'm nuts for holding out as long as I did. But it mattered to me. It mattered so much, especially after all I went through with Hana. It matters a lot to me - there are forums I don't go to any more, people I feel uncomfortable around, articles I don't read, conversations I don't take part in.

There's such a dichotomy surrounding formula. The people who use it and think it's great and the people who don't and their passion for breastfeeding makes it seem as tho it should be in the same category as poison. I know they don't really think that. No one that I have shared my story with has ever made any negative comment about me using formula with my kids. But it still hurts.

It hurts to have to explain. It hurts to think people see me as an ignorant mother, or one that doesn't care, or one who isn't as bonded to her kids as they are, or that I am trying to take the "easy" way out.

Nothing about feeding Eli has been easy. For months this has weighed on me, and for weeks I've been half writing it all out, as if to be absolved in the confessional of the internet.

I don't want it to matter so much. I know I made the right choice. Yes, there are risks with formula - lower IQ, higher chances of illness and cancer, exposure to chemicals that I don't want in their systems. But for us it was weighing those risks against malnutrition and having a mother with very unstable mental health.

I don't want to be ashamed or to feel I have to hide Eli's bottles. I don't want to have to pour my struggles out, to admit to practical strangers that my body doesn't work right, that on my own I can't nourish my children. I don't want to try to normalize formula as a good choice, because I know for the vast majority of infants it isn't.

Never have I looked down on a mother who has chosen not to breastfeed. I admit at times I have to remind myself not to take it personally, but it's their choice to make. I do my best to encourage and inform without being pushy, and I admit I live vicariously through the nursing experiences of my friends.

I don't even know what I hope to accomplish by writing this all out, I know my decision was right and I've been validated by the people who are close to me.

Added later, because sometimes I need to write things twice to get where I want to go:

When I hear things about the benefits of breastfeeding or the risks with formula feeding it's like a stab to the heart. Not because I feel guilty, because I don't - I know this is my only option, I know I tried everything else. It hurts because I'm still angry. Something was taken away from me, something I dreamed of, prayed for, worked for, wanted with everything I have. The reminder of what that loss costs - both for me and for my children - is painful.

I don't go to LLL meetings to offer support to other women, because I'd have to bottle feed my son there. I don't go to local meeting about natural birth/parenting, because I don't want to have to explain to strangers how my body doesn't work right. I shy away from people that I know agree with me and feel as strongly as I do about nursing and breast milk and all those other things because I know I look like a hypocrite when I walk into Wal-Mart and pick up a can of formula. I have to remind myself not to take it personally when women I know choose not to breastfeed for what I think are silly reasons. It's hard. It's lonely. It's heartbreaking.

I do think women need more support with nursing. I also think the real problems that can come up - how hard it is in the first few weeks, the uncertainty, the real possibility of latch and supply issues, etc. need to be brought up more. I think there needs to be a distinction between what is NUTRITIONALLY best and what is GENERALLY best for a baby.

Mostly tho, and I say this as a person who lives in an area where a woman can NIP and not be looked at (I was nursing Eli everywhere for months), I think the only reaction people should have when they see a mother feeding her baby in any way is a sense of joy and peace because that baby is being nourished, cared for, and loved.


Dena said...

I'm sorry it's hard. I can't say I know what it's like, but I feel for you just the same. You are doing the best for your babies. You are a great mom. And no ONE aspect of parenting alone determines if someone is a good parent or not. Not even breast feeding. You are a great mom.

Mommy Rader said...

Steph you are an amazing mama and woman! Thank you for your transparency, not only on this post but all the time. Your transparency has encouraged me and helped me get through some rough patches~even though I may have never told you!! And I want you to know that as a mom that has tearfully tried to nurse 3's HARD WORK and an increidbly emotional experience when it doesn't go the way we hope/dream it will. I'll be honest. My supply has never been adequtae to sustain the health/life of my babies. That is something that I've had to come to terms with. And I'll be honest with something else that might make other breastfeeding (and formula!) moms gasp in bewilderment: I really don't enjoy breastfeeding. Don't know why. Perhaps it's all the heartache I go through to do give my babies the very best, who knows? It's beautiful in the early weeks for me, when babies don't need a lot of milk to grow. I remember crying tears of joy just seeing milk...MY MILK drip out of the corner of Elijah's mouth when he was nursing at just weeks old. Those are my fondest nursing memories...those precious early weeks. But then the inevitable (for me) sets in...lack of milk, lack of adequate growth...trying to care for other siblings. What you write resonates on a deep level with me. But at the end of the day I've had to come to terms with and realize that I cannot and never will live up to the "ideal" mom that seems to torment my every waking moments...the one that advocates breastfeeding (and actually enjoys it!), is a champion nurser (though she fought like heck to be that way in those early months...and had the patience that I just don't have in that dept.),and is the one that knows all the in's and out's of why breast is best and forumla is somehow less. I don't know. I just don't buy into that. I know we say breast is best but what of the babies that never had the breast? My mom couldn't breastfeed and I was a formula fed baby all the way. Does that make me any less than a nursed woman?? Am I somehow dumber, more sick...less?? Shoot, that sucks for me then! LOL. I didn't intend a book, but perhaps it's theraputic (like you suggested) to write this stuff out?!?! Anyways, I just meant to say that you're thoughts are amazing on this. You are a real hero and tried everything in your power to give your little ones what you felt/feel is best. And while I have never nursed for very long and have made the choice to give my babies formula, I don't think that makes me any less of a mom and certainly doesn't make you any less of one...though I know you already know this :P Still I fight every day against this mind struggle....especially around those who advocate/support and even frown upon forumla feeding. It's a process.

Love you, Steph and am proud of the mom you've become!

Steph said...

I'm coming to the realization that nutritionally best and generally best are two different things. I will never argue the nutritional benefits of breastmilk, or that that is the intended norm for people - how God created us. Unfortunately, things got messed up and this is one of the consequences.

I don't feel like a bad mom, or inadequate in any way, I just hate having to justify it to strangers. Sure, once they KNOW everything I went through they understand, but why should i have to go there anyway. Why can't people just see me feeding my baby and be glad he's fed and loved.

Not that I should really care what other people think, but I do. No mother wants other people thinking she's doing less than her absolute best for her kids.