by Jessica, of “Smartter” Each Day, Contributing Writer
It was six years ago, but if I close my eyes, it’s so real I’m almost there again.
I’m next to the crib, nursing a baby. Standing, nursing a baby. Standing because he won’t nurse normally. He’s three months old, and I try to nurse him and he thrashes, cries, pulls off, crosses his eyes, yanks back and forth like a shark or something.
He’s my first, and I thought he was crazy, like literally – had a mental issue. I thought he had autism. We all did, honestly. He wouldn’t look at you, cried constantly, didn’t respond to voices…
So this moment, this one by the crib, I’m standing there, sobbing, and I beg God. God, save this baby. I need you. I need you to show up.
And He shows up, but it’s my sister, and she’s watching, horrified. I see her eyes in my memory, and I see her horror. I’ve never seen that look since, and I won’t forget it.
She gets the breast pump. Maybe he’ll take a bottle? He hasn’t eaten all day. I pump, and I get one ounce, total. He’s eaten nothing all day, and I’ve made an ounce.
We’re almost jubilant with explanation. We give him some formula, a few ounces, and he chugs it. Desperately, in less than a minute.
I’m tears of relief, and gratitude…and embarrassment. I wasn’t feeding him. And I’m a failure, I feel.
It’s two kids and six years later, but the same scene repeats. They’re hungry. I try it all – the pills and the diets, and the hydrating and pumping til dry…and they’re still hungry, and I can’t make it a year, like moms are supposed to do.
Today as I write this, I’m on #3. She’s six months old, and I’m still nursing. It might sound like nothing to you, but it’s victory to me. I’ve made it, miraculously. (This little baby who teaches me constantly that I can do crazy, impossible things.)
Still, it’s a battle. She’s waking constantly, nursing frequently…I know this drill. And I’m talking to my mom a few days ago, and I blurt it out: “You know, mom, some of these moms, I think they’d be more horrified if I said I quit nursing, than if I announced I was getting a divorce.”
We laugh, but I mean it.
And I wonder: When did it become this way? So devastatingly, deathly important, to breastfeed? Of course it’s wonderful, and it’s best, and I wish I were one of those moms.
But when did it become like this, that I hang my head in shame scooping powdery formula – formula filled with calories my baby desperately needs? When did it happen that I slide my bottle in my bag, hoping no one guesses along with the breast milk, there’s formula, too?
I’m the girl who usually has it together. But motherhood, it has undone me. I’ve learned my limits in so many ways. Here’s what my struggles in breastfeeding have taught me.
- Breastfeeding doesn’t always “work well” for everyone. There are multiple reasons it doesn’t – some I can control (like my stress, nutrition, and hydration). But I do believe some women just easily make lots of fatty breast milk, and others will struggle. This has made me sympathetic in a way that I would not have been, otherwise.
- See, I’ve learned to be gracious and kind. My struggles with breastfeeding have taught me that I often do not see the full picture of other moms’ stories. That’s not to say I can’t help and offer advice. I’m grateful for the breastfeeding advice others gave me! But I’m grateful for the women who did so kindly, and graciously. (P.S. – that’s one thing I love about Erin’s breastfeeding posts.)
- Keep the real things the real things. There are issues of eternal importance. Like this is one. There are issues where kids’ lives are at stake. Like this one. Breastfeeding is not an eternal, nor (in most cases) a life-threatening matter.
And here I get convicted. Breastfeeding is just one issue. How many other issues do I hold too closely? I’m passionate about many parenting issues – homeschooling, moms staying home, healthy food…but do I ever make these things too important? I have my own ideas of what “good moms” do, but how often do I judge without seeing the whole picture?
How often do I create my own motherhood gospel, when maybe I’m right and maybe I’m not?
I know this is a touchy subject. I’d love to hear from you.
If you struggled to breastfeed, how did other moms encourage you? If you didn’t struggle breastfeeding, what’s one thing you’d say to a mom having difficulty nursing?
Jessica Smartt used to be a librarian and an English teacher, but now she works much harder just being a mom. You can find her blogging at “Smartter” Each Day where she pokes fun at the everyday challenges of motherhood, shares all her delicious allergy-free recipes, and rejoices that God loves her no matter what phobia she’s recently developed. She is blessed to the moon and back with two energetic little boys and a husband who actually never worries.