I didn’t enter into motherhood with a plan; I wasn’t keen on reading hundreds of books, my labour plan consisted of one sentence that said “do not show me the epidural needle”, and I insisted on keeping an open mind – whatever will be, will be, and that sort of thing. I had always said that I would love to try breastfeeding (when else do you have liquid enough to sustain another human being? I mean, how cool is that?), but if it didn’t work, I wasn’t opposed to switching to formula. The thing about motherhood is that regardless of how you envision your approach, things never quite work out according to plan.
My labour was seamless and within 12 hours – pop! Out came a baby girl, healthy as can be. The first few weeks were tough, but the normal kind of tough; making the necessary adjustments and figuring out exactly what kind of mother you want to be. In today’s world, there’s a lot of pressure to fall into the sexier of two stereotypical views of motherhood. You can be the breastfeeding, organic, BPA free, make your own food kind of mom or the other kind of mom; the mom who chose formula right off the bat, serves up mac and cheese, and plops their baby down in front of the TV just to get a break kind of mom. Now the truth is, most of us fall somewhere in the middle, but the pressure to live up to the standards set by Hollywood supermoms who earn millions, shop at Whole Foods and parent all of 3 hours a day, is insane – so sometimes we fake it. Given the pressure on women loaded with as much milk as I had to breastfeed, I was pretty determined to make it to 6 months. I knew that by then I’d want my body back and to be honest, I was slowly realizing that this whole gigantic boob thing was a bit overrated.
My daughter Luna latched pretty well after a couple disastrous attempts at the hospital and the first few weeks passed without any issue at all. It was too early to pump so I was getting up every 2-3 hours to nurse, making sure to nudge the hubby on the way out so that misery had company. Exhausting as they were, the first few weeks felt like an adventure of sorts. It was also incredibly comforting to know that the long nights of broken sleep did in fact come with an expiration date. It was only around week 5 or 6 that things started to change. At 4 weeks, I’d introduced the bottle so that my husband could help out with feedings. Around the same time, Luna started to get very fussy whenever it was time to eat. It was the beginning of what many a doctor will refer to as “colic”; the mysterious ailment suffered by all babies (and mothers) who scream for hours on end without obvious reason or cause. In Luna’s case, I think it was gas or perhaps a reaction to the lactose in my breast milk, and in an attempt to cure the symptoms, I’d tried cutting things out of my diet (caffeine, dairy, beans, you name it) and worked my way through all the conventional treatments like gripe water, probiotics, Ovol, etc. Nothing seemed to work. All of a sudden, I was trying to breastfeed a baby who was screaming and refusing to latch, a process that could take between 45 minutes and an hour. Following the ordeal, I then ran to the pump and tried to get out as much as I could from the other breast when all I really wanted to do was sleep since she’d be hungry again in an hour and I’d have to start the whole thing over again. Exhausted, cranky and hormonal (no, it doesn’t go away right after the baby makes its exit) – I started to sink.
As I grew less patient, more irritable and less convinced of my stellar parenting abilities, certain friends and family suggested that I may be showing signs of postpartum and that the breastfeeding frustrations probably weren’t helping my cause. I knew they were right, but I was torn. In my head, the choices were clear: stop breastfeeding and switch to formula, or trudge through to the detriment to myself and many of those around me. Unfortunately, I chose to hold steadfast to the latter until the 3rd month, what I realize now was probably the stupidest decision I have made in my journey as a parent thus far. While breastfeeding is inarguably best for the health of the baby, having a mother slide farther and farther into a place of serious resentment and frustration is just as detrimental, if not more, to the health of both mother and child. I should have known when it was right for me to stop; instead, I let the pressure of breastfeeding eat away at me until my mind and body simultaneously shut down. After sobbing nightly for over a month, and experienced severely engorged breasts due to the baby refusing to eat, it became blatantly obvious that I needed to cut the cord. By that time I had already introduced 1-2 bottles of formula a day, so it was simply a matter of making the complete switch.
As a new mom, your biggest fear is screwing up so badly that there’s no going back. From bodily injuries to the possibility of raising a psychopath, the fear of ruining your child is something only a mom can know. As mothers, we put extraordinarily high pressure on ourselves to be perfect and the last thing we need is someone we love (like a partner) or trust (like a doctor) telling us to brave the waves and carry on when we’ve finally hit our peak. What every mom does need during the first few months (and years to come) is support and reassurance that they’re doing a good job; whether they choose to breastfeed, or not. We often forget that breastfeeding is, in fact, a choice. Many a formula-fed baby have grown to be successful doctors, lawyers, teachers and more, and none are worse for the wear. The point however is that in the end, it really is – or ought to be – the mother’s choice, and for many (despite popular opinion and belief), breast may very well not be what’s best for them.