I sat in one of the tiny rooms in the hospital that are set aside for nursing moms to pump in, thankful that I had one on my floor and I didn’t have to treck all around the hospital to find one that was open.
The rhythmic whirring of the breast pump sounded too much like a white noise machine for me to not let my eyes slide out of focus drowsily.
I looked down to see that for over 15 minutes of pumping, I barely had half an ounce in each bottle.
I cranked up the settings on the breast pump until it was more than a little painful, and massaged each breast to try and coax more milk out.
Tears from the discomfort and the feelings of total defeat welled up in my eyes as I gave up, mentally and physically, on this as a failed session.
Breastfeeding wasn’t always hard. Once I got past the first two months of struggling to find my rhythm with Sebastian, it actually was enjoyable.
I loved how he would play with my hair, or rest his hand on me and look up at me with the most trusting eyes.
I learned how to nurse with a cover in public and really perfected my technique the day I did it at a hightop table at a bar.
Seb had always been prone to spitting up after nursing, but since he never acted upset or colicy in any way, we assumed it was fine.
And then the spitting up went from annoying to concerning, and we had doctors appointment after doctors appointment to try and figure it out. I cut everything out of my diet, he was tested for various reflux issues, and he went on different medications, and nothing helped.
But the worst part was that he stopping growing well.
I cried, I prayed, I pumped, I researched, but nothing I did helped.
The whole time I was afraid, afraid, afraid.
Afraid of what would happen if I stopped breastfeeding before the recommended year.
Afraid he wouldn’t be smart.
Afraid we would lose our special bond.
If I’m being honest, I was mostly paralyzingly afraid of what people would think of me giving my child formula.
Because what kind of mother was I if I couldn’t feed my baby?
Whenever I am giving advice to a nursing student, or a brand new nurse, I tell them the thing that has always saved me in my career. That no matter how dumb the question or how silly the action-no matter how afraid you are, you always, always put the well-being of your patient first. If you do that, you will always be ok, and in the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or how you are perceived.
And so that’s what I did. I forced myself to take the fear out of my decision, and then all that was left was the knowledge that letting go of breastfeeding was the best thing for my baby.
Because here’s what I realized about breastmilk. It’s amazing, it’s perfectly formulated for a baby and miraculously produced by a woman’s body, but it’s not the answer to every question. It’s not the solution to every problem.
And if the main, glaring reason that I didn’t want to give up something that was not helping my child was that I didn’t want to be a failure, then that simply wasn’t enough reason to continue.
Maybe I could have persisted, maybe I could have tried harder, but for me, the mental exhaustion of berating myself day in and day out was taking more of a toll on me that anything should be allowed to.
So I let go. I started by supplementing formula, and eventually, I weaned him from breastfeeding completely at 9 months.
Immediately, it was like I was coming up from drowning; I took a huge, rejuvenating gulp of fresh air and breathed easy for the first time in months.
He began gaining weight rapidly, and almost immediately stopped spitting up. Whether it was the formula that helped, or just the fact that he grew out of it, I’ll never know. And I don’t care. All that mattered was that my baby was healthy.
A lot of moms talk about their last nursing session, how bittersweet and how memorable it was.
I don’t remember the last time I nursed. What I do remember is that nothing really changed. I snuggled Seb and helped him hold the bottle instead of placing him to my chest, and while the tiny physical space between us made my heart ache a few times, it was quickly overwhelmingly overshadowed by the peace of seeing him rapidly gain weight and become a more cheerful, healthy baby.
This month as mothers nationwide have celebrated breastfeeding and shared their stories, I have been drinking it all in, and sitting quietly with mine, remembering.
If you breastfeed, I want you to know you’re a hero. It’s so damn hard and exhausting and all-consuming in a way that no one can understand until they’ve done it.
It’s selfless and patient and I just want you to know that as a mom, I see and acknowledge how hard it is, and you are doing amazing.
But no matter what, I want you you to know there is no right answer. Nursing, pumping, bottle feeding, formula, donor breast milk, a combination of all or some- it does not matter.
Whether your nursing journey lasts 2 minutes or 2 years- it does not matter.
At the end of the day, all a baby wants is a full tummy and arms to hold them, and how we do the rest is up to each of us.