My name is Alexa, and I cannot breastfeed.
Sounds a bit like an opening to a help group, right? That’s just how guilty breastfeeding can make a momma feel. My journey through breastfeeding has been an emotional fiasco. Yes, that bad. I never really see anyone talk about the “other” side to breastfeeding, the downside. So I’m going to do my best to pour it all out there for the mommas who, like me, simply cannot breastfeed.
Where to begin? My first pregnancy. From the moment I walked into the doctor’s office for my first maternity check-up the breastfeeding ads began to jump at me. As my doctor gave me the run-down for a first time mother, breastfeeding seemed to be the biggest topic of conversation. They gave me pamphlet after pamphlet about the nutritional benefits, and diagrams of different feeding positions and a correct latch. I researched top-rated books for everything there was to know about breastfeeding and spent a great part of my pregnancy learning all about this miracle baby food. Towards the last few weeks with my first baby bump I watched my breasts grow and I filled with excitement because I “knew” my milk was coming in.
My sweet boy Leo was born, and as you mommas know, they shove these babies onto your breast in just under a few minutes. Cue the excruciating pain. That first latch is a feeling I will never forget. Pain shot through my body so fast, it was as if electricity just ran through my bones. My body actually shook from the unexpected pain. And throughout our hospital stay, time after time I called in the lactation specialist and time after time she said Leo’s latch looked wonderful and that the pain would soon subside.
Once we were home it only got worse. By day four my nipple was entirely raw. By day six, the scab had hardened and it bled every time Leo tried to nurse. Finally, by the second week, the scab was so brutal it would hurt his delicate little mouth just to attempt a latch. He would lash around in frustration and shake his head looking for anything but that scab. So where was my breaking point? The day Leo, at less than three weeks old, went eight hours without a drop of milk. He refused to latch and I really couldn’t blame him.
Postpartum had taken over me. I was angry, I was frustrated, and I was in denial. My husband (then-boyfriend) called my mother over to try to talk me down. The hospital had sent us home with samples of Enfamil for backup, but the thought of using them felt like total failure. My mind skimmed through the hundreds of pages I had read about the benefits of breastmilk and the likelihood of a bottle ruining his breast latch. I was in tears when my husband finally put his foot down and fed my son the formula, which is now the greatest dad-call he has ever made. But I disappeared to our bedroom, postpartum rage and all.
I gave myself one day to be sad, to mourn the loss of this “miraculous bond” women had told me about. I gave myself one day to maneuver past the postpartum emotions that were attacking me. And when the sun came up the next day, relief had taken its place. I was relieved that I didn’t have to watch Leo lash around in frustration from a scabbed nipple. Relieved that I didn’t have to feel the electric pain of a fresh latch. Relieved that I didn’t have to fear our next feeding and hope to God it would somehow get better.
Four years later Leo is a smart, handsome, adventurous little boy. He hasn’t suffered from the lack of breastmilk he experienced, even though the pressure of breastfeeding made me think he would. Enfamil has done him quite well. There’s a reason formula is out there, and rather than hating on it, I am thankful it saved my sweet boy from an empty belly.
Fast-forward to my second pregnancy with my girl Ava. My attitude was right where it should’ve been with her. I ordered a breast pump in hopes that it would help my chances of success, but every time someone asked me if I planned to breastfeed I said, “I’m going to give it my best shot, and that’s that.” And I truly meant it, I hoped for success but I knew another Enfamil baby would be perfectly fine. I gathered up milk-boosting recipes, I purchased a hands-free pump bra, I even printed out a pumping schedule for maximum production. If I did fail, I wanted to walk away knowing I really gave it my all.
This time around, my breastfeeding ability only got worse. I let Ava latch directly during our hospital stay. The same electric pain passed through me every time she nursed, but I kept dreaming of a successful pump. When we brought her home I whipped that pump out with massive excitement. For three days I pumped for Ava, each breast only producing about two ounces each. With every pump I prayed for another ounce, heck even another half-ounce would’ve been great, but it never happened. I researched how many days it took various mommas to get their milk supply and I kept thinking, “Maybe tomorrow.”
And then it happened. The scab cracked, and for three days straight I pumped bright red blood straight into the bottles of Ava’s golden miracle food. That last night I developed a severe fever, and throughout the night my body shook and sweat ferociously. My breasts were hard as rocks, I felt dizzy and even my eyesight became fuzzy. Infection was coming and I knew it was time to call it. My mom and my husband waited for the same frustration that had taken over me the last time. And while I did retreat to my room and shed a few tears, it was only a few minutes until that same relief washed over me. I took four steamy hot showers that day in hopes of getting the little milk I did have out so I could finally shut the door on my breastfeeding journey.
My second born is another bottle baby, and at six-months old she is the sweetest little baby doll I have ever known. She doesn’t suffer from the lack of breastmilk and she certainly doesn’t crave anything other than a big, fat formula-filled bottle.
I gave breastfeeding my very best shot. I tried until I physically couldn’t anymore. Four years ago, people would ask me if I was breastfeeding and I would look away and bow my head in embarrassment. I would see designated nursing rooms and shame would instantly wash over me. Today, when people ask I merely shake it off. They don’t know my story, and that’s ok with me. If you don’t know my story, you might immediately look down on me, wonder why in the world I wouldn’t do something so beautiful for my own children. You wouldn’t know the kind of toll breastfeeding has taken on me. So lighten up fellow mommas, don’t be so quick to judge and make eyes at the mom measuring out scoops of formula.
I cannot say it enough, I commend the breastfeeding mommas majorly. In my eyes, you are a special breed of angelic mommies. You have a gift I have yearned for, a bond I haven’t had the chance to experience. But I truly believe that it’s a God-given talent, either you have it or you don’t. Either you’re meant for it or you’re not.
I have read the terrible stories of starving babies. I have seen new moms cry in frustration after breastfeeding disappointment. And I have even watched myself waste my first month of motherhood sad and disheartened from my breastfeeding catastrophe
So I want the moms who can’t, the moms like me, to hear me loud and clear. We have not failed. If their bellies are full and their smiles are bright, we have succeeded as their momma. It doesn’t matter how it happened, it matters that it did. The pressure to breastfeed is so loud and so harsh that it has led babies to go without. You may feel like they won’t be as smart or as strong or as healthy as a breastfed baby, I know it ran through my mind a time or two, but that is simply not the case. I want to encourage mothers to give it their best shot and find every bit of the knowledge that’s out there to be successful. If it works, you are beyond blessed. If it doesn’t work, find a soft pink bottle with a sweet little butterfly, enjoy those bottle feedings and keep your head up. Through this I have learned that breastfeeding does not define you as a mother, and the happiness of you and your children is what matters most. Full bellies, bright smiles.