I was determined to exclusively breastfeed Stella for at least 6 months. I read so many books and articles on breastfeeding, joined online breastfeeding support groups, watched countless youtube videos. I hired a lactation consultant to come to our house. I bought nipple creams, breast pads, nursing covers. I drank just about every single lactation supplement in the market. I have not one, but two, nursing pumps, one for the home, and a portable one for when I’m out and about. I approached breastfeeding with almost military precision. Pump every 2 hours, round the clock. I was determined to reach my goal. And I almost did.
Just two weeks shy of my goal, I fed Stella a bottle of formula. Just like that, I had failed my first parenting goal. There were many reasons, none of which seem relevant now. For a time I was convinced that failing this would mean failing other parenting goals as well: how to be polite, to be kind, to work hard, to have grit and tenacity. How to achieve one’s goals, for that matter. It was hard not to wallow in melodrama. My daughter was not going to be as smart as the other kids! She will have a lifetime of health issues that she wouldn’t have otherwise if only I’d exclusively breastfed her! The list was endless. Then there was the sense of guilty and betrayal, too. I felt betrayed by my own body. My body, who had carried and sustained this child for nine months, just couldn’t nourish her as she deserved to be nourished. I resented it and I resented resenting it.
It took one mom in one of my online mommy support groups to make me feel that I finally had permission to cut myself some slack. I was telling this mom, a woman I happen to admire, about my various breastfeeding problems. She said ‘I started feeding my baby formula weeks ago. I’m not going to kill myself just to breastfeed.’
It was as if a lightbulb had switched on in my head. “Yes!” I said. “Sometimes I just wanna say, f**k this s**t!” We both laughed, me somewhat bitterly. She was absolutely right though. While I have absolutely no regrets, there just came a point when you say, I can’t do this sh*t no more. Why it took a fearless, unapologetic mom to make me feel like I too, can quit apologizing for my failure and learn to just do what needs to be done, god only knows.
I didn’t give up immediately, but I did stop getting up in the middle of the night for pumping sessions. I spent time with my daughter as soon as I got home instead of pumping. I stopped wanting to kick myself whenever I forgot to store my “liquid gold” properly. I Most importantly, I let go of the guilt. I suppose if I had just applied myself more, pushed myself harder, perhaps I would have made it to my goal. Or perhaps not. I would never know now. When the time came for me to surrender and admit defeat, the one consuelo I told myself is that there is so much more to parenting than breastfeeding. It stung, but if I let guilt consume me, I’d only be setting myself up to fail at other things.
I still think breastfeeding is the best option for babies. Stella will be 7 months in a few days and I still continue to breastfeed her, albeit I now also mix feed with formula. But I have forgiven myself for using formula and I wish all moms who feel guilt about using formula do, too.