I wish I would have come up with this catch phrase but I have to give credit to where I first saw it, on the instagram account of my friend uplifeofemmyjoy. This mama is a wonderful and loving mama to her beautiful baby girl. I had the privilege of meeting their family back in March and have been encouraged by her numerous times. Anyway, I read it first on her IG account last week during breastfeeding awareness week and it got me to thinking about my own feeding journey and how far I have come since my first baby almost 5 years ago.
My breastfeeding relationship with my oldest had a rocky start but ran strong up until I got pregnant with our middle daughter. With my oldest, I didn’t have much of a schedule to work around or other kids to mind. We worked at it every day, all day. And all night. She wasn’t very efficient at it, especially in the beginning, but I didn’t care. It was convenient and everything I had read about bf was so positive. The bonding relationship that happens between you and your baby as well as the excellent nutrition your baby receives from it. Friends shared with me about the moments they spent with their babies nursing them for months on end, sitting in their glider chairs, bonding. On the other side, I also had a couple of friends who warned me of the hard that comes with it, but I naively entered into it shaking my head at the discouragement I felt I was receiving. I realized how right they were in those early days where things were not working just how the books and articles said or the first time I got mastitis and was so sick I could hardly get out of bed without my husband’s help. Then of course there are the embarrassing moments people forget to mention including things like baby coming unlatched as you spray milk into the baby’s carseat of the mum you don’t know sitting next you in the first session of the new mum’s group in London. There were so many pros though that outweighed the hard for me, I stayed persistence even in those moments I wanted to throw in the towel. But I think my mindset at that point in my life was that nursing was the way to go. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of not nursing, and had absolutely no concept of all of the millions of reasons why sometimes it’s just not possible. I knew so little back in those early days of motherhood.
My second babe was even better at nursing. I was a second time mom, I felt like I knew more or less what to do and once we were past the short learning curve, we had one of the most beautiful relationships. Our bonding time during the hours spent nursing are some of my favorite moments from her babyhood. The moments of tenderly gazing into her eye as my body provided the nourishment she needed in order to grow. She was more efficient at it than my oldest which made for quicker sessions as she grew. It was magical. I again stood firm on my breast is best podium in my own mind.
Enter, third child here, where everything I thought I knew and held tightly to fell out the window. More like jumped out the window making an incredibly hard bang on the ground leaving this mama heart broken and guilty, for months.
A couple of weeks prior to Bernadette’s arrival, my friends gathered together to celebrate. They brought me the most thoughtful gifts of little outfits for her but also items for me, knowing there was so much unknown surrounding her birth. There was no way to know the length of hospital stay until she was here. Among their gifts were the most beautiful diaper bag stuffed with all kinds of reading material and creative coloring for me to fill my hours spent in the NICU and cards of encouragement beautifully written with verses to fix my mind on. Just before I opened those gifts, my friends gathered around me to pray over Bernadette and her labor and delivery. I was asked to write down a list of things to pray for. They each took a slip of paper that I had scribbled some of my deepest fears on and they prayed for them. Tears poured down my face as I listened to them plead on my behalf. One friend in particular interceded for me on the area of nursing.
I will never forget the words she prayed. She asked the Lord to bless that for me, but she also said that if I was not able to nurse for one reason or another that the Lord would give me the strength to make it through. That His grace would pour over my heart and that I would know that it was ok if I wasn’t able to feed her the way I thought was best. I cried. Her words were the Lord’s grace. He knew that my mama heart needed to hear that a couple of weeks before welcoming my baby girl as He was preparing me for things yet to come.
I did everything I could to nurse Bernadette. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Her heart conditions were so severe. She was losing weight rapidly in the early days. She had just started barely gaining weight when we took her in to see the cardiologist at a week old and discovered she had another heart defect that was undiscoverable in the fetal echoes. My heart breaking, I continued to try. Literally day and night. Hour after hour after hour.
We had moments of success and I thank the Lord for those. I was told when I was pregnant with her it would NEVER happen. By many people. Down Syndrome means low muscle tone, which means no nursing, or so “they” said. I fought hard to nurse and promised I wouldn’t go down without a fight. But at that first appointment, we were told that she was burning more calories nursing because of her heart. She was burning more than a baby without CHD (congenital heart disease). And the cardiologist wanted her to be as strong as possible for her first surgery she would have in a week and a half. She needed formula. She needed extra calories without the added effort.
Crushed. My heart ached as I began my pumping career. Pumping every couple of hours, not getting as much as I was hoping for and bottle feeding with added formula. As a mom, you do anything for your kids. Anything. I pumped milk for baby girl for 6 1/2 months. My hope had been that if I kept up long enough I would someday be able to nurse her after heart surgeries.
She had a nasal gastric tube placed after her first heart surgery. She couldn’t take food by mouth. There was risk of aspiration because of the high respiratory support she was receiving. I now was the mom of a tubie baby. Something I never had planned for. And in that tube, she was getting pumped milk, but also formula. She wasn’t thriving. She wasn’t gaining the weight she needed to gain. Her heart was sick.
At the six month mark, I just couldn’t take the schedule anymore. I was pumping for 30 minutes each time and hardly producing milk. I was stressed beyond stressed. My other girls needed me and Bernadette needed me. I made the decision it was time to stop and go to full time formula. In her tube.
It was a hard decision I cried over for weeks. I mourned the loss of the nursing relationship I though I was going to have and the idea of my baby being formula fed. I had to do what was best for all of us.
All of this to say…
I am sorry for being that mom on the soapbox. There are circumstances far beyond our control that don’t allow us to do certain things we had planned. There are decisions we all need to make that enable us to be the best mom we can be for our kids. It’s not easy to make those decisions. I know that now. As a mom who has exclusively nursed, exclusively pumped, tube fed, and formula fed, and now bottles, be encouraged that the decision you are making is the best one for your family and your baby. A friend reminded me in those days of weaning from pumping that that is not what defines me as mom. But it can be easy to think that way, right?
And the bonding I was so worried I wouldn’t have because I wasn’t nursing? Bernadette and I have one of the greatest and strongest bonds. It’s different than my other girls for sure. Not that my bond with them is any less. It’s just different. Weeks spent by her bedside at the hospital, hours spent going to and from doctor’s appointments and spent in the waiting rooms, tube weaning… We have an incredible bond that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
And in the end, what I have learned through our feeding journey is summed up by this. Fed is best.