In Which My Third Baby Is Formula Fed

It’s 2 am and my baby, Molly, stirs in the bassinet next to me.  I pick her up and walk out to the kitchen, where I scoop formula into a bottle and shake it up before popping it in her mouth.  It’s become routine, but it still invokes a little sadness in me….it’s certainly something I never expected to be doing.

You see, I’m one of those moms who really, truly loves breastfeeding.  I had a lot of nursing struggles in the beginning with both of my first two babies, but I pushed through and a few months in it became easy.  I loved being able to feed my baby anytime, anywhere with this amazing super milk made just for them.  I loved the little sounds they made and the way they looked in their milk drunk coma.  I nursed my baby while hiking and felt like super mom, and I could pump out milk like a boss.  Even when my second baby bit me so hard that I couldn’t nurse on that side for over a week, we kept going, and I nursed her until 18 months.

So as this sweet little third baby of mine grew inside of me, nursing was one of the things I most looked forward to.  When she was born, she latched on right away, and I was so thankful.  Things continued to go great…at first.

But then that changed.  My milk supply came in and, just like with my other two, I became engorged.  My baby started struggling to latch.  My second baby had the same thing happen and I ended up pumping and giving her a bottle, which I regretted because she wouldn’t nurse for a week and a half after that.  I wasn’t going to risk that this time, so I kept pushing through.  For whatever reason, my milk supply tanked overnight.  Molly started screaming every time she’d try to nurse and my milk took forever to let down.  It stressed me out and everything got worse.   I could tell I wasn’t full, even after going several hours without nursing.  I’d pump and only get dribbles out [side note: I know pumping isn’t always an indicator of milk supply, but it always has been for me in the past].  Every feeding became a battle, with her popping on and off for 30 minutes, screaming the whole time, until my milk would finally let down a little or she’d get tired…I could never tell which.  I would have to send my other kids out of the room each time because they only stressed me out more.

I tried everything I knew to try to fix things.  I ate all the right foods, did lots of skin-to-skin, and quoted Scripture to try to decrease my anxiety.  And I prayed…oh did I pray.  I begged God to make my milk come back. But things only went from bad to worse.  Her diaper count started to drop, and her screaming cry became more hoarse.  Everyone in the house was getting very little sleep, and between that and all the crazy hormones, I felt like I was losing my sanity.  I’d snap at the kids if they even came near while I was trying to nurse.  I just knew in my heart that this wasn’t working and she wasn’t getting enough.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came one night when my three-year-old came in after Molly finally started nursing (after 30 min of screaming) and sat next to me.  She was visibly upset, and after probing her she said that she didn’t like the baby screaming.  I looked at her little face and realized that this battle was creating as much anxiety in her as it was me.  I knew then that this wasn’t healthy for anybody.  My kids needed a sane mom, Molly needed to eat, and I didn’t need my older two to resent the new baby.  At a week and a half old, as tears streamed down my face, I gave her her first bottle.  I watched as she guzzled it down, satisfied for the first time in days.

Suddenly she became the happiest, most content baby.  She started to put on weight and thrive.  Everybody started getting more sleep and anxiety levels went down.   The strangest thing happened, and I was actually able to enjoy my baby–and to enjoy feeding her–for the first time.  My older two started enjoying her again.  It was obviously the right decision for our family.

But, if I’m honest, I still struggled.  For awhile I cried every time I mixed up a bottle.  I worried that I wasn’t giving her the best start. I wanted to give Molly the same chance as my other two.  I wanter her to be just as healthy, just as well fed, etc.   I grieved the loss of all those special times breastfeeding.  Every social media post about breastfeeding caused a pang in my heart.  And I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  The first times I went into public, I dreaded somebody seeing me shake up a bottle.  I put off telling even close friends what was going on.  I knew in my heart I was doing what was best for Molly and our family, but that didn’t mean I didn’t wish things were different.

I feel such a connection now to other moms who can’t breastfeed.  For the first time, I really understand.  I understand the disappointment and frustration.  I understand the worries about being judged.    I understand the grief.  It’s very real and very true.

Now at 6 weeks postpartum, I’m able to pump about 2 bottles out a day, and for the rest she gets formula.  We’re in a routine and I’m okay with things for the most part.  We found a formula that she does very well on, and each new little fat roll comforts my heart.

Part of me didn’t want to share all this because, frankly, it’s very personal and nobody else’s business.  But then I realized that I needed to share my story for the sake of all the other moms like me.

Breastfeeding is an amazing, beautiful thing…but I’ve come to realize how quickly it can become an idol.  It certainly had become so to me.  I was relying on it to keep my kids healthy and allergy free.  I was sacrificing everything else for its sake.  In many ways, I was viewing breastfeeding as the epitome of mothering a baby.  What I wasn’t seeing was that breastfeeding is just one piece of the puzzle.  There are so many other parts to motherhood that I was missing.  I was missing out on the joy of this newborn stage.  I was missing out on the bonding as a new family of 5.    And I was missing out on my other two children, who were needing a present, sane mom just as much as the baby was.

And formula feeding doesn’t mean I’m missing out on all of the other beautiful parts of the baby stage.  I babywear her a lot, the same way I wore my other babies.  I still snuggle her and hold her close.  When I feed her, we stare into each other’s eyes the same way I would if I was nursing.  She sleeps right next to me in her bassinet.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing.  We need to normalize it.  We need to support new moms struggling to breastfeed, and we need to encourage moms to persevere and try hard to get it to work.  But we also need to support moms who have tried and can’t make it work.  They shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed or less of a mother, or like they just didn’t try hard enough or know enough.  I can tell you from experience that what I didn’t need was another well-meaning person with a suggestion on how to increase my milk supply.  What I needed were the friends who recognized the tough decision I made and cheered me on in it.  I needed the people who told me I was doing a good job for doing what was best for my baby.

If breastfeeding came easy for you, be thankful and don’t judge those moms for whom it didn’t.  When you see a mom shaking  up a bottle of formula, don’t make assumptions, and don’t feel superior.  Don’t make a comment about how much easier bottle feeding is.  Instead, smile at her and say, “Good for you, feeding your baby!” Chances are, bottle feeding her baby is actually one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

And if you’re like me, and haven’t been able to breastfeed your baby for whatever reason…take heart.  It’s okay to feel a little sad, but just know that you are doing an amazing job, Mama.  You are feeding and nourishing your baby.  You are caring for them the way they need you to.  There’s nothing faulty about you and you didn’t do anything wrong.  Feeding your baby formula doesn’t make you any less of a mother than having a c-section does.  Don’t doubt yourself, and don’t let anyone else make you ashamed.  Love and feed that baby the way only you can.  Trust your instincts.  Stop focusing on the things you can’t change, and focus on the things you can (the way you mother, the foods you’ll feed him/her later on, etc).  Don’t let the inability to breastfeed steal these precious, fleeting moments from you.  All too soon that little baby won’t be a baby anymore, and it won’t matter a whit whether they were bottlefed or breastfed.  What will matter is that you loved them and cared for them to the best of your ability.  

I don’t think I’ll ever love bottle feeding.  I still mourn the loss of that special experience, and I will probably always wish I could have breastfed of her like I wanted.  But I am thankful for a healthy baby who is thriving on formula.  I’m thankful that I’m still able to pump out a little.  And I’m proud of myself for not sacrificing my baby’s health, our bond, my mental health, or my husband and other two children for the sake of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is best…if it works.  But if it doesn’t, fed truly is best.

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My sweet little bottle fed baby

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About Baby #3

As many of you know, a third sweet little one is growing inside of me.  I’ve been meaning to write something about this third baby pretty much since I found out I was pregnant…but somehow the words haven’t come.  With 28 weeks rapidly approaching on Monday, I thought that now was as good of a time as any to finally write about her.  But to do that, I have to go back to the beginning…before this baby was even a possibility in our minds.

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Things Moms Think (But Would Never Admit)

My kid is the cutest (or smartest or most beautiful)…you fill in the blank.

Your kid is more advanced developmentally than mine?  You’re probably exaggerating.

My baby looks tiny next to yours?  You must be feeding yours too much.

My baby is really chunky?  Yes sir, and I’m proud of it!

I could totally blame my indigestion on the baby and no one would ever know.

I’m trying to remember why I would have put the TV remote in the fridge.

I wonder if the other mothers’ bellies look like squishy biscuit dough?

Child, you are about to make me lose my mind.  But somehow I still love you anyway.

If the kids fall asleep in the car I’m totally stopping for a milkshake.

Just A Mom

I used to think it would be enough for me to be merely a stay-at-home mom.  I had grown up watching my intelligent, PhD holding mother spend her days folding laundry, cooking food, and bandaging scraped up knees.  For her, gone were the days of helping troubled families in the a116d-2013-03-15_11-15-22_890court system and bringing in decent money from her highly-esteemed career.  But she never seemed to mind.  In fact, she thrived and found the most purpose in those quiet days full of simple tasks.  I knew unwaveringly that I wanted to be just a mom…just like her.

The years passed and I became just that.  Yet, I was surrounded by friends and women who were more than just moms.  Women I respected.  Women I enjoyed being around.  Suddenly my confidence and surety wavered.  I began to feel less able and less important than these other women.  I felt like I could never join in and complain about having a messy house or not having enough hours to get everything done because, after all, they did what I did plus some.  They went to work all day and then had to deal with the laundry and cooking and housework.  Some even worked on schoolwork after their children went to bed.  I used to think I was smart, hard working, and highly educated, but amongst these busy, capable women I started to doubt myself.

There were women who talked about how they could never just sit home all day…how they had to be doing something.  And so I questioned myself.  Am I really that much of a homebody?  Do I really do so little?  Am I bored?  Couldn’t I juggle all of those things too?

But God.  Always but God.

That Still Small Voice began speaking to my heart.  I could do all those things…juggle all those things.  I am an intelligent, educated, hard-working woman.  I am just as capable, but in this season of life, I choose something different.  I choose to not juggle all those things and do all those things. Right now, I choose to be just a mommy and just a homemaker.

Mamas who are just mamas: don’t doubt yourselves.  Don’t question your worth or value or abilities.  Remember that, like me, you chose this path.  You chose to find your purpose and fulfillment in this season not in being able to do it all or be all things to all people, but instead in the small little tasks that come along with being “just a mom”.  I know that one day when our kids are all grown up and gone, we will be glad that we sacrificed so much for those extra minutes with our babes.  We will be thankful that we got the chance to be just moms…and that we took it.  

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

“Song for a Fifth Child” by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

justamom