Who knew breastfeeding would be such a b!#@h
“I don’t care!”
Here I was totally losing my cool after having breezed - or rather breathed - through giving birth. But breastfeeding was another beast, a beast that had turned me into an angry and spiteful woman: “Let’s just call it off! I quit! I don’t care if we have to give him formula!”
My husband looked at me helplessly: “We can do both. Let me give him some formula so you can have some rest, and then you can breastfeed him later.”
“No! This is not working! I don’t have enough milk!”
“You know, if you can tell your body that it is capable of making enough milk…. you did so well with birth… can’t you apply positive thinking the way you usually do?”
“No! I don’t want to think positively, I just want to quit!” I glared at him. Hurting inside, I just wanted him to hurt at least as badly as I was. Even though I knew that I wasn’t really going to quit, I wanted him to suffer nonetheless.
We had this exchange every few days while I tried to wean the little one off the formula we had been giving him because he had had low blood sugar after birth and had suffered from jaundice. Now my goal was to gradually reduce the amount of formula we were giving him in the hopes that my milk supply would step up to allow me to breastfeed exclusively.
Instead, my mood became darker and darker and my fits became ever more heated and culminated the day when my husband ended up giving the boy twice as much formula than we had ever given him before because the little one didn’t stop crying. I couldn’t believe it. Despite my efforts, my milk supply seemed to be getting less instead of more!
I was desperate. I felt like such a failure, reduced to being an ill-functioning milk machine. I shoved the little one into my husband arms and sat on the balcony. I knew I had to start being honest with myself in order to stop torturing myself and my husband.
What was I raging about or against? I knew that ideally I had wanted to breastfeed, but giving formula wasn’t the end of the world. Not being the food source actually had some benefits. And I wasn’t militant about breastfeeding - I didn’t judge anyone who chose not to or couldn’t breastfeed. Why was I so upset at the thought of potentially having to give it up? I shouldn’t be… Right? Right?
Oh crap I care!
The truth started to emerge as I was getting to the bottom of my rage: I didn’t think that I should care if breastfeeding failed. Because I was cool with other people formula-feeding their babies, I should be cool with formula-feeding my child. But I wasn’t! I wanted to cry and wail at the idea of having to give it up. And I realised that I’d have to go through quite some grieving process if I were unable to breastfeed.
My anger was covering up my urge to cry. Me shouting that I didn’t care was covering up how much I actually did care. By not caring, I was hoping to avoid any pain in case the breastfeeding was indeed not working. But who was I kidding. This was all pretence. I did care, and I was already hurting, and I was hurting my husband as well.
While my rational mind was telling me that adding formula to my baby’s diet - or not breastfeeding at all - would not be the end of the world and came with its own set of perks, my heart was clinging to the idea of exclusively breastfeeding my baby. I couldn’t even tell why that was the case. One, I wasn’t enamoured with the sensation of the little one sucking on my breast. Two, when I gave the little one the bottle, we had even better eye contact than when he was on my boob. Three, knowing how much he drank from the bottle, gave my data-addicted brain peace of mind. Four, my husband being able to also feed him would allow me to sleep more than one hour at a time. And yet, something in me was longing to be able to breastfeed my child and that something wouldn’t be reasoned with.
Fierceness and vulnerability - helping me to do the insane and inhumane
I resurfaced from the balcony - no longer too cool to care, humbled by my admittance and ready for another round in the breastfeeding battle. My new game plan combined fierceness and vulnerability:
I was going to fight for my wish to breastfeed exclusively; I was going to try and follow the insane sounding methods to get my supply up. And when it was all becoming too much, I would allow myself to cry in despair - because I cared. And if breastfeeding wasn’t in the cards for me, then I would allow myself to grieve - because I cared.
Somehow, allowing myself to be vulnerable and admitting my emotional attachment to myself and to my husband gave me new strength to carry through and follow a regiment that I had previously dubbed insane and inhumane: I gave up sleep and subjected my body either to the little one’s hungry mouth or to the breast pump’s monotonous suction - around the clock with little to no break. Knowing that I would allow myself to cry if this was all getting too much, somehow eliminated the need to cry, the need to suppress my tears with anger, the need to hurt my husband in order to avoid feeling my own hurt.
Weeks later: the little one hasn’t had formula in a while and when he cries 10 minutes after a feed, I don’t instantly feel like I’m not producing enough milk. Most of the time, I trust that I can nourish my child and that the little one might just be bored, gassy, tired, poopy, hot.
Being honest with myself, I was able to regain my humanity (vs. feeling like a faulty production line) and I’m a much happier woman, mother, and partner for it.
Where are you acting irrationally? Where might you be caring more than you'd like to admit?