Like all moms, I had fantasies of the kind I’d be when it was finally my turn to give birth. I wanted an epidural-assisted natural birth. I wanted to breastfeed until my first born was one. I knew I could do it. I witnessed many of my friends do this, and all of the Lamaze class teachers trained me pre-birth. I believed I was ready. That was until my emergency c-section made my experience 100% opposite of what I dreamed, and I had no choice but to formula feed my first born.
My expectations for myself stemmed from my amazing friends’ experiences. It did not help that my beautiful best friends were birthing goddesses put on this earth to squeeze out perfect babies naturally and have them latch perfectly without missing a beat. They made breastfeeding look beautiful and second nature. I know now they were fighting their own battles, but from my perspective, this was the only way to mother well.
When my first born made his appearance on this earth, he was six days late and he necessitated an emergency C-section. It was 100 degrees and many women went into labor the day my water finally broke.The hospital had to call in extra help, and the nurses were not thrilled to come in on this hot July night. That set the tone for the next 24 hours. Although my wonderful doctor tried to help my little guy come naturally, my little dude (who ended up not being so little in the shoulder department) had other ideas.
At hour 22, they decided to take him out surgically. Strike one for my birth plan. Once he finally came screaming into existence, he was hungry and tired and mad. Instead of holding him right after birth, I waited over two hours to hold him. Once we reunited, my thoughts went crazy. Now what? I was so tired. Things seemed to be falling apart quickly, and so much seemed out of my control.
The lactation consultant went to work coaching me with breastfeeding. We tried for an hour, and he wouldn’t latch. He screamed each time, getting hungrier by the second. She grabbed and pushed and deformed my breasts to get my baby to latch, to no avail. The consultant finally caved and gave him a supplement of formula. His anger calmed and so did I. I was in the hospital for four days after his birth, and each day they tried again and again, hour after hour, to get him to latch, and he wouldn’t. As a new mom, I was racking up the failures.
My husband and I took him home, and we tried all of the tactics we learned. Feeding hadn’t gone well at all with assistance, and now everything was up to us. He was so hungry and I was so tired and disappointed in myself. So many people in my life had done this before me. Why was I failing? Strike two of my birth plan. Mom guilt came in like a freight train. My lactation consultants told me breastfeeding would work, I just had to persevere. Whether they meant to or not, they made me feel like I was depriving my baby of the nutrients he needed to thrive and live his healthiest life. Postpartum depression was barreling in, and I had no idea what to do. Each feeding attempt became a negative experience: him, screaming in frustration and me, crying because I couldn’t measure up to the mother I thought I’d be. And then my beautiful mother called me. In the fogginess of the first week home with my first baby, my mother gave me clarity.
Permission to give formula
She asked me what was the major cause of my stress. I explained my failures. I explained my obliterated birth plan and how terribly the feeding attempts made me and my son feel. She said, “If the main cause of your stress is trying to breastfeed and failing each time, why don’t you just feed him formula? That’s why they make formula, Tess.” It was like a gong was hit, and someone outside of myself was giving me permission to try this route with my newborn. It sounds silly, but I could feel the weight lift off of my shoulders. No one up to that point made that option a viable one. No one had even let bottle feeding enter as an acceptable permanent solution to the feeding stress.
After this reset, I gave him his first full bottle and cradled my newborn, calmly for the first time. I watched him look up at me and our eyes connected peacefully. THIS was what I was waiting for. THIS was the calm he and I craved. After that, we solely formula fed my first born. Currently, he is the healthiest 13-year-old out there. He’s almost a foot taller than I am, and he’s a happy kid. I’m not sure my mother knows the gift she gave me that day, but to this day, I still feel the relief.
We went on to have two more children. Their births were not the least bit stressed or emergency-laden, and I breast fed both of them like a champ for the first month or so. When my middle was a week old, I suffered a blood clot, which pushed us to formula feed him due to hospitalization. All three of my children were primarily formula fed, and I would like to report that they are thriving humans, and we had no problem bonding.
It’s good to have choices
The times when I was able to breastfeed were so magical. There is nothing like that feeling, and I think any mother who breastfeeds is a hero. From my perspective, it is one of the most beautiful things to see between a mother and child. However, I will never again beat myself up for my choices. The minute those babies enter the world, moms are filled with guilt about every decision they make. Knowing that every mother is doing the best she can to take care of her child should be enough. My family is so thankful to live in a country where there are multiple ways to feed babies. Formula saved my sanity, and my babies were full and happy.