When I had my first child, I was like so many other moms. I had a beautiful idea in my head of what breastfeeding would be like. I would nurse my perfect, calm newborn while I looked lovingly into his eyes. For some moms, I think this absolutely might be the case…but for me it was far different. There were tears. So may tears, and mostly from me. Why did it hurt so bad? Would it always be so painful? Why can’t I do the most natural thing in the world?
I read books, I talked to friends and family members who nursed their babies, I talked to a lactation specialist, but ultimately my son and I struggled for eleven long weeks before I decided to stop nursing and began giving him formula. Later, we learned that my son Josey had a problem with his neck that, combined with my inexperience and frustration, caused him to latch poorly.
Flash forward four and a half years and I was holding another tiny baby boy. I was determined to nurse him, but this time I just couldn’t pull it together emotionally. I had lost our triplets two years earlier, and although I finally had the beautiful rainbow baby we had prayed so hard for, I was flooded with anxiety and grief. What if something bad happened? Would we lose Gavin too? I loved him so very much, but wanted his brothers to be there also.
I often thought about the day after we lost our boys and I sat in the hospital with my milk coming in and no babies to nurse. All I had wanted since then was a chance to nurse a baby, but I decided my emotional state had to improve to be the best mom I could be. For me, the emotional roller coaster of nursing was just too much at the time. I can still remember standing in the grocery store buying formula when Gavin was only eight days old. I felt like a complete failure. Frantically, I called my sister so she could reassure me that I wasn’t the worst mom on the planet.
Then there was Parker Jack. The baby who came into this world ready to eat, and hasn’t stopped since. He latched perfectly and we never looked back. I nursed him for sixteen awesome months. I worked full-time, but pumped every day and he never had a drop of formula. I finally got the nursing experience I had dreamed about.
Then just like that…he was ready to wean. He had nursed only at night for weeks, but I think it was more about my need to have that closeness than his need to nurse that kept us going. I just didn’t want it to end. He is most likely the last baby I will give birth to, the last baby I will nourish with my body, and the last baby I will hold close at 2 a.m. It broke my heart the first time I went to nurse him and instead, he went to the kitchen and pointed for his cup.
On this past Thanksgiving I held him close and nursed him one last time. The next night, I just kissed him gently and put him to bed. As I sat down to watch tv, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. For the first time in over 480 nights, he wasn’t relying on my milk to fall asleep. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about all the beautiful moments we’d shared. I am so thankful for each and every one of them.
My nursing story wasn’t one I would have predicted. There were many ups and downs, but in the end my husband and I have three beautiful boys. Whether they were fed breastmilk or formula, they are all happy and healthy. My love for them or success as a mom won’t be measured in the amount of milk I provided to them, but by the fact that I met their every need to the best of my ability.
No matter what your breastfeeding or formula feeding journey looks like, do what is best for you and your baby. There are valid reasons for nursing, and valid reasons for going another route. So if you’re the mom nursing in public, or the mom mixing up a bottle of formula, just know that there won’t be any judgement from me…I’ve been both of those moms before.