At Times, Letting Go of Perfection Is the Perfect Decision
All of the items I own are covered with breast milk; it’s on my clothes, bedsheets, even my phone. Its subtle sweetness occasionally attracts ants in the same way it appeals to my baby.
I find the human body amazing for producing this miracle substance hailed for its ability to sustain and nourish. It’s no surprise that mothers lovingly refer to it as “liquid gold.”
Before my 3-week-old daughter Cittie was born, I was determined that I would exclusively breastfeed. Research on the benefits of breastfeeding was convincing. I believed that it was the best choice for her health and well-being. My husband, Jared, and I work from home, which makes breastfeeding a convenient choice, too.
Then the real-world problems set in. My breasts seemed to be dry at first and Cittie cried a lot. I conducted several Google searches. I knew I was producing colostrum, but my baby continued to cry, and sleep deprivation and unfilled diapers caused us stress.
Finally, I caved in and hired a lactation consultant. It was one of the best decisions we made. We want to raise our child differently, so we were set on finding alternatives to the ways of previous generations, including formula feeding.
Our lactation consultant was confident she could solve our breastfeeding troubles by teaching me the proper way to latch. It turned out to be more complicated than I had thought. Following one frustrating session in which I struggled to get the positioning right, I broke down in tears. In desperation, I phoned our lactation consultant, begging for step-by-step instructions to put my already cranky baby on my breast. Feeding my baby became stressful for me; my heart broke when I heard her cry, and I knew I had to latch her on despite my incorrect technique, which was causing me a lot of pain.
That incident prompted Jared and me to let go of direct breastfeeding, at least until my nipples had healed. I began breast pumping instead.
Pumping became a sliver of light in the darkness; it gave me hope that, despite the challenges, I could still give my baby what I believed was the healthier choice for her.
Of course, pumping had its drawbacks. It was time-consuming. I was hooked up to my pump for most of the day. It was also tiring. I was exhausted by the time my last pumping session arrived, and yet I still had to wake up during the night to respond to my baby’s cries. I would often need to pump again at night if Cittie had consumed all of the stock of breast milk we had (we rarely had any surplus).
At some point, it became hard for me to get out of bed at night. Jared, despite his hemophilia and epilepsy, stepped in for those midnight wakings and caught up on sleep during the day. I worried about him because I knew a lack of sleep could have adverse effects on his brain.
It was a difficult routine. We tried to keep pumping and feeding according to our baby’s schedule, but we slipped up sometimes.
So, we turned to the unthinkable: a bottle of formula to make up for the times I couldn’t pump. Maybe Jared was incapacitated and wasn’t 100 percent, and I couldn’t handle everything on my own. Or perhaps I couldn’t get out of bed and had let a pumping session slip.
I do feel guilty admitting we occasionally use formula. I feel inadequate as a mother. I hear people’s voices in my head taunting me for choosing the easier route.
But I’ve realized that my child’s health depended upon my mental health. Sometimes the best decisions are those that are healthiest for your sanity. And if it means letting go of perfection, or at least that image of perfection in your head, by all means, let go.
Mixed feeding works for us now. And that’s OK. My husband and I both have limitations — we are merely doing the best we can in spite of them. The occasional bottle of formula keeps my child full and lets us sleep for a few minutes longer. For a person with a disability, sleep can be a huge deal. Expressed breast milk sustains our baby and makes her happy and healthy.
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