I dream of milk flowing from my breasts. I wake to find that in reality, the rivers have run dry. I’ve been writing this essay in my head in the middle of the night when I am feeding my baby for the past six months. Ever since the day my pump broke, and I knew I would fail at breastfeeding and possibly as a mother.
I never knew how emotionally involved, challenging, and draining motherhood could be. I knew that I would love my baby more than anything else in the world, but I didn’t really know what that would feel like or what that might entail. I didn’t know how devoted I would be to giving my baby the very best of everything because of this deep love. I didn’t understand how deeply those desires and how powerful that drive would be until she came.
I knew from multiple classes and just common sense that mother’s milk is the best for a baby. It gives them everything they need plus some. It’s made specifically for them. The mother’s body is an amazing thing. It produces exactly the amount they need, and it contains just the right amount of nutrients, vitamins, fats, everything even down to the exact amount and kind of antibodies. All so the baby can thrive, be healthy, and grow up to be big, strong, and even smart. I knew all of this, yet when it came down to it, I flunked. We flunked.
I knew I was losing it. I knew that she wasn’t getting enough; I wasn’t making enough; it wasn’t healthy enough. I didn’t know what was wrong exactly, but I was losing my supply. I knew that eventually it would be gone. I couldn’t stand the thought. I tried everything. Did I? Did I really try everything? Did I really try hard enough? If I didn’t, does that mean I don’t love my baby as much as I should? Because I couldn’t give her what she needs? Or did I, in fact, give her what she needed by losing my pride and finally filling her tummy. Finally making her happy. Finally making US happy.
People tell me this all the time. “Well at least formula is a lot better than it used to be.” And “It comes down to doing what’s best for the baby.” But why, then, can I not let it go? Why can’t I let it go like my husband told me to after multiple nights, maybe even a week or more of crying myself to sleep at night? “Just let it go, Leanna.” Why can’t I? Why does it still hurt every time someone sees me or hears about me feeding my baby formula and they ask “You don’t nurse?” It’s like a statement yet a question at the same time. Wondering why I don’t do like I should. Why don’t I do what’s best for my baby? And all I can give them are lame excuses. Actually it’s just what happened, and I did try, but when I explain it to someone else I feel like it wasn’t enough. Like there was more I could have and should have done. Like I just gave up. I know I used to judge people harshly, and I hate that it’s coming back at me. I remember watching girls in church mixing up a bottle for their baby and thinking that they thought they were too good to breastfeed or thinking that they probably just didn’t try. I remember wondering when I saw a mom pull out a bottle if it was pumped breast milk or formula. And I remember thinking that it should be breast milk or else they just don’t care.
I wish I knew what had happened. I wish I knew how I could have fixed it. I am afraid of it hurting my baby because I didn’t go longer. That I didn’t try harder. I’m afraid that she won’t grow up to be smart. That she won’t grow up to be strong, and it’ll be all my fault. I don’t want that guilt. I don’t want that guilt over all my babies, and if I get it right on the next try, I don’t want my first one to be the mistake child. I don’t want her siblings to pass her up academically, or even health wise because I just didn’t try hard enough. Because I just didn’t love her enough to keep trying. Or did I love her enough? Did I love her enough because I finally did what I thought was best. I filled her tummy.
It’s not so much that I fear for future, while I certainly do that, but it’s that I am her mother, yet I could not give her what she needed. I had never felt like such a failure as I did when we took her to her doctor’s appointment. She had lost too much weight, and I could see the “I told you so” look in my husband’s eyes. And he had told me so, on multiple occasions. He was always bringing her back to me just minutes after I had finished feeding her, saying “I think she’s still hungry.” And I would say “She can’t possibly be hungry. She just ate for an hour!” Then at night before we’d fall asleep, he’d quietly say “I don’t think you’re making enough milk.” He knew I would get angry. He had said it several times before, but I always dismissed him saying that my body knew what it was doing. My body would not let my child starve. Yet, in fact, it was. I was.