SHE SAYS: Is it incompetent if I don’t breastfeed?

I cried a river when my husband opened the first tin of Enfamil for my son; they told me it was the best formula that is closest to a mother’s milk. I think the tears were a result of my aching bones, heavy breasts, sleepless nights, and postpartum depression, but it was also my broken heart.

Why me? I questioned myself! I stocked up on all the nursing books, took antennal classes, and watched hundreds of tutorials online. On the hospital bed, I sat motionless and exhausted, staring at the walls, my mind full of guilt that plunged into my soul like a big sharp dagger, my son kept crying constantly, his belly empty. I was a new mother who was failing the first basic maternal task, feeding my newborn. And you know? I'm not a failure, I have never been a failure. I have always found a way for things to work out; I thought maybe this time if I worked hard enough I’ll get around it. I took out the pump again and spent another 15 minutes, pumping from each breast, in hopes that my body would understand its need to produce milk for my hungry infant.

Breastfeeding was a goal that I had to accomplish. For nine months, I had a vision of how easy feeding would be for me, and the moment they placed my son on my chest, my world came crashing down. His little mouth opened and closed, searching for something that could sustain him, and I had no idea how to beg my body to start producing. I wanted our feeding sessions to be special, I wanted my breastfeeding journey to help me bond with him, not burden me. 

When we came back from the hospital, the first week took a toll on my mental health. Constant anxiety consumed me and I spent most of the day making calls to the lactation consultant and cursing at myself and the breast pump. Breastfeeding guilt made me obsessed with feeding, I wanted to give my son the best, and I did. But it came with a cost…

I felt angry when he cried for milk, I wanted to stop trying and give him the bottle instead. I was so touched out. I wanted to quit. I wanted to stop crying. Guilt made me refuse to supplement with formula, even when my baby seemed dehydrated. Breastfeeding made me stay awake for hours, pumping, feeding, then again pumping, which made me feel like a zombie. I drank a ton of water, and I had to go to the bathroom to pee every 20 minutes. And I’ll spare you the details about my cracked nipples…

I spent more money on trying to feed him by contacting different lactation consultants and supplements than I did on formula in the first year.

The first four weeks were wasted cooped up in the house in a constant rotation of pumping, feeding, crying, and sleeping, all the while hoping I could pump more than two ounces at once, my mother called to check up on me and I burst into tears, “why isn’t it working, mama?’ she laughed, and said “why are you torturing yourself when you can easily nurse and then give him a bottle? Even if you had breast milk and formula, look at you now, you have grown up just fine.”

So after much convincing (and some more tears), I decided to bottle-feed my son formula milk. I immediately asked my husband to get the can of Enfamil that was still lying in the hospital bag. He opened it and mixed up a bottle, I watched closely and emotionally how my son gulped the milk down as my husband fed him, his eyes slowly closed and his head dropped over to the left side, and then I felt something that I hadn’t felt in weeks. I felt happy and overjoyed, the pleasure of seeing my little one sleeping peacefully with a full tummy was unexplainable.

And that's when I learned the biggest parenting lesson of my life; breast milk or formula is not what establishes your worth as a mom. What's the point of putting yourself through hell when there is an alternative easily available?  

Why try to push your limits when all your child cares about is being fed, regardless of whether the milk is coming from a real nipple or an artificial nipple?

Now 10 months postpartum, I can proudly and happily say that I don’t regret my decision to give the bottle to my son. As a new mom, it is comforting and uplifting for me to see him grow remarkably healthy with a perfectly healthy weight. And me? I’m a happier person, less resentful, barely exhausted, and I’m sure, a much better mom.

The experience was tough, but it taught me a lot of things, it taught me that there will be times I will have to make decisions that are the best for me and my family without caring about what others think of me. I have also learned that life is too short and valuable to worry about things we have no control over. All we can do is keep trying till we can, and give ourselves credit for all things that we do as a mother.

For many women, motherhood feels like it's full of missteps that people judge relentlessly, no matter how hard they try. For new moms not being able to breastfeed is the first brush with the unbridled shaming. But, here is what I want new moms to know. Not being able to breastfeed doesn’t make you a bad mom. It doesn’t make you a failure. Whatever you are doing for your child shows how perfectly wonderful you already are as a mother.

For my future babies, I will try to breastfeed again. But I will not force myself and force my body to do something complicated. Feeding your baby should be a happy experience, not one that is complicated and controlled by guilt. Becoming a mama has taught me to be confident in the decisions I make because I know best for my child. Remember, giving birth and raising a child takes strength, love, and a whole lot of commitment – and that is what makes you an amazing mom. You’ve got this. <3

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