Monday, May 24, 2010

Making Peace

My dear husband whisked the kids away for the afternoon yesterday so I could get some real work done. After FINALLY finishing painting the window frames in what will be the kids' room (I started them when I was pregnant with Margot), I cleaned the room, planted my peas (very late this year!), and even managed a LONG bubble bath with a good book in hand.

When my loves arrived home, the little ones were all asleep. Two were carried up to bed with no trouble, but Margot woke up and was NOT happy. I came down in pyjamas and damp hair, to cuddle her in hopes of getting her to sleep. It occurred to me that these days are numbered, when I will rock a babe in this rocking chair handcrafted for me by a former high school teacher, with a tree that grew on the street I walked down every day on my way to school. The street is called Truelove...so many wonderful connections! We were wrapped in a quilt that mom picked up at an auction sale and gave me for my birthday.

By the time he got the camera out, I was feeding her; my first reaction was, "Just wait till I'm done giving her her bottle". As soon as I heard myself, I realised that I'm still making peace with the losses of the past year, namely, my breastfeeding relationship with my youngest, and presumably last child.

Some of you know bits of the story, others the whole story. After a great start, and great weight gain in the first week, things started to deteriorate. At first, my midwife guessed that it was due to the busyness of our house; every time I sat down to nurse, two other little ones who were needing mama love clambered up, storybooks in hand, invariably elbowing the baby, disrupting that delicate beginning.


So I climbed into bed for "The 24-hour Cure"...24 blissed-out hours to cuddle skin-to-skin with my newborn, to really explore her for the first time. She nursed really well, but would bring it all back up soon after, which was heartbreaking. I knew I had lots of milk, I knew that her latch was perfect, and I'd been doing this almost constantly for the past 4 years! What could be wrong? We saw breastfeeding consultants, my mom came to help with the older kids to try to get things on track, and my sister, who is a breastfeeding counsellor, was on call every day.

And still, she didn't gain weight. We knew she had a heart murmur, but everyone I spoke to said it had nothing to do with our breastfeeding complications. In May we learned she'd need heart surgery.
Finally, after seeing this picture taken at her Baptism,everything came into sharp focus: my girl was in trouble. Suddenly, I saw how sick she was, how tiny, how sunken. She cried almost constantly, and was only happy when sucking on someone's baby finger. It sounds crazy to me now, but anyone who has had a colicky baby or a sick baby or a baby that just cries a lot, knows that you do whatever you have to do to give them peace.

A day or two after this, my mom and sister were visiting and finally I couldn't listen to her crying anymore. I knew she was hungry and that for whatever reason, breastfeeding was difficult for her. So, with many tears, I handed mom a bottle. That may be the day my heart broke. Everyone was thrilled to see the baby able to drink, and to see her immediately settle down. Such a hard day for me, fill with many mixed feelings.
It was a long road from then till the surgery, and Margot, if not exactly thriving, was not struggling as much as she had been. I went on automatic pilot at about this point...the days were a blur of pumping, pasteurizing the milk (because, if life wasn't busy enough, my milk has high levels of an enzyme that causes it to turn "sour" very quickly, so I had to simmer it before freezing it), trying to give the other kids what they needed, trying to rest, trying to prepare for the surgery...

I was assured that after the surgery, Margot would be able to nurse like a champ. I was told that 80% of the calories she was taking in went to making her heart and lungs work, which is why she was gaining so slowly, and that breastfeeding takes much more work than bottle feeding. I held onto the hope that I could begin repairing this nursing relationship after the surgery.

We were able to see her an hour after the surgery was done, and the next day, once some of the tubes, lines, etc. had been removed, I carefully nursed my girl:
What joy! I looked ahead to nursing her into her toddler years, when nothing cures a bump, a trip, a tumble like the comfort of mama's milk. We'd been through the worst together, and had survived.

After about a week of exclusively nursing, Margot started fussing a lot; I recognized the signs that she was not getting enough from me. While this is the most common myth related to breastfeeding, and one of the main reasons women stop so early, my milk supply really was depleted from stress and the difficulty I'd had in finding time to pump. I think at this point, the fight had gone out of me. I just wanted my child to be fed, and healthy. I made a decision which up until that point had been unthinkable: I would bottlefeed my last child.

The experience has been so intense. My mother has been able to help me so much, and is able to care for Margot in ways she wasn't able to with the older two. I've been able to spend time with my older children and have some time to myself. I am less exhausted than I was while nursing the other two. Returning to work was exciting rather than stressful.

Still, I can't think about what I've lost too much without crying. I know I need to cry about it a bit more. Comments made by family and friends, intended to comfort, have been painful, namely: "She's thriving now and that's all that matters". But, as most mothers know, we have so little time to think about, indulge, and process our own pain...there's always something to be done, and I think there's a bit of fear that if I start really trying to process that time in my life, the joys and losses, it may be hard to stop crying. There's guilt too, even though I rationalize that it wasn't my fault. I felt like I had to explain when bottlefeeding in public: I was a breastfeeding mother! I know what's best for my child! I did my best!

I really had to review the judgments I've made in the past, once I felt like I might be judged. I have grown and learned so much in the past year. Mostly, I know that I did do my best. 

So, I retracted my statement to my husband last night and realised that it is not important WHAT we feed our child. What is important is how we feed them: in our arms, with lots of eye contact, cuddling, smiling, and whispered endearments. Margot has never been propped up alone with a bottle. Every bottle has been given to her in the many arms that love her: mine, my husband's, my mother's, my sisters', and even her siblings'. So in a way, she has something that the other children didn't: a whole community of people to feed her. It's not what I'd envisioned, but I know now that my best was good enough.

I know that I will treasure this photo someday. I will look past that plastic bottle, and all I'll see is the love in my eyes, and in hers. And I will miss these days so much.

26 comments:

  1. Wow - that must have been quite a load to bare. While my story pales in comparison, I can sympathize to some extent. My last baby (for sure my last) stopped when I was ready to keep going much longer. I was very sad about that, and still am. I actually have dreams about it.
    It is certainly not a simple thing being a mama. I am really glad to have found your blog...it seems to me that your life and family are always at the forefront of your thoughts.

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  2. Such a beautiful photo, capturing your powerful bond, which is certainly no less pure because of what Margot's nourishment is coming from. All that comes shining through the photo is that she is clearly nurtured on love, as she has been every step of the way. Margot has chosen her family well!!! Stephanie, your honesty is uplifting. Thank you.

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  3. This blog will be shared far and wide and I hope all of the idealistic, bf warriors read it and gain some much-needed insight and empathy. Bravo to you for speaking your truth...slowly but surely making peace when the only choice you had was to do the best you could at the time. We all can do brilliant things in retrospect. Shine on, Mama!
    Frankly, you need not explain the choices you made. All I see is love, love, love.

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  4. LOVE LOVE LOVE- All you need is love.
    Too personal to comment here- will send an email. Thank you for your beautiful honesty.

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  5. all I can say is thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives.We treasure these moments in our hearts forever.

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  6. What a heart wrenching post mama. You are such a beautiful, soulful woman!

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  7. Stephanie, while I can't understand your personal grief, I can relate to it somewhat. My grief is and will always be with my first born who was formula, bottle-fed starting at 8 days old when he was taken to the ER for severe dehydration and failure to thrive. I remember reading articles about breast is best and crying so hard because I knew all so well that it was, and every time I saw a statement on breastfeeding, I felt that I had let my baby down and failed as his mother. Even though I still grieve, I now know that, just like you, I did the best I could at the time, but it does not make "accepting" it very easy. Thanks for your candid post, and trust that you are not alone.

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  8. Thank you Stephanie for sharing. I have faced similar circumstances, including an occasion where my baby had surgery in early infancy and my supply couldn't meet his need. I am now experiencing challenges with my newborn relating to supply again. It is too often assumed that I am under-educated or lack support, and if only I would try harder or avail myself of even more unwanted advice, I could be "successful" at breastfeeding.
    I do not grieve my breastfeeding challenges as much as I grieve the judgment and lack of true support from some in my communities.
    I wish everyone who dares make judgments could really, really know.
    It is helpful for me to hear that others also recognize how alienating and hurtful judgment can be. We really are all doing our best.

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  9. What a powerful message, brings tears to my eyes...thank you for sharing...SUCH LOVE...

    K

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  10. Mama friend, thank you for sharing your story...your refreshing honesty is such a blessing to me.

    You are beautiful, love-filled, love-giving and strong. You sacrifices, tears and pouring out of yourself for your family is what will truly withstand the test of time. Anyone who judges hasn't walked even an inch in your shoes. Sending love and hugs my dear!

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  11. I still grieve the loss of not being able to exclusively breast feed my babies (due to low supply, which the second time around was made much better by Domperidon). I am one of those women whose babies dehydrate, and I leave the hospital with bottles, formula and breast pump. I thought the second time around that I was better prepared to be able to be successful at breastfeeding exclusively, but it wasn't to be, I remember crying my eyes out when the nurse told me that my baby was dehydrated in the hospital and I'd have to start giving her formula. There's something primal about being able to feed your baby at breast...it's a hard one...I feel the pain, and while I try to have a positive outlook on formula, (thank god it's there or some babies would be "failure to thrive"), it is still such a huge loss in my heart. At least by talking about it openly, we can create more empathy for women who have to bottlefeed...
    I know when I see a woman bottlefeeding, I cast no judgement upon her...nourishment comes in many forms, the most important being love!

    Great post Steph!
    Maureen

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  12. WOW. I read this post with tears in my eyes for the beautiful strength you have to share this story and the photos.

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  13. Here I am again.
    My fourth baby, now 2 months.
    Very shortly after I last posted, she began the inconsolable crying, and of course I knew she was hungry. Did it all once again, baby gained just a pound in her first nearly 2 months, itself not nearly as upsetting as the crying, the crying...
    I've made "the shift" and now she is bottle fed as much supplement as she comfortably wants, and is happy.

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  14. You're right - you did your absolute best, and that is the key line in this post for me. No-one should ever, ever ask more than that of any mother - and we shouldn't ask it of ourselves! Your family has embraced the anticipated bottle "cloud" to create a beautiful silver lining for you all. The grief of a forced weaning, at whatever the child's age, is like no other, and many of us here share it with you, for a variety of reasons. Peace to us all - we did our absolute best.

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  15. You are an amazing Mom. I completely know the torment of your decision. Although my now one-year-old is breastfeeding successfully, it was not easy to get here. Esmae was born 3 1/2 months premature, so she was fed by tube for the first three months of her life, while I pumped 6-8 times a day, living for the time that little mouth would actually grow to be big enough to try nursing. Everything about her birth and first few months of life were NOT what I expected. Midwife... water birth... cuddling and nursing immediately after delivery... all out the window. I didn't get to hold her until she was a week old. When we did try nursing, she was still pretty weak and hadn't developed the desire to suck. We were encouraged (heavily!!) by the nurses to allow her to use a bottle in order to develop that skill. I was obstinate, with all of the concerns you mentioned about bottle feeding, but after much bad breastfeeding advice and little success, gave in. It was a crushing defeat. I can remember once, sitting at her bedside, pumping while I watched her meal of previously expressed milk trickle down her feeding tube directly into her belly. Soon after she started "succesfully eating" with a bottle, we were discharged from the hospital and I sought further help, still pumping and still determined. I was determined to feed her breastmilk and sooooooo tired of that damned breast pump! Thankfully, I found some amazing support and with much afore mentioned stubbornness, and just as I was about to give up, she latched! It was a long struggle, physically and emotionally. I well remmebr those early days of bottle feeding her in public, my eyes flitting around, just DARING some well-meaning person to say something about how important breastfeeding is... I appreciate your decision to choose what works for your little one, and I'm happy that you have come to acceptance that your best is good enough, and I am certain your daughter knows that she is loved by you and that entire community you mention. She is nourished in many ways.
    Jen Leis, jenleis@bell.net

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  16. This is a beautiful picture. You don't need to look past the bottle now or ever. You love your daughter and she is beautiful and healthy. Every child should be so lucky to have such a loving mother. Congratulations to you for your success as a mother, and for such a lovely daughter.

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  17. All I can see and feel are love here. What a beautiful sharing of stories. I admire you wonderful mamas pumping and caring for your young babies. I crawled to the three month line with my fourth child and was utterly distressed and glum about it. My other guys were so needy, in a way I hadn't anticipated, and being home schooled they are in my care seven days a week, so I had my work cut out cooking cleaning, educating and so on. Between that and loads of medical appointments ( I wish I had been stronger and just refused them ) I just got really stressed out and out of synch with feeding, having to keep getting up in the middle of feeds to rescue someone who had gotten themselves stuck or needed something urgently.... Or there would be a knock at the door... or the phone would ring.... I don't even have the excuse that my child was really sick. I was just plain exhausted, had sore boobies and felt really unhappy. I wish I could go back in time and change what happened, but I can't. *sigh*. Love really is the most important nourishment of all though, and I think that how they are fed comes second to that. Love is the most nourishing elixir, and the greatest healer. Sending you love, dear sister. X

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  18. I found your blog via Stephinie at Gypsy Forest.

    I just published (but then deleted) a post about a similar loss that Ilive with.

    I suffer from unexplained infertility. I am a mother to a magical two year old daughter. She was adopted at birth.

    One of the many losses involved in infertility that I've had to learn to cope with is the loss of ability to breastfeed. I wanted that experience terribly for my daughter and myself. There seems to be no other bond quite like it.

    I remember quite vividly the judgement I felt placed on me when bottlefeeding her in public. I live in a very pro-breastfeeding area, so it seemed even more acute. I remember feeling isolated from other new mama's because I couldn't breastfeed. New mama's talk lots about nursing. And I couldn't participate in the conversation. If other's could have read my mind, they would of known that I'd wished for a different experience. But in the end, even if our experience wasn't my initial choice. I know it was just as good.

    My daughter was loved intensely - bottle or boob did not matter in the grand scheme! :) And in a way, there was a part of me that felt liberated or enlightened to be able to know this. What a huge life lesson infertility has been to me. There are so many ways to love and nurture. And just like your precious daughter, my daughter was gifted with the opportunity not only to feel that closeness from me but from other family members as well.

    Children are resilient. And I truly do believe that they KNOW. A certain wisdom lies beneath their veil of innocence.

    I've learned that life isn't perfect. Our paths take detours that we often can plan or anticipate for. Only one thing can carry us through these times of suffering and that is love. And I think our babies intuitively know that.

    Much love to you and thank you for your courage in writing about this often raw and bittersweet topic.

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  19. I've just read this and it bought tears to my eyes as a mother of an infant that didn't gain weight with breastfeeding aswell. I can feel your loss. I realise this was written a long while ago and I trust that the pain and guilt has long gone and your beautiful little girl knows just how much you love her. Thank you for sharing this,
    Lisa

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  20. This is a wonderful post. I read it a few months ago, after you first posted on my bead tutorial. Actually it was my husband, nosing around my blog, linking back to yours, who read this post of yours on making peace with bottle feeding. He is the one who told me that I should check out your blog because he loved how you wrote about your breastfeeding/bottle feeding experiences (With me nursing two babies now he's fluent in breastfeeding talk). And I'm so glad he did!

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  21. thank you for this post. it brought on tears, just imagining losing my breastfeeding relationship with my son. i have been examining and relinquishing judgements lately ... it is amazing how they come to light when you fear others may be judging you. i was surprised to realize how much i did notice and judge others when i saw them bottle feeding in public. but the beauty and gift in realizing it, is also reminding myself that i dont know their story. idont know their whys and have no place to judge. then i can (try) to let it go.
    your photo is so beautiful, so much love in your eyes for margot. i am so so happy and thankful to have stumbled on this. really, it touched me in nameless ways.
    i also agree that we mamas have so little time to mourn when we need to. there is always something else to be done. then little bits of processing the grief come up when we think we are past something ... its a slow digestion for mamas.
    blessings to your growing girl and you, making peace.

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  22. Can I use an edited version of this post in my book? I'd ideally love 100-150 words if you can condense it at all? This is what I'm asking of all contributors. Please let me know if that would be ok :-) xxx

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  23. Thank you for sharing such an important, personal, powerful story. It brought tears to my eyes. Your kids are lucky to have such a strong mama : )

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    1. Have you tried any diet changes to help with the production of milk? Stress is caused by multiple factors lack of proper nutrition is one of them.

      -Zane of ontario honey

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  24. I know this is an old post (only recently came across your blog) but it really struck a chord with me. My eldest was born hypoglycaemic and although he would latch on perfectly he just didn't have the energy to suck and soon became weak, jittery and was taken to special care where he was tube fed through his nose. He was my first baby and no one showed me how to express, leaving me to become engorged and painful, no one told me how often to express in order to make sure my son was only tube fed breastmilk. In the haze and fog of hormones (this all happened within 12 hours of giving birth) I muddled along the best I could, figuring out the machines in the hospital and pumping whenever I felt full as I wasn't aware of any other way. I was heartbroken, it really wasn't how I'd imagined my first days as a mother. I was in a room at the other end of a hospital from my tiny son and after entering his room a number of times to find him crying inconsolably with staff too busy to comfort him and no one thinking to call me I finally broke down and begged a midwife to tell me what to do. She told me I could persevere with breastfeeding but it would mean my son would be in special care for a good while longer to ensure feeding was established and he was gaining weight but if I chose to give him bottled formula and he could feed on schedule and take a certain amount at each feed then he would be back with me within a day. I wanted my baby with me, where he belonged and so I chose the latter. I'm confident I made the right choice as he was indeed back with me within the day but 10 years later I still feel so much guilt and regret, particularly as I went on to have extrememely successful extended breastfeeding with my other 3 children. We make these decisions in the best interests of our children and then we beat ourselves up about it, even a decade later...I guess that's all part and parcel of being a mother. Really enjoying your blog by the way :) Kelli

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  25. Just amazing. A friend shared this with me as I was recently discussing my experience nursing our daughter (She`s now 3). I still don`t think I`ve gotten over the stress, emotions, guilt, etc. associated with those early weeks of questioning supply, proper latch, should I supplement,the anxiety of weigh-ins at the doctor. But surround yourself with the right support system and you can get through it - whatever path you choose and know that no matter what - we are providing for our children in the most loving way we know possible. I`ll be sharing this post with other friends as well. Love your blog!

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