In which I feel incapable

When I had my son, I was all about breastfeeding. I was eager for the bonding that would come from our time together, and I was happy that there would be something only I could give him. I admit I had a somewhat glamorized vision of what it meant to breastfeed, but I was ready to work through any challenges that would come up so I could give my son the best nutrition I could.

At about four months old, Wyatt wasn’t growing as much as his pediatrician wanted. He was eating frequently, his diapers were normal, and he seemed active and alert. But his growth was slowing, and Dr. M– suggested we start rice cereal with formula to give him extra calories. After a while of doing rice cereal, she also suggested we start supplementing with formula. Somewhere in there, my milk seemed to be drying up, so supplementing with formula became switching to formula. I was a little disheartened, but it was more important that my son got the nutrition he needed.

Lilly Anne, 4 months old

When I was preparing for the birth of my daughter, Lilly, I wanted to breastfeed for at least a year. Since she was my second child, I thought it would be different (better). I knew what to expect, after all. At the end of April, I welcomed my beautiful daughter to the world. She nursed well, and we fell into an easy routine with her feedings.

At her four-month check-up at the end of August, Dr. T– noted that she wasn’t gaining weight very well. She’s been eating frequently, her diapers are normal, and she seems active and alert. But her growth has slowed considerably, and Dr. T– suggested rice cereal with formula to give her extra calories. (Sound familiar?) I was reluctant to supplement this time around because of what happened with Wyatt, but again, I know I need to do what’s best for my daughter. And though things seemed to be repeating themselves, I was right about one thing: this time was different.

The first night I gave her formula before bed, she took it well. She slept long, and I even woke up before she did. And I immediately noticed that the all-too-familiar feeling of sore fullness that usually came with my mornings to let me know Lilly hadn’t eaten in a while…wasn’t there. Despite having skipped a feeding and gone about six hours overnight, my body wasn’t aching to nurse. In fact, when I did nurse her that morning, she nursed briefly, then got mad. She didn’t seem to be getting any milk.

My milk was drying up. Again. And despite trying nearly every suggestion for increasing my supply, it’s just dwindled. So Lilly, at four months old, is a bottle baby.

When I figured it out, I immediately remembered Wyatt’s infancy. Maybe my perspective was skewed. Maybe it wasn’t supplementing that led to my milk drying up with him. Maybe it was my milk drying up that led to supplementing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my body simply doesn’t nurse after four months. I don’t know what it is about that age that changes my body, but that’s what’s happened.

I won’t be nursing Lilly for a year. In fact, she’s been weaned already. And while I know that there’s nothing wrong with bottle feeding, I miss those quiet middle-of-the night moments when I pulled her into bed with me and nursed her until we both dozed off. I miss the simplicity of nursing. I miss the intimate connection it creates between mother and child.

I’m thankful for the time I was able to nurse my children, especially since I know my sister (and many others) weren’t able to nurse their children for that long, or at all. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still struggling with the fact that my body wouldn’t provide the most basic need for my children. That I’m incapable of nursing them the way I want.

Ultimately, of course, what’s most important is the health of my children. I’m not going to continue trying to nurse my daughter knowing she’s not getting enough nutrition. What they need is far more important than my ideal vision of motherhood.

Because motherhood is never ideal, is it? We know what we’d like to happen, but what actually happens is often very different. And so far, it’s always been better.

Besides, rocking my daughter to sleep in my arms is just as sweet and quiet a moment.

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