weaning

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Breastfeeding is a lot of things.

The first time I did it, it was excruciating for two months and then it kind of clicked and was easier and just a thing I did several times a day. I had to stop earlier than I’d planned, due to needing a mammogram and breast MRI, and the shock of having to make that decision was unsettling. It took about three months to fully dry up my milk supply– from when baby Giles was 9 months to 12 months. The two weeks following my last nursing session were a hormonal roller coaster which felt similar to my immediate postpartum experience. Once I found out that “post-weaning depression” is a real thing I felt better, just to have a name for what I was experiencing.

Eventually things evened out in my brain and I felt like a person again. I started to feel a lot better physically– my vitamin D levels got better, my blood sugar went back to normal, and I started losing weight (I hadn’t lost a single pound other than the initial loss after giving birth). Some women lose a lot of weight while breastfeeding, others do not.

The second time was a whole different monster. Felix was born six weeks early due to preeclampsia. As soon as I pushed him out of my body he was whisked away and I didn’t see him for almost 24 hours. Before I had even seen him I was handed pumping equipment and told to get moving, the tiny preemie needed my liquid gold.

I stared at photos and videos my husband sent me from the NICU, willing my milk to come in. And it did. During those two weeks in the NICU and for three months following I pumped 8 times a day. Every three hours I would try to nurse, sometimes succeed and sometimes not, pass the baby to my husband to be fed a bottle, and then pump for ten to twenty minutes. It was awful and hard and I wept. Nursing hurt. Pumping hurt, though a little bit less then nursing. I also felt sad every time my milk let down (which is a real thing that just happens to some women). The thought “I don’t want to do this anymore” repeated itself in my mind every time I fed my baby. I wanted to stop breastfeeding, but felt guilty for wanting that, since he was so small and still so young. I wanted to make it to six months.

Finally, I started weaning. After just a few days my supply had decreased dramatically. We used up my very prolific freezer stash within a couple weeks. We bought formula. And in about a month I was done.

The hormone crash hit me hard, with intense mood swings and a lot of guilt. I know that my baby is fed and healthy and fine, but there’s this physical feeling of guilt, of shame for not being The Best Mom. Formula is JUST AS GOOD as breastmilk. It was invented for a reason. But there is societal pressure about breastfeeding, and also this innate feeling, which is about everything not just breastfeeding, that I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH feeling. If I don’t sacrifice every single thing about myself for my children, it feels like I’m not doing enough.

Really, truly, our children are better off if we are kind and gentle to ourselves. They are happier if we are happy. Which means giving ourselves what we need, putting on our own oxygen masks first.

I know this, but I still have the bad feelings. The hormone ups and downs and doubts and that terrible shaking knowledge that bad things things can happen and I can’t protect my kids from the world. The aftershocks of birth that came the next night, keeping me awake and terrified at what I had done in becoming a mother. Why had I destroyed my body, my mind, brought out this tiny helpless thing that will be harmed in some way by the cruel world?

But then that tiny, helpless thing smiles. Laughs. Holds his bottle on his own. Says, “dada” (of course dada and not mama). And then he gets up on all fours, rocks back and forth, and moves just the smallest bit forward by his own damn self and suddenly he is a PERSON. He will be okay. I will be okay.

I’m so glad to be done breastfeeding.

 

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formula

a-plan

Why is there such pressure on mothers to exclusively breastfeed? I would never judge another mom for how she feeds her baby. It wouldn’t even cross my mind to do so. But somehow, feelings of guilt get into my brain about transitioning from nursing to formula. Most of the time I feel fine about it, and I know it’s the right decision for us. But then there are moments when emotion overwhelms me and I start crying in the shower, or while making dinner. I feel guilty. Guilty for what?

Guilt is a familiar feeling. Am I a good daughter? Sister? Friend? Wife? Mother? Am I taking care of everyone enough? Doing enough? Working hard enough? Do I eat enough vegetables? Watch too much tv? Am I too demanding? Too bossy? Was my mom mad at me when she died? Am I too selfish, wanting time to myself? Am I ignoring all my friends while I figure out how to be a mom? Did I pass on this mutated gene to Giles? Will having more kids be bad, because I might pass the gene on to them? Do I call my grandma enough? Is it awful that I still haven’t mailed our holiday gifts? And I’m really late on those thank you notes…Do I do enough housework? When was the last time I cleaned the litter box? Was that thing I said yesterday too bitchy? Am I not bitchy enough? UUUGGGHHHHH

How do we let go of guilt? How do we know that we are enough? How do we help others know that they are enough?

 

 

 

mammo versus breastfeeding

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I know it’s my choice. To start weaning now and get the mammo and MRI as soon as possible (which will be about a year or so from now) or nurse Giles as long as he needs/wants and delay the screenings? I hadn’t realized how long it takes to wean a baby. It’s a slow, gradual process. If I start now it may take months until he is completely weaned. And it’s at that point that the nine month clock starts. So much waiting.

There’s emotions. And hormones. Breastfeeding is such a hormonal thing. At the very thought of stopping I start to cry, and I run over to Greg and Giles on the couch, where Giles is happily taking a bottle. I cuddle against them, my eyes big puddles of tears, Giles looks up at me.

And then there are moments when I feel ready, and know that everything will be fine.

Except everything isn’t fine. I’m afraid of what will happen to healthcare, to women’s healthcare specifically, to the idea of pre-existing conditions. I’m worried for my body, for my mind, for my future second pregnancy that will happen sometime during the Trump administration.

So many things to worry about– both big picture and very personal. I don’t really know what I’m going to do. But I am going to do things, one tiny thing at a time. Ask for help, seek out other moms who can reassure me or give me mother-led-weaning tips. Get back into some kind of therapy. Talk to my husband a LOT. Walk. Do yoga. Snuggle my baby. Cook something new. Buy local produce/meat/cheese. Get my son his first library card. Read to him. Dance with him. Sing. Draw. Write. Take a hot shower. Say “I love you” a lot. Keep my own medical records. Slowly shorten nursing sessions. Check my breasts for lumps. Call my doctors and ask questions. Pay attention to my body.

And after a lot of months, after a year, after an undetermined amount of time, get a mammogram and a breast MRI and get prescribed Lorazapam for these procedures to help calm me down.

 

human milk machine

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pumping

Because I have health insurance, I was able to get a free electric breast pump at the hospital after giving birth. Because I have a breast pump I am able to pump milk into a bottle so someone besides me can feed the baby. Because someone else can feed the baby I have a small amount of freedom to not be tied to an every-two-hours schedule of latching a baby to my boobs so he can suck nourishment out of my body.

Because I have health insurance I have mental health coverage. Which means I can go to therapy. Which means I don’t have to suffer alone and quietly while my hormones rage around and cause crazy feelings and exhaustion settles over my whole self and who am I now anyway besides a mom and human milk machine?

Because I have choice over what happens to my own body I was able to grow a baby and give birth to him at a time when I was ready to do this, and wanted to do this. Because of that I am a good mom, and my baby has a healthy, happy, safe home to grow up in.