I had envisioned feeding you from the moment I knew you were growing inside of me. I had always believed that there is nothing more primal, beautiful or raw than being able to provide nourishment to your child from your own breast.
What I didn’t know then was just how hard our feeding journey would be or how much my values would be challenged and changed.
I spent the entirety of your time in NICU trying and failing to pump out that precious colostrum so that it could be bottle fed to your weak, limp, little form. Every minuscule drop I obtained I would hurry over to you and drip feed into your sweet little mouth.
Watching you drink formula when I could not provide enough pumped liquid gold made my stomach turn. The jealousy I felt towards that bottle for doing a job I was unable to was so strong I could taste the bitterness on my tongue.
The first time I breast fed you, you were already 6 days old. By this stage you were used to the bottle and the only successful way I could get you to drink from me was with a plastic nipple shield. This didn’t bother me, I could finally nourish you the way I had foreseen and I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
I remember the feeling vividly; your little heart would thump just below mine, your hand would press on my skin and your tiny mouth puckered adorably as you would suck. I had never felt more self-satisfied than watching become milk drunk and fall asleep on my chest, snoring lightly with long lashed eyelids fluttering as you would dream.
Soon however things began to unravel, you stopped gaining weight and I was put on a strict breastfeed-pump-bottlefeed schedule which meant that I was feeding you or pumping 18 hours of the day. Exhaustion overwhelmed me and I began to dread our feeding sessions, I would sweat with anxiety at the thought.
I saw a lactation consultant who assisted me with weaning you off the nipple shield as we thought that may have been effecting my milk supply however this did nothing for your weight gain, my anxiety levels or my sheer exhaustion. I knew in my heart of hearts that something was wrong.
I breastfed you, I pumped, I bottle fed you, I slept for 30 minutes and repeat, this vicious unhealthy cycle went on for 3 weeks. You were almost 4 weeks old when at 2am your screams pierced the night air and I howled as I tried and failed to latch you whilst meticulously pumping only to be rewarded with a measly 10ml from both breasts. You were starving, I was distraught and daddy was helpless as you thrashed and moaned from hunger. This was my breaking point.
Thankfully I had enough sense to retain the leftover formula from your NICU days and with a heavy heart and aching breasts I shakily made you a bottle. You drank as though you had been marooned on a deserted island for weeks and promptly fell into a stupor so deep that we both slept for 3 straight hours for the first time in almost a month.
The following day we saw a paediatrician who advised me against continuing to breastfeed you as the trauma and separation following your birth assumed the blame for my lack of milk. I was heartbroken, devastated and felt worthless. I had assumed this beautiful natural task would come easily to me and had never considered that I would not be able to sustain you.
My breasts dried up and hung limp on my chest but you my dear thrived. Your soul awoke and you became a bright eyed inquisitive little man who slept like a dream. Your face grew chubby with your stomach full and I hesitantly grew to accept this was not the end of the world. I knew that while our feeding journey was over, the rest of our life together was just beginning.
My perception on bottle feeding changed drastically as I because a “formula mum”. Typically I had a few undesirably comments regarding my bottle feeding ways but unless someone has seen their child starving then they will never understand the gratitude I have towards that man-made tin of goodness.
Ignorantly entering into motherhood my view had been firmly on “breast is best” a sentiment I am not proud to admit to. Post my struggles with breastfeeding I am wholeheartedly set on “fed is best”. Whether that be breastfeeding, mixed feeding, formula feeding by choice, formula feeding by chance like myself or whatever the chosen feeding inclination is.
My body made you my darling, it nourished you for 39.4 weeks on the inside, fed you for 4 weeks earth side and it may be via bottle but my hands continue to lovingly give you nourishment everyday. You are strong, you are smart, you are cheeky and sometimes infuriating but you are not and never will be LESS based on the way you were fed.
So thank you Baby for forcing me to challenge my ideologies and helping me to become a more aware, open and improved version of myself.