I have not at all been secretive about the fact that breastfeeding has been really, really hard for me. I don’t think I was adequately prepared for how painful it was going to be for me, how much time it was going to take, and how utterly exhausting it would be. It is funny how fifteen years ago, long before I contemplated having children of my own, I would have been completely judgmental about a mother like myself. The judgment of the 21 year-old version of myself is in part why the 36 year-old version of myself shed so many tears over so many months about my breastfeeding struggles. The 36 year-old version of me isn’t entirely free of the perfectionism that has permeated most of my life, and thus, the harder something is, the more I feel insistent upon mastering it instead of giving up.
Still, if you were to ask my opinion these days on these matters, you would find me singing the praises of writers like Gayle Tzemach Lemmon or Amy Sullivan who point out that the breastfeeding cult has gone so far in one direction as to become profoundly anti-feminist and anti-choice. Not to mention the fact that formulas have come so far (and continue to improve) that most researchers now conclude that in countries with access to safe drinking water, there really are few (if any) long term differences between breastfeed babies and formula fed babies. The 2014 long term study of sibling groups certainly went a long way to dispel the notion that breastfeeding versus formula feeding had any long term differences in outcomes.
In spite of these things, I am still feeling tremendous guilt in winding down my attempts at breastfeeding. My goal was to make it to 3 months, then six months, and now I have met that. I did it with lots of supplementation along the way, mind you. I had no milk at all for a week after the boys were born, and I worked really, really hard to get my supply up. I didn’t sleep much for several months and pumped and pumped at all hours of the day and night. I dealt with babies who were not enthusiastic nursers. At four months, Desmond would scream and scream when I would try to get him to nurse, so I assumed he was done and gave up. Then, a few weeks ago, when Calum started doing the same, I tried to nurse Desmond again, and he decided he wanted to nurse again. I felt like a failure and felt rejection in both instances when the boys appeared like they didn’t want to nurse anymore, by the way. It made me cry all over again.
The fact is my boys mostly have eaten pumped milk, with supplementation from formula as well as some time spent at the breast. That is just the way it has been. When you do a little bit of all three, it is a massive commitment of time. Yet, I haven’t wanted to give up one of the three because I get benefit from all of them – the pumped milk, knowing how much they were actually getting from me; the time at the breast, the bonding from that; the formula, the convenience and substance of it kept them sleeping a little longer, particularly when they started sleeping through the night.
Going back to work with my Mom gone and David back at his regular work travel schedule means that the insane amount of time all three take is not really workable anymore. Already, I have cut back to pumping just four times a day, and even that seems like a lot, particularly in the morning when I am trying to feed both boys as well. Yes, in addition to the pumped milk, at the breast, formula trifecta, I have now added solid foods to the mix as well, and well, feeding four different ways is just starting to be too much. Later in the summer, I will be away from the boys in South Africa, and I am not going to spend two weeks pumping and dumping milk. So, the days of pumping and breastfeeding are going to be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
I feel sad about it. Even though I am exhausted from trying to keep up with everything, I am sad that I am not going to have those bonding moments. There is part of me that feels terrible giving my boys formula for no reason other than how terrible it tastes relative to breast milk. I need to think about it in terms of having reached my goal and realizing that what I have done for them is the best that I can do, but I cannot turn off the part of my brain that still feels like my efforts aren’t as good as they could have been, and I could have done more. I really hate that I can never view myself as good enough.
So to try to give peace to that guilt, I am turning my efforts in regard to feeding them to solid foods. Before we had the boys, David mentioned he wanted to make homemade baby food for him, and I looked at him like he was crazy, and said something like “Have fun with that.” Now, this is the picture of my Saturday nights:
Yes, now on Saturday mornings, you will find me at either the Carrboro or Durham Farmers’ Markets, and Saturday nights I spend the night steaming and pureeing in my Beaba Babycookpro2X. When my parents bring me fresh produce from their garden in Mississippi, I get even more excited about it. I scour the Internet for recipes to try, and have bought the accompanying cookbook.
It is shocking how seriously I, lover of McDonald’s cheeseburgers on holiday, have taken this whole food thing for my babies. I guess part of me hopes that if I can get them to be good, healthy eaters, then it will help me develop better eating habits too. So to that end I have also purchased and devoured the book Getting to Yum: The Seven Secrets to Raising Eager Eaters by Karen Le Billon. She also wrote the book French Kids Eat Everything, so maybe I trust her judgment about getting my kids to eat endive. Those French moms do a good job of getting their kids to eat lots of vegetables, and as Le Billon points out, their breastfeeding rates are the lowest in the Western world (so thanks French moms for helping me feel less guilty about something!).
I am at the point where I actually think that this kind of food preparation is quite fun. It helps that I also purchased an Infantino Squeeze Station, which makes me giddy like a little kid when you transfer the food into the squeeze bags. Yes, I know I am terrible for using disposable squeeze bags and creating more waste for our planet for the sake of my own personal fun. I also try to use reusable freezer containers for some things, so I am not entirely wasteful. I am sure at some point in time, it is possible that my Saturday night cooking frenzy will stop feeling fun, and instead will become tedious, but right now, I am having fun trying out different things for my babies. The pinnacle so far is that yesterday they ate my homemade kale, leek, and potato creation and loved it. It makes me happy that they so far have eaten the following vegetables: carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, green beans, green peas, broccoli, squash of all kinds, kale, leeks, and spinach. They have eaten a fewer variety of fruits but I have made apple and pear, as well as given them mango, banana and prunes. So far, the only thing they haven’t really enjoyed (once Calum got over his initial reluctance with regard to the green stuff) is the puréed chicken. I can agree with them that meat probably isn’t something that is best puréed.
That is the great thing about parenthood, I think. Once you get over your guilt about doing one thing wrong, there is something entirely new to feel guilty about.
Here are the boys ready for their dinner:
We are too young for manners lessons, so here is evidence of their lazy mom stripping them down to make cleanup after mealtime easier.