My breastfeeding experience with my first baby was beautiful. The first couple of days were challenging but once we were home and had some privacy we got it figured out.
When I found myself pregnant again, breastfeeding was what I looked forward to most. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t breastfeed at all.
Near the end of my pregnancy, my baby had stopped growing. Born at 39 ½ weeks gestation, she was a tiny 4 lbs 2 oz. She had a cleft palate, a heart murmur, and other concerning signs.
After a difficult birth, the neonatal team whisked her away to the Special Care Nursery where she would spend the first month of her life.
It seemed like forever before I was taken to see her. I couldn’t even touch her at first. She was in an Isolette. She didn’t feel like mine. It was so different from my first experience where my baby and I had stayed together.
I felt like an observer. I felt useless and out of place in my wheelchair looking at the beautiful baby behind the plastic that was supposed to belong to me.
I have never experienced anything like it. It was as though I watched everything unfold floating above the room and not inside my own body. Everything was surreal.
The next day I was discharged. My whole life started to feel like something I was observing. I was going through the motions but… I don’t know. I remember little of that year.
I understood that cleft palate babies did not breastfeed. I had asked many times.
I had been pumping. I thought if I could just get her home and try to breastfeed her, everything would be ok.
When she was two weeks old, I was given some literature about babies with cleft palates. It contained an extensive handout about breastfeeding.
So, it turned out we could breastfeed?
I felt self-conscious. There was no privacy and people basically stood there and watched. I felt like I was inconveniencing everyone. I felt like my baby hated me because every time I put her to my breast she fought and cried.
I felt like I had failed.
I failed because my womb wasn’t healthy enough for my baby.
I failed because I didn’t fight harder to breastfeed in the beginning when my gut told me to.
I failed because my baby hated me.
I failed because I wasn’t at the hospital night and day.
I failed because my toddler was with her grandma more than she was with me so that I could be at the hospital.
I failed because not having her in my arms wasn’t as painful as it had been with my oldest.
I failed because my breastmilk didn’t make her gain weight, so we had to add formula to it.
I failed because I hated pumping and if we were never going to breastfeed I didn’t feel like doing it anymore.
It’s been fifteen years and this is still painful to pull out of myself.
It wasn’t until I became a postpartum doula and worked with families that all made different feeding choices that I truly began to forgive myself and then to realize that there was nothing to forgive. The babies I work with are happy and the parents that hire my team rock, and feeding method has nothing to do with it!
I am thankful to the parents who have shown me that love is not given through a nipple-artificial or not. Fed is best. Happy, sure parents are best. Babies that are loved, regardless of whether they drink formula or breastmilk, or a combination of both, are best.
In retrospect, I am grateful. Sometimes it is the experiences we don’t get to have, that offer the most experience.