When I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Despite a few challenges early on such as figuring out how to hold the baby in the right position and some latch issues on one side, it has been a relatively smooth journey. That is, until recently.
My goal was to exclusively breastfeed for six months, but in the back of my mind I thought I’d make it to a year. So when Emily turned six months and I wasn’t ready to stop, I kept on going. At that point I thought, “Why not go for the full year? I’ve got this!” Recently though as Emily was nearing her 8 month birthday I felt a shift inside of me. Breastfeeding exclusively for four more months felt very overwhelming.
I felt a noticeable shift when I attended a good friend’s baby shower. I had been excited all week to have a Sunday out on my own as I had been craving a little bit of freedom. Then, halfway through the shower I felt that uncomfortable engorged feeling that other breastfeeding moms are most definitely familiar with. I realized that even though I could plan a day out for myself, my body couldn’t give me that same freedom. I felt myself get angry that I had to isolate myself and go in a bathroom stall or go out to my car to pump. I hate pumping!
Being my baby’s single source of nourishment, besides the solid foods she is now eating, began to feel like a lot of pressure. I felt like I wanted to introduce some formula to free myself up just a little bit. This brought with it immense guilt, sadness and confusion. So I denied those feelings for a while.
Then I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I spoke with a friend and realized that the reason I was so emotional about introducing formula was deeper than I thought. It was the first of many steps where Emily would begin to pull away from me. First I grew her in my womb and we were one. Then she was lifted into this world and I nourished her through breastfeeding. Now it was time for us to take even more space from each other. Was I ready for that?
While my gut told me formula was the right step for us, my mom guilt told me it was wrong. All the “breast is best” messages weighed over me and I felt I should suck it up and continue, or else I would be a bad mom. Despite this, when I sat quietly and listened to myself I knew it was what I wanted to do.
I cried when I gave Emily her first bottle of formula. Meanwhile she oohed an aahed, smiled and laughed. She loved holding the bottle on her own. She was totally up for the shift, it me who was having the difficulty.
We’ve now reached a nice balance where we do a few bottles of formula a day, and the rest of the feedings I nurse. I find that because I listened to myself and took these steps, now when I am nursing her I am more present. I also treasure the moments when she is having a bottle. Often she holds the bottle while chatting to herself. We look at each other and smile while she drinks her bottle across the living room or in her stroller while we are out and about. I’m still there, just a bit further away. I guess that is what motherhood is, right?
This change- which was so hard and felt so monumental to me at the beginning- feels so good now. I’m feeling some freedom, she’s feeling some freedom, and we’re happy. I really can’t ask for anything more.
I’m learning that I can’t let fear, guilt or external pressure stop me from doing what’s best for my daughter. And sometimes, doing what is best for me, is what is best for her. As Wayne Dyer said so beautifully, “Your children will see what you’re all about by what you live rather than what you say.” If Emily sees me respecting myself, she will ultimately respect herself too. That is my greatest wish for her.