Ok, first things first, if the term “breastfeed” makes you uncomfortable and you can’t believe I used the word in a public forum, I am shaking my head and rolling my eyes right now. In fact, if you’re squirming at this point, you would probably benefit from reading this article by Tim Challies: “Exchanging the Natural for the Unnatural” (thanks for the article, Sarah).
Here’s the bottom line – God used my experience with breastfeeding to refine my character and teach me about life in general – but before I flesh that out, I’ll continue Caleb’s afterbirth story where I left off:
Regrettably, Caleb’s difficulties with breastfeeding did not end at the hospital – in truth, breastfeeding didn’t start going “well” until Caleb was five months old. And then, well, he went through a “fun” biting stage at 10 months and bit me so hard – breaking skin – that I was forced to completely wean him off that side due to unbearable pain, and the wound’s inability to heal with constant irritation. (Biting…possibly the reason God invented two breasts??) I continued nursing for 4 months after that, and learned to embrace my lopsidedness for those remaining months 🙂
For the first 4 months, Caleb’s biggest problem was staying awake, and despite our best team effort (undressing him every time, blowing on him, tickling his toes/face, dripping cold water on him, etc.), we just could not keep him awake for the life of us (I suppose that shouldn’t have come as a shock since he peacefully slept through labor of all things!) Because of this, each nursing session was an event and took about an hour to complete (of which he actually fed for maybe20 minutes). In the beginning, this added up to a whopping 8-10 hours a day – excluding pumping time.
20 minutes may actually be an overestimate, because on day 5, we had to call his doctor because he hadn’t peed in 16 hours, and we feared he was dehydrated (a very serious issue)! A piece of advice for all you 5-day-olds out there – if you want to really put your parents in a panic and take a few years off their life, just stop urinating…that simple. Ugh, talk about freaked out! Just barely keeping it together at that point, we immediately ran out to grab formula to supplement my breast milk. We then had to feed it to him through a syringe (think baby bird), in order to avoid “nipple confusion” (is this even real?? who knows). Do you see what I mean when I said in my earlier hospital post that breastfeeding is not as simple as you’d think!?
Now, I do not consider myself a crunchy mama, but I have done quite a bit of research on the myriad benefits of breastfeeding* and am a big advocate for breastfeeding children during their first year of life, if at all possible (I do realize, however, it is not always possible, and I do not mean to condemn anyone in this post). I was really committed to making it work, but when we were forced to supplement with formula, I began doubting if I would be able to. I was giving it all I had in me and my heart sunk at the possibility of not being able to give Caleb the best I could offer. During Caleb’s entire first week home, I sobbed every night in the shower, pleading with God to help Caleb start eating. I was so scared that he was failing to thrive and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I have never felt more helpless or utterly reliant on God in my life. Caleb needed to eat, and I could not force him to do it. God had to intervene.
From there on out, it got (slightly) better. I say better because I was no longer concerned that Caleb was going to die (I know that sounds ridiculously dramatic, but that is sincerely how my sleep deprived self felt at the time). For Caleb’s first three weeks of life, we supplemented him with pumped breast milk via a syringe, to ensure he was not dehydrated. I also began attending a breastfeeding clinic to get assistance, and to weigh Caleb weekly for two months (which was debatably helpful). I was told by Caleb’s doctor and the lactation consultant at the clinic that Caleb needed to be gaining an ounce a day, and he simply wasn’t achieving that (or even coming close…he was gaining maybe half an ounce per day). I was repeatedly told I needed to “push” Caleb harder and that he was not gaining enough weight. Beyond a doubt, no other event has ever come close to generating the overwhelming amount of anxiety and self pressure caused by fearing for Caleb’s health.
I know my next comment will put me in the direct line of fire of all the die hard breastfeeding fanatics, but truthfully, I did not enjoy breastfeeding whatsoever. I did not feel a “special bond” through it any more than I would have had I given him a bottle, and forget nursing Caleb until he’s 4 years old. For the first three months, there was not one day I did not consider quitting. Perhaps the difficulty of my experience taints my feelings, but I found breastfeeding to be highly stressful, demanding, and inconvenient. Even at one year old, I was still breastfeeding Caleb five times a day in accordance with the Dr.’s orders (due to his small size), and was unable to be away from him for more than three consecutive hours that entire year (six if I pumped). Furthermore, it was painful in the beginning, it hurt my back, it drained my energy, it made participating in two weddings extremely complicated, I hated pumping, nipple shields were a nuisance, I developed two breast infections, it was inconvenient when out and about (particularly when Caleb figured out how to remove the nursing cover and expose me to the entire world), he bit me on numerous occasions to varying degrees, and I was lopsided at the end.
My purpose in sharing all that is not to whine, to scare anyone, or to demonstrate how ‘awesome’ I am for pushing through, but actually, to encourage. Those are my candid thoughts, and I know I am not the only one who struggled or is struggling with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can seriously suck (no pun intended, hehe), and there’s no doubt that it requires an enormous amount of sacrifice. Sacrifice of your body, your privacy, your comfort, and your freedom. Those were not easy things for me to give up, and I think I grew a lot as a person and in my faith through my many struggles with breastfeeding.
For those of you who have struggled, are struggling, or will struggle with breastfeeding, my suggestion is this: rely on God, persevere, and remind yourself that part of love is sacrifice, and it comes at a price. John 15:13 says “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Breastfeeding, however random, has taught me more than anything else what it means to deny myself and lay down my life (particularly in those first few months). Before I finish, I want to make it abundantly clear that I do NOT look down on you if you did not breastfeed your child(ren). As much as my prideful self wants to take full credit for this accomplishment, I am completely aware that God intervened and it was His grace and strength that saw me through.
Caleb, if you read this one day, (and are super awkwarded out…sorry), I just want you to know that I love you very much and I was happy to do it for you even though it was hard for me. I am so thankful God carried me through the difficulties and matured me in the process. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat son.
Readers – what is your experience with breastfeeding?
*If you are interested, here is a great resource on why breastfeeding is important (and other related breastfeeding topics).
More posts in the ‘Afterbirth’ series:
Also, read about Caleb’s birth:
And here’s the 10 ways pregnancy crushed my dignity: