Sometimes, I don't believe the worst mommy wars wage between moms. It seems to me like the deadliest wars often wage within a mom. While I'm not immune to judging another mother, I wouldn't say it's something that I often do. But I seem to always be judging myself.
Stopping nursing was one of the hardest decisions I made as a mom and I felt like a world-class failure for a long time, both before (for even contemplating it) and after. Everything in me wanted to stop and be done with it long before I actually did, but my desire, determination, and ultimately - pride, kept me going long after it was probably worth it.
After I wrote a couple of posts on the topic (here, here and here), I received a few emails and messages about how I came to terms with my decision - what finally made me quit. The short answer: Breastfeeding became an idol and a source of pride for me - and so I killed it.
The long answer: When Eli was first born, I had an oversupply. I didn't know anything about breastfeeding, but I knew it was the "cool" thing to do for your baby these days, and it might just increase my kid's IQ a few points and help him stay skinny when he's older. Plus, selfishly I wanted to lose the baby weight while still being allowed to eat seven and a half desserts a day, so breastfeeding and I worked well together.
Time went on, and many of you know the story, breastfeeding was quite painful for me, so I began to pump more and I started to lose my supply for various reasons. At five or six months, I actually started to like breastfeeding and it really did become that "bonding experience" so many people talk about, but then at seven months I found myself having to supplement and by nine months I was back in regular camis and my nursing camis were packed far, far under my bed because I didn't like being reminded of my failure. (In case that short synopsis wasn't enough for you, you can read my story in full here and here.)
Now you see, along the way, about the eight or nine month mark - just before I finally threw in the towel - I began to realize something. Breastfeeding had become an obsession for me. Because I was struggling with maintaining my supply, it consumed probably 50 to 70 percent of my thoughts - it was what I prayed about, talked with Mike about, stressed about and what I Googled about. I was always looking for new things to try to get my supply up, worrying about how much Eli ate, and thinking about what I could have done differently. Mentally, it was consuming, overpowering and exhausting.
At one point around eight months, (when I barely had any supply left, but was clinging to the little I had) Mike said, "This isn't worth you worrying about it so much. Let's just go all in with formula." At the time I bucked and reeled against the thought, telling him (and myself) that I have what it takes, I could make it to the year mark.
And I'll be very, very, honest here: I probably could have (by supplementing).
But it would have cost me my sanity, my attitude and my happiness.
You see, because I lost my supply mid-way through, I had to answer questions from other mothers as to why I think I lost it, and that meant I had to admit that I was a failure. That the things I did, the decisions I made were wrong and not in the best interest of my son. It meant that I had to listen to unsolicited advice from other mothers and lactation experts about what I did wrong and how I could have prevented it. It meant that I laid awake at night mulling over the reasons I lost it or how I could get it back. It meant worry and frustration, tears and many, many ugly cries.
My thought process reasoned that since I had more than enough to nurse my son at the beginning, by having to quit earlier than I wanted to, I must not have been a good steward of what I had been given. It was hard for me to admit that my body worked just fine in the beginning, but it was probably my decisions and actions - the things I had control of - that didn't work.
My efforts to continue nursing, using all my time and energy to try to solve my "problem" of not having supply - was really just pride. Breastfeeding my son until one year old was an idol in my life.
When I realized this, that's when I knew I needed to stop.
Giving in was a really good feeling. Besides choosing a brand, there's not a lot to think about when formula feeding, which freed up a lot of mental space pretty quick. Of course sometimes I miss the breastfeeding bonding time with Eli and while it is different, it's still awesome. I roll him in close to me and we snuggle in the nursery glider with the space heater humming at my feet. He still touches his pointer finger to my face and I still rub my nose on his forehead. It's beautiful, bonding and bliss to bottle feed my child. Just like it was when I breastfed. Sure, it looks different, but we're both just as happy. Actually, one of us - me - is a lot happier.
There is a fine line here, and I know that I am toeing it. Please, please, hear my heart in this - if breastfeeding is an idol in your life, it still doesn't necessarily mean stopping is the best answer for you. It might just mean reevaluating your priorities mentally and emotionally, but still continuing to breastfeed. The key is identifying what breastfeeding is to you, then working to figure out the best path forward.
Sometimes what's best for baby isn't breast, it's having a mother that's not stressed, worried or anxious about breastfeeding. I know the decision is incredibly difficult and ultimately only YOU can make it - which makes it that much harder. But I think taking time to consider these things will help you know the answer that's right for your family. And no matter where you are on your breastfeeding journey, please remember you are not a failure, you are a success.