What we were trying to do wasn’t working for either of us, so why was I so resistant about stopping?
I hate breastfeeding.
The words appeared to pulse off my computer screen. “Do I really feel this way?” I asked myself. “Am I allowed to feel this way? Am I a bad mom/ungrateful/failure/insert-the-self-loathing-adjective-here for feeling this way?”
The page was blank other than those three words and yet those three words said so much. They spoke of the months of tears, the constant anxiety, the disappointment, and the exhaustion. I was so exhausted.
The thing is, I actually loved breastfeeding — when it went smoothly. But at the time I wrote those words, unless my son was dead asleep, it was a struggle to the end.
What was most frustrating was that we had already overcome a huge hurdle. Learning to manage my oversupply and forceful letdown, which had made the first month and a half so impossible, I almost moved to exclusive pumping.
Sure, in order to complete a feed we had to lie down sideways on a bed for the entire feed (which meant we could not be out for longer than 2 hours at a time), but hey, compared to the early weeks, this was a win. We were even beginning to brave feeding upright in hopes of being able to leave the house again.
Then around 12 weeks of age, as my son’s cognitive awareness expanded, distraction set in. Whatever peace we had once experienced during feeds went out the door.
His head whipping around trying to take in every object in the room. Feeding for 3 minutes, sometimes 1, before breaking down crying and refusing to go back on. Acting as though I was torturing him at the mere sight of my boobs.
His weight gain dropped a bit on the growth scale and though our pediatrician seemed unconcerned, I became obsessed with his eating. It was all I could think about or talk about. Seeking out lactation support from every source possible.
We tried all the tricks in the book, spending most of our days locked in a quiet room with the lights out, fighting each other and crying. It was a dark period, literally and figuratively.
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” I cried to my husband. The stress and trauma from the first weeks resurfacing and compounding with the sheer exhaustion of the coinciding 4-month sleep regression.
“I think it’s time to try something else. This is clearly not working,” he gently suggested.
But I was incredibly resistant. Not for judgment over other methods. I myself was formula-fed, and as mentioned, I was moments away from moving to pumped bottles those early days. I was resistant, because if my son preferred formula or the bottle, it somehow felt like he would be rejecting me.
I was also obsessed with what once was. Clinging to that short period when we were in our groove, as if it was the baseline for the rest of his feeding life. Forgetting (or not yet fully realizing), that there is no baseline in parenthood, because babies are always changing.
And man, was he ever changing. As his vision improved, his entire world exploded open, and he was loving it! Other than when we tried to feed him or put him to sleep, he never fussed or acted hungry. Apparently eating from mama’s all-night boobie bar kept him satisfied throughout the day.
I was still worried though and brought him back to the doctor one more time. His weight gain was steady, and she once again reassured me that this was all a normal part of his development.
Then as she watched him looking around the exam room and studying everything in sight, she offered, “maybe he’s just bored?” We decided to give it a week before trying formula.
I did not even last another 24 hours before breaking down again and conceding. I cried as my husband filled the bottle. Was this the end of breastfeeding?
When it turned out that he was not interested in formula either, I felt momentarily vindicated. Maybe it wasn’t personal after all! But then realized, if he won’t even take formula, what were we going to do?
And then something amazing happened.
A few days later, after yet another horrific feed (or lack thereof), I was coming out of the dungeon of the nursery into the sun-filled living room to find my husband.
As part of managing my over-supply, I would always express a few ounces into a milk catcher prior to feeding. I was holding our son with one hand and the Haakaa in the other, when he grabbed it and pulled it to his mouth like a cup and began to chug.
This was a magic moment. There was something about holding his own cup, about being independent in the feeding process, that inspired him to start eating again.
For his next meal, we got out of the dark room and brought him into the light of the dining room. Rather than feeding him lying down, we sat him up in his chair, and instead of shoving the boob in his mouth, we handed him a bottle of breast milk.
He drank the whole thing in minutes. No fuss. No tears. No choking. And he locked eyes with me, more intensely than he ever had while breastfeeding (since his eyes were often closed in frustration or to avoid rogue sprays).
When he was finished, he looked up at us with a huge toothless smile. So proud of himself. So relieved.
After seeing my son’s joy in being able to feed himself, I made the difficult decision to move to bottles during the day. Though I knew it was the right move, there was a huge sense of loss. I had to grieve our daytime breastfeeding relationship.
But wouldn’t you know it, a little after we switched, he began to ask for the boobs. He wanted to breastfeed!
By giving us both the permission to stop, it actually helped us keep going.
My son is now 7 months old and not only are we still breastfeeding, we are finally able to do so (mostly) with ease. I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring or how long he will want to continue, so I will simply savor this moment as it is right now.
And I will try to remember that because he is always changing, I must be willing to, too.
Sarah Ezrin is a mama, writer, and yoga teacher. Based in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband, son, and their dog, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love to one person at a time. For more information on Sarah please visit her website, www.sarahezrinyoga.com.