Giving myself permission to stop breastfeeding07/20/2011 at 9:52 am | Posted in Motherhood, PPD | 30 Comments
Tags: baby, breastfeeding, Motherhood, nursing
It’s a head versus heart battle.
That’s the best way I know how to describe my breastfeeding experience.
The type-A Virgo part of me wants to know exactly how much this baby is eating. I need schedules and dependability. I crave numbers, in the form of ounces and hours. The selfish part of me wants to be able to eat and drink whatever I want. To be able to leave the baby for a few hours without an act of Congress. And mostly, I want to sleep. Because we all know that formula-fed babies sleep longer.
But. My heart yearns to feed this baby with my body. To hold her close in our little belly-to-belly cocoon and nourish her. She is comfortable there, as if she’s lived there for years. Oh yes, I imagine her thinking, this is my favorite boob. And this is the one I like to rest my cheek on like a pillow.
She can eat and snooze and eat. All with just a turn of her little head.
It is bliss.
But again. Breastfeeding means less sleep, loss of freedom, and riskiest of all for me, it leaves my body in this bizarre hormonal state that isn’t very good for my mental health. In fact, for that very reason, my doctor advises all of her patients who’ve survived postpartum depression not to breastfeed.
I’ve waved the white flag a handful of times. After horrendous nights where my supply just couldn’t keep up with her demand. When I felt beaten down, my nipples sore and my eyes burning with tears. I loaned my pump out to a friend in need, vowing never to use it again.
As crazy as this sounds, I wished for mastitis or for my supply to dry up like it did last time. For any reason to be let off the hook. Because, no, I hadn’t been able to give myself permission to stop. And when I researched ways to wean my baby — after each declaration of quitting — there is virtually no information on the internet that supports that decision. In fact, one of the articles I came across that was titled something like “How to wean your baby from the breast” rambled on (for two pages) about the benefits of breastfeeding and all of the related “shoulds” before begrudgingly addressing the topic in its title.
I wanted desperately for someone to force me to stop. To tell me that it would be okay and my baby would be healthy and forgive me. Not even the fact that Lily was a formula-fed baby and is healthy as a horse (never an ear infection, barely a handful of colds) mattered to me.
I couldn’t grant myself the grace.
Our culture is too punishing, and I buckle under this sort of pressure, whether perceived or real.
But those occasions in which I was desperate to quit were few and far between. And always, I picked myself back up the next day, unhooked my nursing bra and fed my baby.
I honestly can’t believe I’m still feeding her this way. Eleven weeks and counting. This is virgin territory for me. I only nursed Lily for six weeks before PPD robbed us both. And I have believed for all this time that breastfeeding was a trigger for my depression. In my preparation for Sophie’s birth, formula feeding was just as much a part of the plan as filling my medication and booking therapy sessions. I bought Similac and cleaned bottles.
But when she was placed on my chest in that hospital bed, my heart took over.
And each time she latches (with such great ease!) and gulps so contentedly, I feel peace like I’ve never before experienced.
I’m following her lead. It’s taken this baby to tell me the right thing to do. To ignore as best I can all of the “shoulds” and act on what I think is best for Sophie and for me.
So I continue. Who knows for how long. Prepared, much to my surprise, to try to pump from work when I return there in a few weeks.
But not because some article or well-meaning person tells me to.
Because I want to.
And because I finally give myself permission to make these decisions. To follow my heart. Or my head.