Nineteen years ago my experience with breastfeeding was gruelling as I spent hours chained to the couch while my son demanded in a blood curdling cry to be breastfed again and again, and again. The child was insatiable; the mere whiff of my presence in a room sent him into roars of hunger as he gummed my collar bone until I clumsily latched him into position for yet another hour long session.
Three weeks after his birth, in the middle of the night, when I was on the fourth consecutive hour of cluster feeding him, sitting cross-legged on my bed sobbing and blowing my nose into my baby's blanket, I finally handed (to put it nicely) the disgruntled boy to my husband, and dragged myself to the kitchen where I boiled the kettle, pulled out the can of formula I had been given as a sample at the hospital, and prepared a bottle.
The satiated pout of my baby's perfect newborn mouth as his eyes drooped shut and his little body finally hung limply in my arms as I placed him in the bassinet next to my bed, converted me. I was done with breastfeeding. I certainly had not been an anti-formula activist, but as I finally enjoyed two consecutive hours of sleep before I awoke to my son gnawing on his fist between whimpers of hunger, I breathed a sigh of relief at my decision to now bottle feed instead.
My effort to breastfeed my other children was very lackadaisical, as I quickly decided that this child was not latching well enough and that one was just not latching at all. The convenience of popping a bottle in their mouths; knowing exactly how much they were getting; and having some time between feeds was a pleasure compared to those exhausting, almost painful, first three weeks of my oldest child's life -- a time when I really had no idea what my body was doing in regards to providing for my child and how to even be certain I was doing anything right.
Perhaps 19 years ago breastfeeding was not something that was as promoted in hospitals as it is today? Perhaps it was because I had delivered my children in a small town where little postnatal support was offered? Or perhaps I just got unlucky and had the one postpartum nurse who couldn't be bothered to actually teach me proper breastfeeding positions, proper latch, and duration of feeds.
But in those days, I was not a breastfeeding advocate. In fact, I was one of those women who proudly proclaimed, "I bottle fed my kids and they're all fine." And they are fine. The thing is though, now that I work as a postpartum nurse, a great percentage of my time on the unit is spent teaching and assisting new moms with the idiosyncrasies related to breast feeding. And I get breastfeeding now. I totally could have rocked this gig. But I didn't because I was too tired.
As I sit with mothers who spend hours attempting to latch babies who may be too small or sleepy, or stunned from a delivery that required forceps or a vacuum, or newborns who are even not yet considered full-term; as these women persist in their attempts to latch their baby; who are eager for every piece of advice that will help towards a healthy breastfeeding experience; who set their alarms to ring every three hours so they can wake their baby to breast feed, and if baby still is not yet willing or able to, will pump to stimulate their body -- as I spend hours each shift encouraging, applauding, and marvelling at their tenacity to provide the healthiest start for their child, I am struck with such longing. I had four children who were quite capable and willing to breastfeed, and I gave up because I was tired.
I watch babies who have not yet latched, and may never latch on the breast, but the parents have committed to finger feeding, which is a method of feeding that has the baby sucking a tube which is taped to a finger, so baby can suck the finger, and receive either breast milk that mom has pumped, or formula if mother's milk is still not available. And if they have to, the parents will bottle feed either breast milk or formula. I send these people home with finger feeding supplies, a prescription for a breast pump, and a tremendous amount of respect. I gave up breastfeeding because I was too tired.
I don't judge my patients who do chose to bottle feed over breast feeding. This isn't what this is about. This is an acknowledgement to all those who knew the road to breastfeeding was going to be hard -- in some cases even harder -- and you still committed. I have seen new mothers who are too sick to even come on the postpartum unit with their babies, yet they still pump to help their bodies begin the lactating process in the ICU or the medicine floor where they are sent to recover. And then there was me: I gave up breastfeeding because I was too tired.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: