I usually wouldn’t write when I’m feeling this emotional - at least not for anyone else to read - because the introvert in me likes to portray an “I’ve got it all together” image. But I learned several years ago that communion comes from being honest and the sharing of our trials. Putting on my brave face, then, I want to share some of my current trials with you - so that we can share in life together.
We’re in a season of change right now (our house on the market, moving, my grandmother recently passed away, starting a new business, Meggie’s move to big girl things, and a - relatively - new baby), and I like to think that I’m handling it all gracefully. When it comes right down to it, though, I feel like I’m failing at this graceful changing thing daily. I’m a Type A personality and therefore have a difficult time accepting my inability to control things and “let them go.” So, I write to work things out in my mind. In counseling, we call this “expressive writing.” For me, I call it: letting go, processing, the muddled becoming unmuddled. Moving on. A prayer.
This post is supposed to be about breastfeeding, or the lack of breastfeeding (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it’s really about change.
Change for which I don’t feel ready. Change from which I’m hiding until I absolutely have to face it. Because I had lunch with a dear friend a few days ago and she asked about our plans for moving and I told her that it was up in the air because we haven’t sold our house yet, but Kyle’s orders are no later than March 31st, so it’ll probably be in the next month or so, and then I cried. I cry every time I let my mind “go there” and process what it will be like to actually drive away from this place - from these people - that I love.
Because even though I’ve moved before and even though I said “I do” to a Navy man and supposedly knew what kind of life that meant and even though it’s where we’re meant to go, it still doesn’t make it easy. All the knowing doesn’t make my heart stop hurting or make the change any less real.
If anything, the “going there” brings back a memory from fifth grade. One of those “clear-as-anything” pictures where I can still smell the chalk and see my name scrawled in cursive across my desk and sniff the hairspray aroma from Mrs. Spivey’s perm. I’m in my classroom and my best friend from preschool motions me over with a solemn expression. “I’ve got some bad news,” she said. “My dad got a new job in Wisconsin and we’re moving there.”
Wisconsin? I’ve always been horrible at geography and even then couldn’t picture this new place in my mind. I just knew it sounded far away and foreign and that it meant we wouldn’t be going to Ligon Middle School together in the fall.
After that day I remember praying that God would move my family, too. Anywhere. Just so that I wouldn’t be left alone, so that I could have my own new adventure. A few months later, my dad sat our family down for a meeting and shared that, “We’re going to be like the pioneers and move somewhere far away. We’re going to Ohio.”
Ohio? Again, I had no concept as to place, but I just felt for sure it had to be closer to Wisconsin. Anywhere nearer to her had to be better than being here in the familiar but far away.
Because when I make friendships, I make them deep. And strong. And long-lasting.
Especially these ones. These friendships I’ve built in our home now. When, for the last three years, I haven’t been able to count on the physical presence of my husband - but I have been able to count on the nearness of my friends.
Being in the military means that it’s your husband who sometimes feels like the stranger, and the other wives, my friends here, who seem like your husband. And finishing my master’s, having two babies, and living alone for the majority of the last three years has changed me. I’m not the same girl from before this sea tour. Just like he’s not the same man, not the same pilot. While the biggest part of me rejoices that we’re going to be a family for the first time in three years, there’s still part of me that’s scared. Scared because this move means that our family’s starting over without my support network; there’s beauty in this thought, but there’s also trembling. For the first time in three years it’ll be just the two of us again plus two little ones. Rejoicing and fear.
It’s change for which I’m not quite ready.
Right before Christmas we reached our desperation point. Her development was fine. Her weight gain was above average. By all superficial accounts AV was doing well - as were we. But, for the five months leading up to the desperation point, all I could think about - or talk about - was how little she was eating, how little she was sleeping. AV could eat about 1 or 2 ounces before arching away, screeching, throwing herself out of my arms, crying. Sometimes, the let down would come and she’d refuse to eat after that. Because her little tummy could only take a few ounces per feeding, she’d want to eat every few hours over a 24 hour period. She was exhausted. We were beyond exhausted. Meggie needed us, too. I kept hoping it would get better when she ate solid food, but trying that just seemed to make it worse.
Without dragging out all the details of our trials again, I did all that I possibly could to sustain our nursing relationship - and I believe she did, too.
The whole experience conjures up this intense memory for me of being in the labor and delivery room with Meggie. I’m sitting on this birthing ball, 12 hours worth of pitocin dripping into my arm without pain medication and no dilation, I’m running a fever, throwing-up, and it’s raining outside. Kyle’s in a rocking chair right beside me, holding my hand as another pitocin contraction doubles me up. I rest my head on the side of the bed and I know what I need to do. I know that if I want to make it through this delivery with a vaginal birth I’m going to need to get an epidural. Silently, I grieve the natural birth experience that I wanted, and ask Kyle to call the nurse. It’s time. I needed to do what had to be done for me, my anxious husband, my unborn baby.
But even though I did what she needed me to do, even though what we’re doing now is filling up her tummy without any pain, even though she’s still getting the milk I’m making for her, it still doesn’t make it easy. All the knowing still doesn’t make my heart stop hurting, or my connection to her feel the same.
When we started trying her on a pumped bottle right before Christmas, there was a secret, selfish part of me that hoped she wouldn’t like them. That she’d dislike bottles so much that we’d have no choice but to soldier on in nursing. She was confused in the beginning, but as long as I was the one giving them to her, she began to accept the newness. Gradually, and with the introduction of medication 3x a day, she began to increase her intake. I found that I had to cradle her almost upright with the bottle almost parallel to the ground so that not only is the flow consistent, but it’s slow and controlled by her mouth.
We’re at a point now that we liken to a baby about 8 weeks old. She still takes a 10:00 bottle and then wakes up sometime between 3 and 4 am for another feeding. After that she goes down until 7:30.
We’re at a point now that is so much better than where we were. We’re at a point now that is survivable - and I can tell a difference in the overall well-being of our family, and in her level of contentedness. She sleeps now. She gets excited to eat now. She’s on a schedule now. She’s growing into herself now.
These are all good things. Optimal things. I’m proud of where we are - it feels so good after five excruciating months of worry, pain, exhaustion, doubt, fear, etc.
She gets excited when she hears the beeper of the bottle-warmer. Her legs start bouncing and her arms start waving when she sees me coming with a bottle. She doesn’t care anymore whether it’s breastmilk or formula - she readily takes both. She’s stopped nuzzling into me when she’s hungry. Meggie carries around a bottle for her babies now instead of trying to nurse them, modeling what she sees.
I started giving her bottles because it’s what she needed, and now I have to give her bottles because it’s what she wants.
Despite the knowing it’s best, it’s changing for the good, it’s the parental call that I had to make, sensing her excitement over food from the bottle feels like rejection. Like she doesn’t need me in the same way anymore. Like I suddenly don’t have my baby anymore.
I wasn’t ready to stop. I needed to stop for her health and for our family’s well-being, but I wasn’t ready.
Several weeks ago when the bottle experiment began, I had one last nursing session “in case” the bottle experiment worked. I chose the feeding at bedtime, when she was always most relaxed. When Meggie was in the bed and I could just focus on AV. I curled her around my body and with every second, memorized her profile there. She had this habit of drawing her hand up and down - grabbing a necklace if I was wearing one. I smelled her AV, baby powder hair and said “good-bye” to nursing her if that’s what she needed me to do.
There’s bonding in bottle feeding, too - I don’t want to diminish that. We still do the same cuddling. I wrap her up in her special bah-bah and get to gaze full-on into her face. We share a lot of eye contact and I whisper that I love her over and over. She still runs her hand over the blanket and sometimes grabs onto mine over the bottle. These are sweet moments, too. But, right now, I’m struggling with feeling like this is a moment anyone could share with her - not just made especially for her mama.
I miss feeling like my body was 100% providing for her. I miss just a few weeks ago - even in the thick of the worst - the way she would reach for me and fold into me and want me. When I embodied food and safety and comfort in a special way to her; when just being held in my arms made her stop crying because she knew I had what she needed. I miss the intimate connection that only I had with her - through growing her in my body, birthing her from my body, sustaining her with my body.
In the end, though, it’s like my earnest, even-keel, (sometimes irritatingly) logical husband spoke to me tonight when I was doubting my decision once again, “You’re right. Perhaps she is just a fast eater and she was getting enough milk breastfeeding. We just know that for whatever reason - probably the acid reflux - that she was unhappy.”
I know there’s so much more to mothering than breastfeeding your child - or even the duration you breastfeed your child. There’s snuggles and kisses and teaching and encouraging and setting free. And there’s meeting basic needs - which has to trump my feelings. A kind and wise friend - one of my tribe here - counseled me: “Shannon, she doesn’t care how she gets fed, all that she cares about is that her tummy is full and that she’s safe and protected. She’s going to know you’re her mother when you meet her needs day after day; not by how you meet them.” Her advice got me through the worst of the decision-making. But, I think I’ll always miss the intimacy of that connection with her.
This change, all of it, feels achingly premature to me.