There’s no amount of research you can do to prepare for parenthood. Trust me, I tried. The last two weeks of my pregnancy were spent doing anything I could to occupy my mind and distract me from how huge and uncomfortable I felt.
I obsessively organized the nursery; all of her clothes and muslin baby swaddles were washed, dried and folded. Newborn diapers were unpacked and neatly stacked in a drawer. I prepped a postpartum recovery station in our bathroom, and a breastfeeding caddy to carry around the house. I made batches of chicken noodle soup and protein balls. I read articles and blogs about baby sleep and feeding.
And yet — yet! — I was woefully unready to watch my daughter in pain for the very first time in her life.
We met with the pediatric dentist and had the tongue and lip tie procedure two days later. Once they took her back, we sat in the room, a bottle of breastmilk in hand, preparing to soothe her when she returned. I paced the tiny space while my husband scrolled on his phone.
He trusted science, and yes, I did too, but my little girl was currently being subjected to a medical procedure we had agreed to. I knew it was the right choice, but it didn’t make it an easy one. (Something I’m sure I’ll continue to feel as she grows up.)
Less than ten minutes later, Josefine was back in my arms, happily downing a bottle and looking up at me. The nurse went over the exercises with my husband while I held her close, hoping this wouldn’t permanently impact her psyche. (Of course, it didn’t, but mom guilt isn’t logical.)
The first day and night, JoJo seemed unphased by the procedure, but she screamed — and I mean, screamed — bloody murder when my husband lifted her tongue and lip up. For one week, we had to go through these exercises five times a day to ensure healing didn’t happen too quickly, thus defeating the purpose of the procedure. We only had to do it three times a day during the second week.
It became one of those grueling routines that I had to close my eyes to get through. I would hold her little hands down so she wouldn’t swat at my husband, and he would do the dirty work. He gloved up and used coconut oil to soothe her. She was always given a bottle afterward — sort of like saying, ‘Hey kid, we know this sucks, but we have to do it. Here’s some food to make up for it.’
In addition to the tongue and lip tie recovery stress, I was still battling a low supply of breastmilk. I was pumping so often that I became numb to the sound and the sensation. My nipples were no longer sore and red, but they were definitely overused and tired. I wondered how women exclusively pumped for months — did they just push through it? Did they eventually extract the amount they needed? How long would it take to get there?
The hardest part of pumping — apart from worrying over the ounces each time — was the lack of time I had with my daughter. After a full week of pumping non-stop, I started to miss her. I would watch, in envy, every three hours as my husband gave her a bottle of breastmilk I pumped earlier while a machine vibrated on my chest. I longed to hold her. To feed her. To be more than her dairy factory. I wanted to be her mom. I wanted to bond.
Looking back, I realize I was starting to suffer from baby blues, postpartum depression, and anxiety. I didn’t feel the instant connection I was promised, and my interactions with her were so limited. When she wasn’t eating, she was sleeping. And though, yes, I enjoyed skin-to-skin with her, my breasts also ached, making it uncomfortable.
A few days after her procedure, the latch still wasn’t working. And honestly, I was growing exhausted of trying to make something happen that wasn’t coming naturally. I looked down at her delicate face with rosy cheeks and big, alert eyes and wondered how much longer I could do this. My supply wasn’t there. She wasn’t breastfeeding. I hated the way pumping made me feel. I yearned for a solution. I felt defeated.
That Friday, our doula stopped by for a postpartum visit. The purpose and the goal were to check in on me post-birth and to see how our family was adjusting. I felt so at ease around her, and I was thankful she was there to witness and support me through Josefine’s birth. I was eager to talk to her about all the feeding issues in person, even though we had been texting for the past three weeks. When I mentioned how much I was struggling — physically and mentally — she gently asked about baby formula.
Up until this point, I had been very anti-formula. I fed into the pressure of ‘breastmilk is superior’ thinking, and I was determined to give JoJo the best of everything. I mentioned we had a can of Bobbie in the pantry, but so far, we hadn’t tried it. I expressed my concerns and my hesitations, and together, we talked through them.
She reminded me that ‘fed is best’ and that however JoJo received the nutrients she needed to thrive was more than fine. More importantly, she needed her mom more than she needed breastmilk. She said if we decided to try supplementing with formula, warming up a bottle of formula before bedtime may result in a longer stretch of sleep since it may be heavier on her stomach.
Later that night, we needed three ounces of breastmilk to feed Josefine, and I had nothing to give her. I sat with her, sobbing, as she wailed, hungry and waiting, and my husband suggested, ‘Maybe we try formula.’
I waited, the pause in conversation extending longer than it should. I looked at my daughter’s face, scrunched up, red and unhappy. My tears fell on her bald head.
I knew I didn’t have a choice, but my pride still stood in my way.
My husband walked over to the couch, rubbed my head and squeezed my shoulders: “Lindsay, there’s not enough breastmilk in the world to replace a happy, healthy mom.’
‘Okay, give her formula.’
He silently walked over to the kitchen to prepare the bottle while I rocked her, attempting to provide some comfort. When it was ready, I couldn’t muster up the courage to give her the formula myself, so I let him feed her. I went to the bedroom upstairs, and I cried.
I cried to mourn my hopes for breastfeeding. I cried to release my preconceived expectations of feeding my child. I cried over the guilt of not trying harder to breastfeed her or pump for her. I cried and beat myself up for feeling like a failure. I cried because a big, big part of me didn’t want to breastfeed or pump. I cried because I wanted to be done.
And then I cried… for relief. Relief she was eating. Relief she wasn’t crying. Relief she was receiving the ounces she needed. Relief that it wasn’t all on my shoulders. Relief I could let go, just a little, and breathe.
I let myself cry as much as I needed. I washed my face. I took three big inhales and exhales, and I went downstairs. My husband was sitting with her on the couch, cuddled up with our dog. He gave me an ‘Are you okay?’ look, and I nodded, taking Josefine into my arms.
‘You feel better, JoJo? Me, too. Me, too, little cutie.’
A week later, I started the process of weaning my supply. And by 4 and a half weeks, my daughter was a formula-fed baby.
Stay tuned for future posts from Lindsay’s new-mom journey.