One morning last year, I was gathering bottles and getting ready to feed a hungry little Noah while herding kids out the door. . .and my helpful little Phil chimed in, "Hey, Mommy!! Why don't you just give Noah some of that milk you, like, make with your BODY?"
"Well, Philly, some mommies are really good at that, but let's just say it's not one of YOUR mommy's, uhhhh, "Special Talents."
"Oh. Well, I would be glad to help you if you need it, Mommy!" said my little Phil in his chipper and cheerful voice.
I giggled to myself as I watched my little kindergarten lactation consultant run to the bus stop, but I couldn't help but think- "UM, BUDDY!! Where was your lactation support at when we were trying to do this thang six years ago?"
I am, in fact, a horrible breastfeeder. I have tried each and every time to breastfeed my boys, but each and every time my body has failed to produce the right quality of milk for my children to gain weight. Now, the first time breastfeeding failed, I thought to myself, "I am a failure." I fed Philip that first bottle with tears in my eyes and a pain in my heart like I was feeding him rat poison and signing him up for certain death because of my inability to effectively lactate. "FAIL!! MOM FAIL!!!" I mean, I had decided that I was going to breastfeed in COLLEGE, when my sophomore roommate did a paper on it and came back to our room at the sorority house and told all of us girls about the benefits. This was pretty mind-blowing information to us back in 1998! I remember thinking, "Wow!! I need to do that!! That's amazing!" So, when I was pregnant there was no doubt in my mind I would nurse my baby. Paul and I took the breastfeeding class and I read the Dr. Sears and borrowed a pump and bought the nursing pads and I just felt so self-assured.
When Phil was still below his birth weight at one month and I started to supplement, however, I felt nothing but ashamed. I felt there was something that I was missing, something I had done so terribly wrong. Other girls can do it? Why can't I do it? I am a woman, am I not SUPPOSED to be able to do these things? I was a Biology major. . .wasn't this Biology 101? And then there's a girl with a cute chubby baby that she had BREASTFED. . .like all of that chub came from her MAGICAL MILK TALENTS and I looked at my scrawny, hungry little baby like. . .what am I doing wrong? But in the past few years I have come to discover this truth. . .I am perfectly made exactly the way I am supposed to be. I tried my best, but dragging myself through guilt about it would be some major arrogance on my part. So, I have let it go as not one of my "special talents" because I am pretty experienced with a lack of those!
Flashback 1985: My mom spent hours and hours trying to teach me to do a cartwheel when I was a little girl. I tried so, so hard but I could just not get my legs to go over my head just right! I saw all of the other little girls happily turning across the fields and felt like I should be able to do that, too. But, eventually, even my mom THE MOST PATIENT TEACHER IN THE WORLD gave up. I shed a few tears as the six-year-old who couldn't do cartwheels, but I shifted my attention to regular wheels and I turned out to be a pretty good roller skater! And back in the 90's when everyone could see those magic eye pictures and I would just stare at the thing in the mall and pretend I could see the dolphins or unicorns or whatever like everyone else but my ears would be burning with embarrassment because I had to read the caption on the picture to know what it was? Yeah, that was a bummer. But, I turned out to be a great baby sitter! The 90's was totally my decade for awesome babysitting, I always had a full calendar, moms and kids loved me! Oh, yeah, and when all of the girls could do their bangs in cute styles and braid each other's hair and curl it and look simply adorable? I can still barely do a ponytail. And I have 80 cowlicks. No one has ever asked me to braid their hair, ever. Even my son has told me it is a good thing God didn't give me any girls. But, I am pretty good at doing makeup! I've even done a few girlfriends up for their weddings, which felt pretty special.
So, you see, it was just me needing to make peace with the things I physically can do and the things I physically can't. The peace came slowly the first time, but it came. And I tried again to breastfeed each and every time. (I still look at those magic eye pics and try a cartwheel, too. . .just in case!) But all the pumping and the reading and the lactation consultants in the world four times over just couldn't make it work just right. By the fourth time around, I still shed a tear when I placed Noah on the scale but I came to a peace much more quickly. That peace came with the humility of knowing that I can't do everything perfectly just the way I imagine. Can I do it all? No. Can I do some things? Yes. OH YES! There are things as a mom that I can do really well. Like cuddling and dancing and singing songs and going off on crazy creative tangents with my kids and patiently answering thousands of questions a day, baking yummy muffins and reheating frozen food to crispy, delicious perfection. I will choose to celebrate those things in honor of the God who made me just the way I am.
I also know that the harm I inflicted on my children by not being able to breastfeed was a matter of projected fears more than reality. My happy, bright seven-year-old is still just as cuddly and lovey as he was when so many of us cuddled him and loved him and gave him his bottles- his daddy, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, great grandma, loving babysitters and neighbors. . .everyone loves feeding a happy baby. Seeing how loved each of my boys has been and how lovely it was for everyone to have that chance to feed them was pretty special. And I can't even be jealous of women who breastfeed, because A. I don't get jealous, TOTAL waste of energy. and B. I know firsthand how hard they are working and the sacrifices they are making. We all know breastmilk isn't truly free, it's a labor of love by you. You go, mamas. I feel blessed to be living in a country where it was a reality for me to have a readily available alternative, as so many of our sisters throughout history and still around the globe have not shared that luxury of choice if their child is hungry.
Parenting makes me more humble every day. There is so much I don't know. There is so much I can't do. However, I trust in the God who made me. He knit me together in my mother's womb and made me just right. . .all 5 feet 6-and-a-half-inches of non-cartwheeling, non-lactating me. I think it all boils down to this. . .we have to choose love and hope over fear. If we do things in love, we are doing OK. Everything on Earth could disappear tomorrow, but Love will remain. We do the things we can do with love, and trust that God will use our "special talents" to enrich our children's lives. If ANYONE loves them more than we do, it's the Big Guy! He's got them in the palm of His hand, and us mamas, too. So if you've got 99 talents and breastfeeding ain't one. . .that's OK! You're just the way you're supposed to be, too.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. Psalm 139:13