The battles were fierce.
At least, that's how I felt when I tried to breastfeed my daughter. Each time began with Evangeline emitting screams and cries no earthly being should be allowed to make. I would offer my breast, and the thrashing would start. While her little hands clawed and pushed one side of my chest, her tiny feet kicked the other. As I've become well aware of, baby appendages are filled with a surprising amount of force. My husband had to restrain those flailing limbs or there was no way we were accomplishing anything.
Because she was so ticked off, for whatever the reason could be, she wasn't able to latch on by herself. She'd move her head quickly from side to side and make these alarming growling noises, almost like a little puppy trying to attack a toy. We would carry on like this for a while before she would finally start sucking, but only with the help of a nipple shield. And even then, she fought us.
From day one of her life to eight weeks, this is how breastfeeding went.
Feeding her became such a source of anxiety that I dreaded it.
Some parts of what I'm writing may sound kind of humorous, but at the time it was horrible. I hardly ate. I cried a lot. I thought, What am I doing wrong? and This is all my fault. I felt depressed and exhausted. Our baby girl wasn't doing any better. Along with not being able to properly breastfeed, she was upset the majority of the time she was awake. Just inconsolable. We tried so many things: acid reflux medicine, Colic Calm, all the techniques they teach you to burp your baby. I developed callouses on my hands from swinging her over and over again in her car seat (that was the only way to make her stop crying, even if only temporarily). We thought maybe she was lactose intolerant, so we tried this stuff called Colief. I remember wondering if all newborns were like this, and if so, why, for the love of all that is good and right in the world, would anyone want to have a second child. We just had no idea what we were doing. And all the while, breastfeeding remained this heavy thing, looming over us.
Everything came to a head when we went to the pediatrician and learned that in a whole month, she hadn't added any weight to her tiny seven pound, four ounce body. There were other babies we knew that were heavier at birth than she was at almost two months. I thought, how can this be possible?? She usually nursed for so long, sometimes over an hour at a time, how is she not getting enough to eat??
When you are working so hard to help your baby, news like this is devastating. I would see updates from other new moms on Facebook about how well their babies were gaining weight and how joyous they felt about being a mother, and all I felt was bitterness.
After another week of trying to nurse her with no improvement, we made the decision to give her formula. She guzzled that first bottle down like she hadn't eaten all day. All the problems we thought she had went away immediately. She calmed right down and started smiling more than she screamed. We were so relieved. Unfortunately, once we gave her that bottle, she refused to attempt breastfeeding anymore. I started pumping and realized I was hardly making any milk. So, basically, she was trying to tell us she was starving this whole time, and we just weren't getting the hint.
In the end, I chose to stop breast feeding and pumping altogether because it was just too hard. What was supposed to be this wonderful, sweet bonding experience between my baby and me became this burdensome, stress-inducing nightmare.
So, for us, formula was a blessing.
But it wasn't easy for me to accept this blessing. I kept blaming myself and feeling like a horrible mother because I wasn't giving my baby what was best for her. I felt like less of a woman because I couldn't breast feed. I thought I was ruining my baby because so many books, doctors and websites will tell you how breast milk is liquid gold and formula that second-rate other stuff. I wanted so desperately for someone to tell me it was ok, that it was a good decision what I was doing.
And then people did tell me it was ok. They showered me with encouragement and love and support.
And it didn't help.
And I realized something. Sometimes, you have to release the burden while it clings tightest.
Yes, I could have analyzed everything I did to find out where I went wrong. Yes, there are tactics I didn't try. Pills I could have taken to increase my milk supply. Tubes attached to bottles full of milk I could have attached to my breasts to encourage her to nurse. I could have pumped every 2 hours in hopes of making more milk.
But what was more helpful was digging down and facing my true struggle: refusing to allow myself the grace that God and others were already giving me.
Once I let myself accept this grace, I felt the freedom to make a decision. And my decision was to stop. Stop all the striving and straining. Stop battling.
Peace finally came when I took all of my loose ends and just dropped them without having tied them all together. Peace came, and along with it, the ability to see truth: I love my daughter so, so much. I am not a horrible mother. My husband and I made a wise, beneficial choice. I can rejoice in feeding my baby formula, knowing she is getting the nourishment she needs.
To my delight, we now have a smiling, gurgling, blessedly chunky baby who is so joyful and, most importantly, healthy.
For a while there, I fought against receiving the one thing we all desperately need in this whole raising a tiny human thing. But I believe I am slowly learning to take hold of it with these feeble fingers of mine.
There is grace. Even when it doesn't look at all like what you thought it would. When you choose to lean on it and on the One who gives it, instead of on your own strength, you have not lost anything. You haven't failed.
You may not have any strength left to fight for yourself, but that's right where you should be.
It is there where you will find, if you let yourself, that you have been given the victory you were searching for all along.
*edited on March 30, 2015