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A Mother's Dilemma

Not enough milk?

Finding My Way continued...

What finally made a difference was using a supplemental nursing system, an ingenious contraption that delivers formula into the baby's mouth via a tiny plastic tube taped to the mom's nipple while he nurses. I used it at every feeding. After a few weeks, my breasts leaked milk for the first time. And a few weeks later, I first experienced the sensation of "letdown" -- the feeling of milk flowing in the breast. The nursing system had worked for me. But having to simultaneously fiddle with the tubes, tape, formula, and baby was a hassle. One night I forgot to screw the cap on tightly and spilled formula all over our bed.

Eventually I was able to hang up the nursing system. I found it easier to nurse Julian for the few minutes' worth of milk I had and follow up with a full bottle of formula. When I went back to work at six months, my scanty supply diminished further. (Pumping had been out of the question because I never succeeded in pumping more than 10 milliliters at a time). And by nine months, Julian lost interest in nursing altogether.

Breasts Dry, Eyes Wet

Breastfeeding advocates respond to my story warmly with "Oh, what a wonderful mother you are to have made such an effort for your child!" Or, "Your story makes me so sad for all the women who don't even bother to try." Although well meant, these comments miss the point.

Instead of enjoying those precious, fleeting days with my newborn, I spent two months crying at every feeding. I had really looked forward to nursing and wanted to provide my child with the benefits I had read about. And as I'd always been insecure about my small-breastedness, I was excited to be part of something in which, supposedly, size didn't matter.

Instead, I found myself dreading the thought of going out and bottle-feeding in public. All my new-mom friends breastfed with aplomb, and it was painful to be around them. I forgot to bring formula to one new-moms'-group outing, and when Julian got fussy with hunger, I finally explained to the group that I had to leave. One of my friends asked, in all innocence, "Can't you just breastfeed?" I felt my face grow hot with mortification as I stammered that I couldn't, and when I got home I sobbed and sobbed. I eventually turned to psychotherapy to deal with the depression over my breastfeeding failure.

So I was a mess, but Julian was fine. Four years later, he's healthy, beautiful, and bright. It's absolutely impossible to tell which of his peers were exclusively breastfed and which weren't. It simply doesn't seem to matter. And I have come to see that my efforts didn't necessarily prove what a wonderful, devoted mother I was. Rather, they demonstrated how pervasive the mentality of "breast is best, at all costs" has become and the extremes to which a supposedly rational person can go to pursue this ideal.

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