Monday, June 29, 2015

I am a Horrible Selfish Mom: I Weaned My Baby.

When my son was born I knew nothing about breastfeeding. It was terribly ignorant of me to just think everything would be fine, even though I had heard it was hard. What the hell did that mean? How could breastfeeding be hard? Your baby opens his mouth, in goes your nipple, and bam!, milk starts a flowin'. The reality for me was not that simple. It was 6 weeks of pain and bleeding and crying and feeding every hour and a half.

But this post is not about that, because in the end I figured it out. I sought the help of a lactation consultant, and my son was diagnosed with a tongue tie. After 6 weeks things were great. Perfect, in fact I would say. I had no need to supplement ever with formula. My son was gaining weight famously. It was another bodily miracle, and I was proud.

Fast forward to when son was 6 months old. Now, in my head I had never placed a time limit for how long I would breastfeed. I just thought, "I'll do it as long as I can". But what about what I wanted? Forget my ability, forget what I could do, what about my desires as an actual individual person? 

Along with my initial naivety about the actual physical process of feeding, came the realization that my body still wasn't my own. During the last few weeks of pregnancy I could not wait to give birth. I wanted my body back so bad, I was tired of sharing it with someone. But when you breastfeed you don't get your body back - It's still being shared... It's still not your own. Don't get me wrong, it feels amazing and beautiful and so complex my words can't do the process justice. You feel a bit like a superhero sustaining a life with your own body; You beam with pride at every ounce your child gains because that growth came from you alone. But after a while I started to get tired. Ten months of pregnancy and six months of breastfeeding equaled over a year of my life where my body was dedicated to someone else. And although I still had the ability to continue breastfeeding, I didn't want to. I was done. 

So what's the big deal? Health Canada recommends breastfeeding exclusively until 6 months. Shouldn't I be able to feel good about reaching that milestone, and move on weaning my son and starting formula? (Breast milk or formula is a child's main source of nutrition until they are one year old). Here's the problem: I don't know where it came from, but I felt incredibly selfish for considering weaning, because my reasons were not good enough. 

Many mom's try to breastfeed and can't; Their baby doesn't latch, they have inverted nipples, the pain is unbearable, their baby doesn't gain weight... the list goes on and on of totally valid physical reasons for not breastfeeding. None of these moms should ever be judged for giving their child formula instead of breast milk. Even though we are told 'breast is best', in my opinion if you have tried and you can't for whatever reason, all the power to you. You gave it a go and you did your best. Your baby will thrive. You are a great mother.

But what about those moms who just don't want to breastfeed because they think it's going to be too hard, or they want to drink alcohol and not worry, or they want the responsibility of feeding shared with their partners, or they want to go back to work and not have to pump? What about those women who choose not to breastfeed because they just don't want to, even though it's best for their baby? Are they horrible people? I've discovered that apparently I believe they are, because I believe I am. I am one of those women, and I hate myself for it. 

At 6 months I had no problems breastfeeding. I wasn't getting pinched or bitten, I was in no pain whatsoever, and my son was still gaining weight like a champ. I had no valid physical reason to wean, but I was over it. I wanted to do jumping jacks without holding my breasts in my hands, and I wanted to not have to worry about leaking in awkward moments. I wanted to be able to sleep on my chest, and for the first time in almost a year I wanted to wear a real bra again that pushed my breasts up. I wanted to be able to diet and really try to lose weight if I chose, and drink whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. I wanted my breasts to feel sensual again for myself, and for my husband (because breastfeeding completely took away the sexuality of my them). I wanted to wean my son for my own selfish reasons. And so I did.

I don't know where I got the idea that it's wrong to wean your child unless it's absolutely necessary. Maybe it comes from struggling so much at the start, because I feel like I worked so hard for it and I am giving up too soon. I belong to a group online of about 200 women who all have children the same age as my son and much of the talk over the past 6 months has been about breastfeeding trials and tribulations. I guess this could contribute to the pressure to continue, but it's also been supportive of the opposite. Maybe 'breast is best' is just such a catchy phrase that it's ingrained itself into my psyche and I feel guilt for going against the mantra. Or maybe somehow you are so changed when you give birth that you constantly feel guilt and shame when you choose yourself over your child. Whatever the reason, I still struggle with it today. I feel ashamed when I tell people I am not breastfeeding anymore. I feel strange when I shake up a bottle of formula in public. I sometimes miss knowing that no matter what happens or wherever I am I will have the ability to feed my child. I haven't figured out if this pressure is coming from society, or from myself.

My son is seven and a half months old now. I am almost fully formula feeding - I still breastfeed him once at night when he wakes. I took my time weaning, replacing one feed at a time. I will soon drop the night feed and my breastfeeding days will be completely over. The process of formula feeding was a bit of a learning curve but feels normal now. My son loves his bottle and doesn't have any problems, in fact I think he enjoys the fast flow and immediacy of the milk. I still cuddle him close while feeding, and he still looks into my eyes with love when his belly gets full.

He is a happy baby, and I am on my way to being a happier mama.

One of my last breastfeeding moments with my son.

1 comment:

  1. Genevieve, you are an awesome mother and I think self doubt may just go hand in hand with that. Look at this beautiful healthy baby that you grew! You struggled to breastfeed and you were successful. That was a huge challenge which you both overcame and you well know what the benefits are. Eli will continue to grow healthy and strong, bright and beautiful because of the great head start you gave him and the love and nourishment you will continue to provide. Don't worry that anyone might judge you because "those who mind don't matter and those who matter, don't mind"