Since my first baby was born 14 months ago, I have exclusively breastfed him. Today, however, I bought my first can of formula. I decided to supplement because I want to feel like I have a life outside of breastfeeding.
When I became pregnant, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to breastfeed. There was also no doubt in my mind that I would be good at it, and that I would persevere over any obstacles, no matter how hard it was or how resistant my baby was to it. Luckily, everything worked out fine, and I am still breastfeeding, but I am starting to have mixed feelings about my decision to do it exclusively.
Don’t get me wrong — I love breastfeeding my child. But there are certain things about breastfeeding that make me sometimes hate it, too.
There’s one thing in particular about breastfeeding that's both a blessing and a curse: I’m the only one who can do it. It gives me a great sense of purpose to feel like my son wants and needs me, and I love that he thinks I’m the greatest person in the entire world while he drinks from my boob. But it also means that my kid is hugely dependent on me being around. All the time.
I feel like I haven’t quite learned the secret of being able to exclusively breastfeed while having a life outside of motherhood.
For a long time, I was OK with that. My husband was the breadwinner of the family and did not have a lot of spare time, while I had the “freedom” to work (or not work) whenever I wanted as a freelance writer. At one point, my husband had a remote job that allowed him to spend more time with Jasper and help out with keeping him busy or changing his diapers. But when it came time to feed him, that task fell entirely on Mommy. I still rarely had time to do anything else.
At a certain point, I was envious of moms who formula-fed their kids. I felt like parents who made the decision to feed their children formula had the freedom to live life to the fullest — not only did they get to enjoy the ups and downs of parenthood, but they also got to have careers that challenged them intellectually, hobbies that were fun and relaxing, and maybe even time to socialize with people outside of the family unit.
My child will be fed, and both he and his mom can feel good about it. Because isn’t that what really matters in the end?
I’m not saying all these things are unavailable to breastfeeding moms. Kudos to those of you who have all that and still have the energy to get your nipples sucked on! But I am saying that personally, I feel like I haven’t quite learned the secret of being able to exclusively breastfeed while having a life outside of motherhood. And I desperately want to have that life outside of motherhood. I want to be a hands-on mom, but I also want to work and have hobbies. I want to have it all.
So I bought a can of formula.
Now that I'm about to start supplementing, the fact that Jasper will be able to gain nourishment from a bottle instead of my breast gives me a huge sense of relief. But this can of formula symbolizes a lot of things for me. It signifies a refuge during a time of immense feelings of guilt and worry. I recently got my first postpartum period, which led to a slight decline in my milk supply, and that made me wonder whether I had been remiss in breastfeeding Jasper frequently enough. Knowing that I have a backup while I try to jump-start my production provides me with great comfort.
It signifies hope, hope that maybe I can finally have some time for myself and not feel like such a sh*thead for needing it. It tells me that maybe it’s OK to occasionally leave Jasper with a babysitter if I feel like going to a yoga class. Maybe I can even visit my mother or other family members in the Philippines and have him stay with them for a few days, while I go on a Jason Mraz pilgrimage, just like I used to before I had my baby.
It signifies change. A change in my attitude as a new mom, from someone who focuses on all the guilt and worries that come with having a new baby — What if Jasper doesn’t eat well without me because it’s just not the same? What if he forgets me while I am gone? What if my milk supply ends up drying up for good? — to someone who wants to focus on her own freedom, by supplementing and giving her child the best of both worlds.
Most importantly, it means my child will be fed, and both he and his mom can feel good about it. Because isn’t that what really matters in the end?