I never expected to be able to breastfeed. I was certain my history of chest surgery and small breasts would disqualify me. When I was 34 weeks’ pregnant at our meet ‘n’ greet, I showed the paediatrician the formula I had picked out, just in case breastfeeding wouldn’t come easily. But it did. In spite of the odds—a history of IVF (the donor eggs part is irrelevant), the chest surgery, being over 35, a caesarean, and, most pertinently, a massive haemorrhage—I was exclusively breastfeeding on the day ‘Budi’ and I were discharged from hospital. I can’t make babies, but my body can grow and feed them.
As I was wheeled out of my hospital room, clutching on my knees the car seat that dwarfed my newborn daughter, I saw the sign on the ward: Breast is Best. I thought about all the moms who wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t. I thought about all the moms who didn’t want to breastfeed. What message would that send them?
I am all for encouraging parents to breastfeed—it’s hard and it’s hungry work, the extent of which is difficult to fully grasp if you have never breastfed or supported someone who breastfeeds. It doesn’t cost money the way formula does, but it’s neither cheap nor always convenient. (Whether you dare breastfeed or mix formula in public, you might find yourself on the receiving end of busybodies’ disapproving looks or comments.)
A friend of mine complained to me about her sister’s choice to formula-feed her baby. I admired my friend for having supported her sister, then a single-mom-to-be who decided she wanted to breastfeed, by going with her to a prenatal breastfeeding class. But a few weeks after the baby was born, my friend’s sister decided it would be easier to formula-feed her son.
“I am so disappointed in my sister’s choice,” my friend confided.
“But that’s just it,” I responded. “It’s her choice.”
Choice is everything. Choice is the difference between being miserable or being happy. (And sometimes you have to choose to experience all the misery in order to get to the happy.) I didn’t have much choice when it came to having a baby. My choice to conceive when and how I wanted evaporated when I miscarried, but I chose to try infertility treatment. My choice to pass on my genes was never an option, but I chose a fabulous donor. My choice to have a friendly-but-respectful-distance relationship with our donor was taken away, but I choose to believe that she has her reasons. My choice to deliver in the midwife-led birthing center at my hospital was scrubbed out by a surgical birth, but I chose to embrace it. But I did get a choice in how to feed my child, and I am grateful to have my way.
The best advice I got, which I now pass on, is not “Breast is Best,” but this:
If you can get through the first week, you can get through the first month.
And if you can get through the first month, you can do it.
Like I said, I never expected to be able to breastfeed. Once we were up, up, and away! I set my sights on reaching the three-month mark. When six months had passed and we were still going strong, I decided I would nurse until Budi was a year old, and then until she self-weaned. I assumed that would be before 15 months, but here I am breastfeeding for almost 23 months. I am proud of my body. I am glad that I was able to feed my baby in the way I hoped. I never doubted that I would love any child of mine, however they arrived in my arms, but the bond my daughter and I forged when she latched on was a wonderful opportunity to get to know her, and for me to feel empowered by my motherhood. My DNA failed me in many ways, but making and delivering milk is something the scrambled chromosome didn’t affect. And although there have been times when I have desperately wished someone other than myself could soothe Budi with a bottle or a pacifier (neither of which she has ever taken), I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be her only comfort. Me, the non-genetic mother.
But—FET and pregnancy, or not—the time to wean Budi is approaching. I’ve been reluctant to push her to give up something she genuinely enjoys, particularly when it would be for the chance at at possibility of a younger sibling. (That’s why I’ve pushed for an unmedicated FET cycle.)
Except for when she’s been sick, I haven’t nursed her to sleep or offered to nurse her in months. We’re down to a single daily session of no more than 10 minutes, after I pick her up out of her crib. The past few mornings, I’ve distracted her to space the time between waking and breastfeeding. I coax her to eat breakfast first. Then she wants to play. Then, around 10am, she remembers.
“Neh-neh!” she asks. “Like neh-neh.” She signs please expectantly for good measure.
I remind myself that Fed is Best. I tell myself that we will still have hugs and kisses and cuddles and snuggles—just without my boobs.
“I know,” I respond. “Budi wants neh-neh.” She nods, reassured that I have understood. “But Budi is a big girl and we are going to eat toast. Oh look! What do I have on my head? Is that a teapot hat? Silly Mummy!”
It’s getting easier and easier to stall her requests. I wonder if I will recognise the last time she latches. It’s a bittersweet time.