alternate title: grieving breastfeeding?
a good friend asked me yesterday as i was bottle feeding my son whether i had found any differences in the bonding between the bottle feeding of this child and the breastfeeding of my first.
when i had my daughter i was a breastfeeding queen. once we overcame our initial difficulties with latching on and supply and demand i felt unstoppable. two years unstoppable. my daughter, now almost five, remembers “bressies” with great fondness. she would probably start up again if given the option!
breastfeeding was a life saver for me. i suffered terrible post natal depression and many anxieties about my abilities as a first time mum. breastfeeding was something concrete that i did well. the physical closeness it provided her and i with through low times cannot be understated, and when i chose to go back to work being able to come home and sit feeding her with my own body allowed to us to reconnect, rebond in a powerful way.
through all this i had tremendous support from my mother. when my milk supply needing boosting my mother would arrive at my home put me to bed, feed and water me, let me feed my baby and then take her away so i could rest. she would do this for days on end until my breasts were overflowing again and my baby was no longer hungry. not many new mums get the help i was given. i did not take it for granted. despite this, i was internally a breastfeeding reactionary – i could not understand how or why other mums would choose to bottle feed. i thought they must be selfish or lazy or both.
three years later when i became pregnant with my twin sons i was told by my doctor that breastfeeding was really not an option. not because of twins but because i had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was now medicated with lithium. lithium crosses the breast (meaning my milk would be full of the stuff) and is toxic to babies. i could have fed them but they would have had to have daily and then weekly blood tests to check their lithium levels and kidney function. not a good option at all. so it was with much sadness that i said goodbye to breastfeeding.
nine months later our beloved boys were born. one little guy first and then our second fella. unfortunately due to a freak accident in the womb (completely unrelated to lithium or my bi polar disorder) our second son was stillborn. i was in shock for the first three days, barely able to hold my surviving son i avoided feeding him until my family forced the issue. it felt weird, disconnecting and false. all these other people were perfectly capable of feeding him. i was no one special.
nine months on. i have just fed him his goodnight bottle. as i feed him he reaches up and strokes the mole on the right side of my neck. his soft hand rubbing backwards and forwards helps me realise we are strongly connected, i am someone very special. i am his mum and it doesn’t matter that i am feeding him with a bottle. that awful frozen feeling i had in the early days was shock and grief and fear. intense fear that i might allow myself to love another little human being. intense fear that he might die like his brother. i no longer judge people their feeding choices because that is what they are: their feeding choices. and if anyone were to ask if i am still grieving for breastfeeding i would say no, i am just grieving for findlay. and the bonds between my children and i are stronger than ever.