Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mommy, just like my mom. My childhood is chock-full of memories playing “mommy,” and mimicking my mom throughout her daily routine. I had a doll that I named, “Pretty Baby,” (I know, real original…) that I carried EVERYWHERE, and I even had a play ironing board (it was plastic…) that I’d used to “iron” Pretty Baby’s clothes while my mom ironed our family’s. When I outgrew Pretty Baby, my cousin, Claire, and I got these supposedly “real to life” dolls that we’d play with in our intricately imaginative, make believe lives.
It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized all the sacrifices my mom made for me on a daily basis. When I was a kid, it was just life. I’d wake up in the middle of the night scared, and she’d appear. Every time. I was fed yummy food, clothed, (usually in matching outfits from head to toe) cleaned, driven to and from dance classes 6 days a week, played with (“let’s play ironing!”) and loved without realizing how many everyday sacrifices went into each one of those things.
Before having a baby, I knew motherhood would mean sacrifice. I knew I’d probably walk around like a zombie, going on less sleep than the all-nighters I’d pull in college. I knew it meant cold meals, and coffee warmed back up 3 and 4 times, (only to be drank cold anyway!) I knew it meant missing out on social events because it’s during nap time or after bed time.
I just don’t think I realized that some of the sacrifices might be my own hopes and dreams of what motherhood should look like.
I went through high school and college trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Going into ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ ended up being my career of choice, but to be honest, deep down, I was hoping it’d just be a temporary placeholder until I met my knight in shining armor, we said “I do,” and started making babies.
Before I had a baby, I had a lot of expectations about the way motherhood was “supposed” to go. I would have a natural, drug-free birth, where I’d hear my baby’s first cries while he got lifted up in the air as the doctor exclaimed, “it’s a boy!” I would get little sleep at first, which would be hard, but worth it. And breastfeeding would be the pinnacle of motherhood- a beautiful, bonding experience for me and my baby, continued until he was at least one year old. As women, our bodies were created to do these things, so therefore, it would all be natural, and easy and “right.” Right?
Well, if you know my birth story, you know that whole natural, drug-free birth plan came crashing down as my blood pressure rose higher and higher, to a point where my doctor used the big, bad, scary “I” word: INDUCTION. The next day, after being induced with pitocin, causing me such painful contractions I “caved” on an epidural, my drug-free labor was officially out the window. (And I ended up being totally ok with needing the epidural…)
Fast forward to 12 hours of labor and 35 minutes of [horribly painful] pushing later, and those famous first cries didn’t come right away. The doctor didn’t hold him up and say “it’s a boy!” She instead quickly handed him to some nurses as they whispered another scary word (NICU) because my beautiful baby boy wasn’t breathing at birth. 30-45 never ending seconds later, he was breathing and all was well, (no NICU necessary) but my induction into motherhood (pun intended) was showing me that a lot more of it was out of my control than I anticipated.
As I began the journey of breastfeeding, even though it was really painful at first, I loved every moment. Other than the normal pain that comes from a very sensitive part of your body getting used to being, (I’m just gonna say it:) sucked on for more hours than not every day, I had a pretty easy go of it. I was very grateful and knew I was lucky to not have any major issues.
Then, a few months ago, Knox started getting a little fussy during and after nursing. It only lasted a few minutes, and since he was such a happy baby, his weight was good and he was still a great sleeper, my pediatrician said it was nothing to be concerned about. Until he stopped sleeping through the night.
Then last weekend, we were in Indianapolis for a wedding, and I noticed two things that were red flags to my mommy gut. He had two completely dry diapers in a row (with nursing in between) and I KNEW that was bad. We use cloth diapers regularly, except for when we travel, and while putting on one of his disposable diapers, I felt like the tabs overlapped more than what I remembered from last time we used them. Those two things combined, made me really concerned that something was wrong.
Well, whoever says to trust your mommy gut was spot on, because when we took Knox to the pediatrician on Monday morning, we got hit with another curveball. Knox had lost 14 ounces, moving from the 45th percentile, down to the 4th percentile. That was definitely cause for concern, and yet another big, bad, scary word was introduced, this time an “S” word, (no not the 4 letter one…) SUPPLEMENT.
The doctor asked me a few questions, and for some reasons that were out of my control, she was guessing my milk supply had probably started decreasing over the past month. But because Knox was still sleeping well, and had such a happy countenance, he wasn’t “giving” me the cues that would have alerted me to this problem. And not only that, but since my supply was most likely low for so long, and Knox is almost 6 months, she wasn’t optimistic that I’d get it back to a point where I could stop supplementing with formula.
And all of the sudden I was faced with a new reality of motherhood: my body wasn’t doing something it was “supposed” to do, and I felt like a failure.
It’s amazing how much of your identity you realize is wrapped up in the “should’s” of motherhood, when something happens that isn’t a part of your plan. All of the sudden, every single article, blog post, study and book I’d ever read about how “breast is best” flashed through my mind, and again, I felt like the biggest failure.
What if other moms judge me when they see me feeding my baby formula?
What if Knox grows up with developmental set backs because he didn’t get breastmilk until he was a year old?
What if our mother/son bond is affected?
What if Knox feels abandoned?
What if, what if, what if…lies lies lies…
Then I realized something really significant: this did not come as a surprise to God. He knew this was going to happen, and He knew Knox would be ok. He loves Knox more than I do, and He’s giving me everything I need to be the best mother I can be. Whether that be a strong supply of breastmilk, or the humility to accept the help of formula.
I know there are plenty of moms out there whose supplies have dropped, and with nursing all day, “power pumping” and taking supplements, they successfully increased their supply. So for the first few days after we learned about my “condition,” I vowed to do whatever it took to get my supply back up. But as I prayed about this decision, and asked God to bless my efforts to increase my supply, I felt really unsettled about it.
I was feeling so overwhelmed and stressed out with the amount of time I’d need to devote to getting my supply back up, especially right now, during one of the busiest seasons in our ministry yet. It really hit me one afternoon, as I was sitting on the floor pumping, and Stuart was playing with Knox, that I wanted to be over there playing with my son and not pumping in an effort to regain something that may not come back anyway.
Over the next few days, each time I nursed Knox prior to giving him a bottle of formula, he nursed for less and less time before he would start fussing for his bottle. And I realized something else: I could spend all this time regaining my supply, only to have Knox be the one to make the decision in the end.
I reached out to some friends and family for prayer and advice. And what I learned (other than the fact that I have the most amazing, encouraging women in my life EVER,) is that more moms than I realized have to supplement at some point.
I was not alone.
I am not a bad mom.
There was nothing I could’ve done differently, there was no way I could’ve known what was happening, and luckily, I realized it early enough to take action to get Knox the nourishment he needed.
I had to ask myself if my desire to breastfeed Knox was becoming more important than giving him what he needs to continue growing healthy and strong. So with a LOT of tears, a few million big, tight hugs from Stuart, I decided to let go of my hopes to once again exclusively breastfeed. I’m still going to attempt to nurse before as many bottles as Knox is willing. But if nursing him causes him more stress than just giving him a bottle, then it’s more work than it’s worth.
Knox is the priority, not breastfeeding.
Am I bummed? Incredibly. But I know there are women out there who aren’t able to breastfeed at all, and I am so thankful that I had almost 6 months of exclusively breastfeeding my sweet boy.
Us mothers, heck, us women, give ourselves such a hard time to be way too perfect. In a world where the perfect body is a fake, airbrushed body, where romantic comedies make relationships seem like all snuggles and no struggles and where motherhood seems like everyone else has it all figured out, the only way to survive is to be real. Because those things that the world shoves down our throats as the standard…they aren’t real, they’re not even close.
Struggle is real. Losing your milk supply is real. Not being able to push out your baby, and needing the help of forceps, a vacuum or a c-section is real. Postpartum depression is real. Miscarriages are real. Infertility is real. Struggling with singleness is real. Not feeling beautiful is real.
And when we can be real with each other, that’s when the magic happens. We realize we’re not alone. We all have struggles. Life can be really hard. But when we do it together, encouraging and cheering each other on, that’s when the struggle becomes a stepping stone to a life full of sweetness. We survive. And we become stronger.
Us women, we need each other. Whether we carry our own baby, adopt one, or are an “honorary” mother to young girls who need a mentor, we can’t do it alone. If we are constantly striving for perfect, or pretending to be perfect, then other women and girls won’t know it’s ok to struggle.
I’m sure my tears shed over my lost milk supply are not over, and I’m sure this is not the last hardship I’ll face in motherhood. But what I do know is that the encouragement and honesty from other women is how I could hold my head up high and have confidence in myself as a mother.
The reality that God’s got this, and me, and Stuart, and Knox, and all of it. That’s everything.
So friends, let’s just breathe, be real, and give ourselves grace in the midst of struggles. Oh and call or text a friend. And if you don’t have a friend, text me. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll listen, and I’ll even pray for you if you’d like. Us women, we gotta stick together.