We’re back on the feeding. But in a different way. William came home last week and told me ‘there’s not many bags left in the freezer’ and I lost my mind for an evening as I thought about all the ways that I had failed as a mother. It’s a mum thing and as much as they want to help, dad’s just do not understand.
Whether you are breast, bottle or tube feeding, milk supply is an emotional subject. We all want to know that we are providing our child with everything that they need until they no longer need it. Sadly this is often not the case as our bodies can only make so much milk and if it’s not enough, then sadly it’s just not enough. So mum, after mum, after mum goes through the agony of adding formula, of letting the breast milk go. Not everyone. But a lot.
I can’t speak about breast feeding, I don’t know what skin to skin at birth is like, what it feels like to put your baby to the breast just minutes after welcoming them to the world. But I can speak about expressing. About the agony of a midwife with bony hands squeezing your nipple to within an inch of its life, as she shows you how to express colostrum. About then trying to do the same while the husband tries to catch all the tiny drops with a syringe. About cherishing every little ml we can collect and taking it to our boys as the one thing we could do for them. About the milk coming in and the husband massaging huge, hard, sore breasts to get the milk out while you hold the cups to yourself and try not to cry from the pain. I can talk about the total sense of achievement when the bottles fill up easily and you know that it’s helping your miracle baby. But I can also talk about the misery of watching the milk fill up the bottles after your baby passes away, and the sight of it all making you want to scream. About the alarm going off in the middle of the night calling you to a breast pump that hurts your nipples and doesn’t look up at you with cute tired eyes while it does so. About the hours and hours we must have spent hooked up to that pump over the months, alone and bored. And the hours we spent hooked up to it alongside the other mums, chatting, supporting, just being there in silence.
After you work so hard and long at something, anything, it’s incredibly disappointing when it starts to fail. When suddenly one day you realise when you express you’re not getting enough for a full feed, so you supplement it with milk from your freezer store. Until that day that you discover the freezer store is almost out and your ability to feed your child is almost gone.
We have a love/hate relationship with expressing. Ask us any day, we hate it, it takes up so much time and effort, takes away from time that we can be with our baby. But if you say to us ‘stop doing it then’ we will look at you like you’re insane. And that is because of the milk guilt.
If we had the opportunity to breastfeed we would have. And we wouldn’t stop until our baby didn’t want it anymore. But we didn’t. And if we choose to stop pumping or our milk runs out then it’s another tick on the list of mummy failures. We are not against using formula. We just don’t want to not use breastmilk.
This is all made even more complicated when you’re tube feeding. What if we change to formula and try to get off the tube and he hates the taste? What if we add formula and his sensitive stomach revolts against it and we are back to screaming and spewing? What if we add formula and everything is a million times better and it was our milk all along that was bad?
We all know the rational; the fed is best frame of mind. And we do try hard to keep it in the forefront. But we also need to grieve. To let go of one more thing on our parenting journey. We will let the milk go one day, but for a while we will all embrace the milk guilt and look crazy as we try to get supply back up. To buy us some time to process the sadness, so that when we do stop we are as ready as we can be.