Just a few weeks ago, thanks to the gorgeous recent Midwest weather, we were able to take the girls outside to soak up the warmth and sunshine. Sweet Snuggle Bug included. Since we were going to be out for a while, I made an extra bottle, grabbed some diapers and wipes, and we found a cozy spot on our hanging swing near our pond, out back. As we were rocking and enjoying the craziness that encompasses her three older sisters, she promptly started sucking on her hands, and I knew she was hungry. Again.
And for whatever reason, sweet souls, as I placed the bottle to her mouth, I had a serious moment of guilt. I had a bottle of breastmilk in the fridge, but I wanted to keep it for a night feeding. Our neighbors were out. Everyone has an opinion these days. Would they too? I was second-guessing my choice, when suddenly, I flipped a switch. I literally wanted to shake myself. “E.l.i.z.a.b.e.t.h., she is y.o.u.r. baby. She is thriving. She is off-the-charts for height and weight. WHO CARES how you are feeding her?!?!”
I honestly couldn’t believe that those “shameful” thoughts ever even rolled through my mind. This wasn’t my first rodeo. But, with that being said, social media also was not nearly as generous in offering opportunities to judge, confront and belittle others, six years ago, as it is today. Heck, I wasn’t even on Facebook when our oldest and second-oldest were born.
And so, my mindset shifted. And a dozen thoughts rolled through.
If I could rewind my almost-seven-year -anniversary-as-a-new-mama-self, oh how much I would have to tell her…
As we welcomed our first, sweet, tiny bundle-of-joy into our arms. As I was determined to not allow a bottle to touch her mouth. As we experienced a horrible first two days home. While our sweet baby struggled to get the nutrition she needed. Which resulted in both of us back in the hospital. To work on nursing and increasing her timid weight.
How my life for those next two-and-a-half months became like a hamster wheel.
Nurse. Bottle. Pump. Repeat.
I literally felt like I was living in the nursery. I barely kept up with eating. I was losing more and more sleep. And I was not about to cut my perfectionist-new-mother-self a break. I was determined.
Until at three months old, I hit a point of utter exhaustion. And within the next month, I had found myself in the darkest depths of postpartum depression (a whole other post in itself).
And so I stopped. Formula replaced everything else. And I had a baby who was suddenly sleeping 12 hours a night. We were both in a better place. And I began to feel like I was gaining myself “back”.
Fast-forward 19 months later to the arrival of our biggest-new-addition. Who arrived two weeks early. And two pounds heavier than her older sister. Again, determined to “try again” and avoid too much formula, if possible, I began pumping immediately. For two weeks, she nursed, I pumped, and due to her weight, I gave her an ounce or so of formula with each feeding.
Oh how quickly things changed. She was big. She was hungry. And I had two under 19-months. That was it for me. Although I kept pumping for her first three months, formula was part of each-and-every one of her feedings. And I was. fine. with. it. all.
Just under two years later came my quickest delivery and my hardest post-partum experience. With a post-delivery hemorrhage, and 12 hours back on Pitocin, without any pain medication, a bottle to my baby’s mouth wasn’t even a bat-of-my-eye. She had more than one bottle in the hospital. And ironically, I was able to pump the most I had ever pumped, along with continuing a month further than with my other precious babes. But, do you want to know something? She too had a bottle of formula with nearly every feeding. And she is the now, at three-years-old, t.h.e. most enthusiastic, energetic, happiest little sunshine in our world.
So, three-and-a-half months ago, after the arrival of beautiful baby number four, and a forty-minute nursing session within twenty minutes of her birth, she too had a bottle. In fact, we went through an entire package of bottles at the hospital (and welcomed the offer to take an entire other package home with us), as we worked on nursing and ensuring her nutrition through supplementing. By far, my easiest post-partum experience.
With a slightly-sad heart, I am coming to the end of my pumping for this gorgeous babe, and although waves of guilt come-and-go, I am standing stall, precious souls. Knowing that I have a thriving little girl. Who releases her grasp with e.v.e.r.y. s.i.n.g.l.e. bottle-feeding to light up my day with one of her “twinkling-half-moon-eyes-ear-to-ear” smile, oblivious to whether her nutrition is coming from me, or a powder.
Believe me, sweet mamas, you are not going to spend your child’s kindergarten conference discussing their “beverage” of choice for the first six months of her life. And, your “best” “nurser”? Yep…you will find her enjoying her toddler years next to the dog’s food bowl. Eating month-old Cheerios from under the couch. Five-second-rule?! (Excuse me, while I choke.) Hot dogs will grace her mouth. Along with cupcakes, French fries and lollipops (you can say what you want…just wait…).
I am much more worried about how my girls eat now. They understand what foods are “healthy” and which are not. They look at their dinner plate each night and see a protein, fruit and vegetable. They sometimes consume too many granola bars. And fruit snacks. But they are active. Happy. Bright. Full-of-life. And creative beyond belief.
I have nursed, pumped and used formula with each-and-every one of our girls. And, precious mamas, I don’t regret one bit of what I did. It was putting my “all” into the first few weeks. It was pushing through pain to try and give my babes what they needed. It was keeping my sanity. Listening to my body. And trying my best to provide.
And with each one of them, I have created an unbreakable bond. A bond not defined by breast or bottle. But nourished with constant attention, touch and love.
Sweet mamas, n.e.v.e.r., e.v.e.r let someone else pass judgment on your parenting. Your precious being is in your hands, the absolute best place in the world to be. And only you know what is best for you and your beloved babe. Just never. forget. to always stand tall. And be confident. In each-and-every decision you make. You are in the midst of the most rewarding, yet the hardest, job in the world, and your best is better than you could ever imagine. Those eyes looking up at you, whether it be from your chest, or a plastic bottle, are not filled with judgment. They are simply soaking in each-and-every moment with p.u.r.e. love.