I have officially released myself from breastfeeding duty, and I’ve never been happier about a decision. Not to say it didn’t take a little while to get there. I’m thankful that we as a society are starting to talk more honestly about breastfeeding and the challenges that come with it. These days women have so many choices, yet are sometimes shamed and guilted into doing what they don’t want to do — across the breastfeeding spectrum.
Throughout my life, my mother has spoken about her time breastfeeding me as if it were one of the highlights of her motherhood experience, so I always just assumed that when I had babies I’d nurse them and love it as much as my mother did. Once I got pregnant, everyone wanted to know what my nursing plan was, especially because I was having twins. And I heard all kinds of advice. Many moms of twins admitted it was hard at first but encouraged me to try it. Others, usually women of my mother’s generation, reminded me that in their day, formula was not only “fine,” but was looked at as a status symbol, a luxury tonic that had the added benefit of simplifying everyone’s life.
As my pregnancy went on, I started investigating the twin breastfeed and learned that, ideally, you want to feed them tandem, which means at the same time, one on each breast. I spoke with a few moms of twins about how they managed breastfeeding, and one said that she breastfed exclusively, but could only do it cross-legged on the floor with one on each side. I tried to picture myself doing this in the middle of the night… but… what if one was still sleeping? What if one wasn’t hungry at that moment? “Wake them up!” people said. “Train them to wake together!” Ummmm… not sure what kind of babies you know, but none of this sounded appealing.
I got defensive sometimes when people asked me about it, like, yes, of course I’m going to try and breastfeed, I mean I’m not savage!! It never occurred to me that it might not work — much like it never occurred to me that getting pregnant wouldn’t work. During pregnancy, I registered for all the things:
- the “My Brest Friend” twin deluxe nursing pillow and additional travel cover
- a pump (covered by insurance!) with MANY extra parts given to me by friends (one perk to having babies later is the hand me downs!)
- nursing pads
- nipple cream (I got this during pregnancy and since it was made of shea butter it was useful immediately as a salve for anything)
- the Twin Z, another pillow thing where you put each twin like a football under each arm and feed them at the same time. You can also use it for the twins to sit in. Multitasker!
So birth day came, and if you read my birth story, you know it was anything but straightforward. Between the C-section and the emergency surgery afterwards, immediate breastfeeding was out of the question. My OB was kind to send my hospital grade pump with me to the ICU so that when I awoke from anesthesia I’d have the option to pump. When I did finally wake up twelve hours after giving birth and saw the pump sitting there, I panicked that my babies hadn’t eaten yet and I also even had the thought that maybe the nurses pumped me while I was sleeping. But once I actually “came to” a few minutes later, I realized that of course my babies must have been given formula in a bottle.
Now, I can see a lot of ways a person’s feeling could go from here: disappointment, anger, rage, sadness. Truthfully, though, I was relieved. I was relieved that I’d be able to focus on my own recovery before having to worry about latching baby mouths. I was relieved that my husband had probably been there for their first feeding with his mind and body intact, and that he got to have the bonding time of giving them a bottle while I was being operated on. And, overall, I was just so relieved that the decision had been made. Without me. I didn’t have to agonize, or feel guilty or stressed that it wasn’t working. I didn’t have to be hard on myself or easy on myself or anything on myself.
I’d given zero serious thought to formula brands. Our pediatrician had once assured me in the most wonderful way that they’re all the same. Now, this can’t exactly be true. There are organic formulas and those imported from Europe. There are, of course, dairy-free alternatives and pre-made liquids vs. powders. And none of this mattered to me on the day my babies arrived. The decision was made while I was sleeping.
Truthfully, I wonder: if we didn’t put all of this insane pressure on women to nurse, would I have felt that same relief? That is, the relief came because it felt like I had the best excuse to not give breastfeeding 100% effort. Most women’s “excuses” are judged, though, and I wonder if there will be a time when we women stop doing this to ourselves and each other.
In the end, I did give it a go and I also pumped. A LOT. But after a couple months of spending literally hours each day with suction devices stuck to my breasts and cleaning and drying pump parts and all the rest, I stopped. I stopped because I realized that my babes were happy as larks to get their bottles of formula, and at the end of the day, that made me happy, too. That was enough.