Do you know, the day my body gave up its milk, four days after deciding to stop breastfeeding Teddy, I felt cleansed.
I didn’t say that to anyone, except Tim. I was ashamed of it. It’s not how you’re supposed to feel. But I did.
Without my inadequate little supply of milk, I was free. Free from the guilt that he needed food I couldn’t give him.
Free from the two-hourly feeling that my body was a failure.
Free from the excruciating pain of his constant latching-on, and the frustration of both of us when he wasn’t satisfied.
Free from the nagging sadness that I wasn’t good enough for this baby I’d grown and given birth to. Our bodies were supposed to be compatible. I was supposed to feed him. I’d had his latch checked, eaten all the right things, gathered him to me every ninety minutes, night and day, for weeks. It didn’t work. I didn’t work. I sat on the sofa, getting angry with everything, Henry climbing up the walls, Teddy arching his back and screeching, stuff everywhere. It was awful.
So I let it go. I started topping him up with formula at four weeks, and it took another three months after that to accept that the little breastmilk he was getting was doing me more harm than good. Me, and therefore him. It was a huge mental leap, accepting that sometimes, the thing you believe in wholeheartedly just isn’t the right thing for you. With Henry, he chose to stop breastfeeding and I just went along with it. With Teddy, I made that decision for both of us, and it was so much harder.
Once he fed from a bottle, everything changed. I was giddy with the freedom of it. I had more energy, more optimism, more peace of mind. I stopped worrying about his weight and his milestones, and started pulling us all into a routine where we enjoyed each other’s company. He is the happiest, chubbiest, healthiest baby you can imagine. He sleeps well, eats well, and is a huge mama’s boy (unlike Henry, who subscribes more to the school of thought where sunshine beams out of Daddy’s every orifice). I’ve never regretted making that decision, even if I’ve regretted the fact that things weren’t different in the first place.
I still feel sad when I read articles about the joys of breastfeeding. I still believe that breastfeeding is the best possible thing for your baby. But I can’t get away from the truth of it, for me, which is: once I stopped breastfeeding Teds, I was free to be his mother.
Sometimes that’s just the way it works out.