I n both my pregnancies I chose not to read too many books or get swept up in a sea of opinions. Opinions about what a good mother should be and what a good mother should be able to do.
I tried not to put too much pressure on myself but sometimes pressure creeps in to suppress the part of me that should know better. The part of me that knows that what works for me may not work for you and vice versa.
Expectation is a heavy word because it is made up of two halves. One part is the half that society promotes. The norm. Often praised, always encouraged. It’s the part you’d do well to follow. Then there is the other part, the part where you weigh-in on yourself. You ask yourself, how do I measure up to these standards?
And, what will they think if I can’t?
Sometimes you scrutinise yourself way more than anyone else ever would but scrutinise you do. And I did.
I had a goal in mind for breastfeeding. I told myself that if I could do it then I’d want to do it for at least 6 months if not longer.
For some, breastfeeding is as natural as breathing and for others it’s a bit like learning to drive. You have all the gears, a full tank and all you need is a little instruction.
Some women are like rally car drivers from day one and others are wearing L plates and crash helmets on motorised scooters, like me.
I was proud to wear my L plates because here I was fumbling along at 10 km an hour but my son had no qualms and I was happily doing what I always hoped I could do and I had the milk-stained PJ top to prove it.
The thing with being a novice breast feeder is that when you realise you can you just expect that you always can.
But not everyone can sustain it and after a time I was hitting potholes.
Unfortunately, my breastfeeding journey came to an end not so long ago but long enough to lament ‘those good old breastfeeding days’.
There were a couple of issues that plagued me on my journey and my answer throughout was always just to persist.
Persist even when my son resists with an intense passion, both of us in tears.
Persist even if your Mum reassures you that ‘what matters most is that your son is fed’.
Persist even if you’ve taken countless drops with a million different herbs and sought expert advice. Persist.
Because…no pain, no gain right?!
Wrong. I persisted until my body and more specifically the parts of my body that gave the milk, packed their bags and left. They’d had enough and physically they were a sorry sight.
Mentally, I was embarrassed for thinking my mind would win over my body.
Nothing stays the same with a baby. They grow, their appetite increases and they develop a taste for things including your milk, how much they need and how they receive it.
So slowly but surely the bottles came into play.
At first, it was bottles of my expressed milk.
Then it was a bottle of my expressed milk with a bottle of formula (‘for emergencies only’, I’d tell myself).
And now, it’s bottles of formula. That’s it.
The first time I attended a mum and bub group with a bunch of bottles in my bag, I felt slightly sheepish about bringing them out. Thankfully, my son wasn’t having a bar of it so whether I liked it or not those bottles came out.
In my head, I envisaged that all the breastfeeding mums beside me would suddenly exit stage-left. I expected crickets followed by hushed whispers and chuckles. I expected to be judged and harshly.
Am I somehow less because I have these bottles in my hands?
But no-one cared. At least that is, no-one stopped sitting next to me.
My son is almost half the size of me now (in length, so my husband kindly pointed out).
He is a growing boy with an appetite to boot and bless him but he is a demanding eater.
And all excuses aside, because feeling the need to justify this predicament is how this post came to be, they are not necessary.
Whether formula fed or breast fed, it is my belief that if your baby is happy, safe, loved and indeed, fed then you are doing well.
I am all for breastfeeding and always will be. It is one of the hardest and most beautiful things I’ve been able to do on my motherhood journey.
And as insecure as I sometimes feel to see all these beautiful ‘rally car’ breastfeeding mamas in my Instagram feed doing what I hoped I would still be doing, I know that it is only to showcase a natural gift that for the time I could do it, felt pretty special and empowering.
I’ve now come to accept that sustenance for my son comes in the form of a bottle of powder.
Powder that we’ve scrutinised over in the shopping aisles.
Powder that I’ve angsted over and cried over.
But crying over spilled milk is silly because life could be a heck of a lot worse than when your baby started on formula.
What’s-more, when formula was all I had to give, he drank it happily.
There is nothing more deflating than realising that the thing you thought you could do and were once able to do so well no longer comes easily.
And while my lack of ability may not be enough for some, for all my many shortcomings, I am enough for myself.