“Christie, your baby won’t learn to smile unless he sees you doing it.”
A midwife had to tell me that. I was sick. really sick. I’d lost my voice, my bones ached from fatigue. And I wasn’t smiling.
Two weeks in, breast-feeding was not the glorious, glowing experience I had imagined. But my inner monologue went like this:
“No Christie, you’re not doing this again. You have to keep going. Be strong. You’re always strong. Don’t be so selfish. You cannot stop. Don’t you dare give him a bottle!”
These words are a G-rated, kid-friendly version of what I actually said to myself when I “selfishly” decided to stop breastfeeding my little son, Harley, who is now almost two. TWO WEEKS. Two weeks. That's it. I breastfed my baby boy for the minimum amount of time required to hand in your notice at work.
Holy shit, I just said that out loud. It's something that even now, I struggle to say.
The fog of new motherhood has well and truly cleared, (and I can see clearly now the rain is gone), I now have two beautiful, boisterous boys. And yet, I still feel guilty. I feel melancholy. I wish I’d played those early days differently.
It's entirely illogical. I know that the most important thing was that my baby was healthy and fed, and that my mental health was where it should be. I just wish I had more time. More sniffs of a feeding baby's head. More breast-milk nutrition for my son. More memories of the experience.
Because truth be told, I don't actually remember much of being a breastfeeding mother. For me, the fog was too thick.
LISTEN: Christie Hayes and Holly Wainwright talk all things breastfeeding on the Year One podcast (post continues after audio...)
And that hurts. But the truth was, I was just too run down and I needed help.
I found it utterly exhausting, waking every hour and a half through the night to feed (Harley's a little piggy and nothing has changed). I had two sons under one and I was caring for two babies every day by myself. And no way in hell did they sleep at the same time, so there was none of that “sleep when the baby sleeps.”
There wasn't any medicinal reason I couldn't breastfeed, I simply chose to stop because I just couldn't carry on with an 11-month-old baby, and a newborn. I needed an extra set of hands (or extra set of nipples) and I also didn't have time.
Time to sit and feed. Time to decide if he'd had enough. Time to not be running after my older boy, Hendrix. Time for park visits, and shopping and doctors' trips, and cuddles. There wasn't enough time in my 24-hour day.
You can't sit down with a baby on your boob for 30 minutes when you're chasing an 11 month old that’s just started walking. Being a parent is a time consuming, psychically demanding job.
Bottles made life so much easier. I knew exactly how much the baby had to eat, and he took to it like a duck to (milk-powdered) water. Most of all, I could share the feeding schedule with my husband.
So let's ask: is there too much pressure on women to breastfeed? Are we bad mothers if we don't? Is it unthinkable to tell someone that you choose not to, even though your boobs make milk?
I certainly didn’t. I would skate over that topic, quick-smart.
But if you find yourself there right now, please don't feel the same. Please don't feel my guilt. Please don't feel you have to lie.
I know that you love your baby. You know that I love mine.
Bottle feeding made my life easier and made my relationship with my children better.
I could play with Hendrix, my first son, more, because Harley could be fed and held by Daddy. Daddy could take him out in the day and give me a break. Daddy could also bond with the baby in every way as much as I could. As a result, today, you have a father that our two sons love and run to, just as much as me. We are equal parents and have both got our hands as equally dirty in every element of our children's life.
My son is thriving- his favourite word is “more” (told you he likes to eat!) and he has flourished. I don't have breastfeeding memories, but am creating more just as special. We have our precious alone time now because he sleeps with me in my bed. We cuddle and kiss and laugh together before falling asleep. It's the best time of the day and I have made some of the greatest moments of my life.
After a year and a bit, he came off the bottles. We put them in a cute little “memory box” in our garage, which is what I refer to when I'm feeling nostalgic.
I take a moment to reminisce on the boob and bottle feeding times of my life, now over, and give myself a pat on the back. I put my mental health first, went to formula, started smiling and life went on.
Bottles proved to be a winner.
Here's to us parents, doing the best we can. As long as your baby is fed, loved and you are smiling- then I think we can all drink to that!
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