When HH was about 4 weeks old, she started to become impatient with breastfeeding. Her latch was less sure and she would fuss as she would stop and start. In a little less than a week she went from breastfeeding at the beginning of every feed to only breastfeeding 2-3 times a day. I started pumping when she would refuse the breast in the hopes of keeping up my meager supply but it was dwindling quickly and I started to panic. Somewhere in the middle of trying to reassure myself that this was a temporary setback reality reared its ugly head: my daughter was self weaning at 5 weeks old.
I had tried to prepare myself for this moment, knowing it was inevitable, but it never occurred to me that it would be so soon. I had convinced myself that with her great latch and ability to switch effortlessly from breast to bottle she would do both at least as long as the Numa if not longer. It was crushing to feel like I was failing, again, especially after I told myself that having my hard won perspective was going to make it easier this time.
M and I talked about it and decided to again consult the LC who had been so helpful with the Numa. She came to our home when HH was about 6 weeks old and listened with sympathy as I described the situation before confirming that HH was, in fact, self weaning due to my low supply and the slower flow afforded by the breast. We discussed a myriad of options, from using a supplemental nursing system (I barely even considered it as I have a toddler and that was just going to be too much for me to deal with) to changing HH's bottles to a brand that more accurately resembled a breast. One thing that was a given was increasing the number of times a day I was pumping. If I had any hope of continuing to breastfeed I was going to have to start pumping way, way more often to keep my supply up. (I should note that even though I was taking the maximum recommended amount of Go-Lacta and fenugreek and doing numerous other things to keep up my supply, on a good day I would get 1.5 ounces after pumping for 30 minutes, which was disappointing at best.) The LC was supportive and kind and before she left, she hugged me and reassured me that it was all going to be okay. And I really wanted to believe her.
Before having HH I had decided to try breastfeeding again, but I had also convinced myself that if it didn't work out it would be fine. I wasn't going to punish myself this time like I did the last and I was going to accept that whether it worked or it didn't, my child would be okay. I still knew this in theory, as my 4 week old baby was starting to refuse the breast, but my heart and my head disagreed about just how devastated I should be. There were lots of tears and even more guilt, all about something that was almost entirely out of my control and certainly not my fault. I think the timing was the real issue, since I just wasn't expecting her to realize quite that early that the bottle was an eminently faster method of eating. M's attitude was also unhelpful, since he very much wanted me to continue to pump as long as possible, and even offered to come home during the day to help if necessary, but he couldn't fully understand how depressing it was to pump for so long to get so little. I know he wanted to help, but our conversations just made me feel more alone.
In the end, I decided that what would be would be. I would pump as much as I was able during the day, continue to take supplements and offer the breast frequently, but I wasn't going to embark on a quest that would exhaust me and take time away from interacting with HH. At 8 weeks HH declared all done: she no longer cared to work so hard for so little and would not even entertain the thought of breastfeeding. The day I finally let go and stopped offering her my breast I felt a huge weight lift. I no longer had to deal with the daily frustration of pumping or invest huge amounts of money on supplements or spend 30 minutes feeding HH every 2 hours. Overwhelmingly I was just relieved that I was done fighting with and being disappointed by my body. HH has been a formula baby ever since (Earth's Best Organic, if anyone is interested) and she is beyond thriving.
Almost 7 months later, I have mixed feelings about my breastfeeding experience. I loved doing it; watching HH from that angle was something special that only I got to do and when she was still enjoying it we had lots of quiet, calm moments together to just be. Just as I did with the Numa, I made sure to get some photos of her breastfeeding from my vantage point so I could always remember staring at her perfect, chubby cheek while she nursed. But at the same time I can understand why so many women quit breastfeeding earlier than they planned, or wanted, to. When it goes well it is wonderful, but when you spend every day struggling to make it work for any reason it can become a very real drain at a time when you are already tired and anxious. The last thing I needed on any day at home with a baby was more stress and the constant fight to maintain my supply was simply one thing too many. I have no regrets about my decision to give it a go and none about my decision to let it go, because both were right for me and for HH. M was disappointed but also super supportive once I decided to stop trying and I appreciated his acceptance.
I don't know why I decided to launch this story into the abyss of the internet. I think part of me wants to remember the details but, as much as I hate to admit it, another is searching for acceptance in a world that actively judges women for "choosing" formula. I hope someone else who has struggled will read this and find solace in the fact that they are not alone. As parents, and especially as mothers, we face a constant stream of judgement from the masses about our choices (there are no right choices - see this awesome graphic) and it is exhausting. Maybe eventually, my story can just be one among many, not right or wrong, from parents everywhere who are just trying to raise good people without completely losing themselves in the process. Fingers crossed, right?