My body, my choice

In the comment box:

Michelle, I’m sorry for your struggle with breastfeeding. I do, however, think that maybe you are putting too much emphasis on your own desire to nurse your baby, and not on the grace of having available a healthy alternative. It’s not about you at this point and I think far too often we as mothers get hung up on doing what we want, at the expense of everything else. If your daughter is doing fine on formula, be grateful that there is formula out there that’s good and beneficial. It’s not so much how you feed your baby, but that you feed your baby, and that your baby thrives.

First of all, I am truly grateful that my baby is healthy and thriving on bottled supplement – both formula and expressed milk. I have often considered that if I were living on a rural farm a hundred years ago, my child would likely be dead or very sickly.

But gratitude for modern technology that gives me a breast pump, safe drinking water and high-tech baby formula does not change the fact that my body is not functioning as it should. It is normal to grieve over this handicap.

If I were in a terrible accident and lost half my leg, I would be grateful that I didn’t lose my life, I would thank God for technology that would give me a good prosthetic, but it would be odd if I didn’t miss my leg and wish to be whole. If this were my first child, if I had not successfully breastfed five children (four of them with little difficulty), perhaps it would not be as difficult. But knowing what my body was capable of doing, and not being able to do it now, is very frustrating.

Secondly, yes, I do have an intense desire to nurse my child. In the last 9 1/2 years, I have been breastfeeding a child all but 15 months broken up in brief pauses between weaning one and birthing another. It’s a part of my life, it’s a habit, it’s what I’m used to doing, it’s how I know how to take care of a baby. I can and will adapt as the situation demands, but I am reluctant to shrug a tried and true method at the first sign of trouble. I persevered through this exact situation with my fourth child, and by the time she was three months old the tears were long dried and the supplements long forgotten.

Ultimately, what needs to be discerned is God’s will. Although I don’t feel that bottle feeding or breastfeeding is a moral issue, I do think that since God gave me breasts designed to provide nourishment for my child, that it is natural for that to be my goal. Other mothers may happily choose to bottle feed, and I have no problem with that. I was a bottle fed baby, and I turned out just fine – healthy, intelligent and well-bonded with my mom. But I feel that breastfeeding is what God intended, and it’s what I’d like to do.

Four years ago, when I struggled to feed Jenny, I wondered and prayed about whether or not it was God’s will for me to bottle feed her instead. I honestly don’t think He cared one way or the other. But I don’t think, if He had to choose for me, that He would really pick a bottle over His own perfect design.

Sometimes when we suffer it is because we are choosing our desires over God’s desires. But sometimes when we suffer it is merely because life is difficult. I don’t believe that God is causing this suffering, nor do I believe that this suffering is because I’m being overly selfish. Many may say that the suffering is pointless, and that I should save myself all the grief. Others, especially those who know me well, may understand the grief that would attend my quitting.

Is it wrong for me to spend so much time nursing, pumping, going to the lactation consultant’s office, and devising spreadsheets to track the baby’s weight gain? Perhaps my family is not eating gourmet meals, the laundry is being done only on an as-needed basis, and schoolwork is a bit lighter than normal. This is life with any new baby. The only person, besides me, who is having a hard time, is my husband, who is foregoing schoolwork to do childcare. But he has chosen to support me in this, and I thank the Lord that his schedule, for once, permits him the leeway to be home more often to help me.

And the baby? She’s fine. Here she is all snuggled on my lap as I type this blog post. I would never jeopardize her health for my own selfish desires. Breastfeeding is not more important than a healthy baby. But I don’t think my breastfeeding and her health are mutually exclusive goals.

16 thoughts on “My body, my choice

  1. As well meaning as the poster may have meant to be, I believe that the comment is a bit presumptuous. How are we to know, and to say, what is in a mothers heart? Anyone reading this blog can see what a trial this has been, and that it has been a true cross. Having had the same struggles nursing the last two of my four children, I know full well that these types of comments can only serve to pierce the heart of someone who is already hurting from not being able to nourish their child in the way that was naturally intended. I think it only makes it harder when you have nursed and know the benefits of breastfeeding, like Michelle said. How about “what a great job you’re doing” or “hang in there”. To say that a mother is nursing purely for her own benefit is, well, pretty harsh. I was very grateful for formula when my daughter was not gaining, but I was also grateful for the little bit of breastmilk I was able to give her when that very same formula that was helping her gain weight was also causing her to have blood in her stools because she had a diary allergy (which she still suffers from today at three years of age). I think that the benefits of breastmilk are not being considered here, as well as the mother/baby togetherness. Yes, we are grateful for the bottle. We are grateful for modern technology. But let’s be grateful for the small moments of nursing that this mother and baby do have together. Let’s not make it an all or nothing type of thing. And let’s give Michelle our love and support with whatever decision she makes, or is currently making.

  2. I bottle fed my first two children and breastfed the last four. I don’t feel badly for using formula, but there is something so special, and empowering, and beautiful about nursing, something that is not replicated with a bottle of formula, something beyond nutrition, that I would be deeply sorry to give it up, too. It’s a thing worth fighting for, and my prayers are with you, Michelle.

  3. Michelle, I definitely understand. When I had trouble nursing Little Brother, unlike you I did not persevere. I didn’t feel I could do it–and I had a very hard time going over to formula feeding, because it was against the grain of the way I knew how to feed and comfort my children.With my prayers that soon the struggles will be over and you and Mary will be happily nursing. She is beautiful and precious!

  4. Michelle, you are both still in my prayers. This is such a touchy issue and much discretion is needed. Even though I am not a “dedicated” breast-feeder (as in, at the first sign of trouble, I’m mixing up a bottle of formula- guilt free), I can understand and appreciate those who are. And I really do admire your fortitude and dedication. It’s moms like you that inspire others to persevere in all areas of mothering.When I read your “daily schedule” of nursing and pumping and feeding and changing diapers and trips to the doctors…. phew. I thought to myself, “And I’m moaning about teaching my kids and packing a house? Get a grip, nutmeg.”Offering my ‘boxes’ for you!🙂

  5. I don’t understand why anyone has to question what you are doing. If part-time breastfeeding and part-time supplementing is working, why not do it? No one said moms can’t do both! Do what works, babe! Your breastmilk is providing her with great antibodies and the formula is bulking her up.

  6. Mary is a beautiful baby and you are doing the best you can to feed, nurture, and offer up your struggles to God. I haven’t had any breastfeeding issues, so I can’t really put myself in your shoes, but I do support you 100% in your efforts. I am amazed that you are holding everything together so well. 6 months from now it is likely that Mary will be nursing like a pro, gaining weight, and everything will begin to settle down. Just put one foot in front of the other and pray. Our family prays for you every night. God bless you and Mary.

  7. What a beautiful answer. I feel like copying that and printing it out to give to people who question the desire of some people to nurse through such difficuly. My problem has always been oversupply. Especially with the twins. This led to repeated cases of mastitis and a two month span where I was constantly on antibiotics and trying to even my supply out. When I called the doctor one day he told me to quit nursing. He couldn’t believe I would keep doing this. My boys were only four months old! I had all of the same feelings you did…you articulated them so well. I couldn’t articulate anything to the doctor. I just said, “Um…I’m not quitting.” (Not that he would have listened to any explanation I had.)Anyway, I don’t judge anyone’s circumstances. I know how hard nursing can be, so those who go to formula- great. It is the baby that matters most. But, I truly understand that deep desire to want to make breastfeeding work. For a million reasons I (yes, ME) love breastfeeding. But, aside from the “I’m too tired to make a bottle in the middle of the night” and “I love seeing that sweet little face looking up with such love during nursing sessions”, the reasons I love it are really about the BABY. Anyway, I’ve blogged on your blog, and I apologize.You ARE doing a great job. I admire your dedication. And I love the picture of that sweet baby chilling on your lap. Henry blogs a lot with me too! 😉

  8. I don’t normally comment, as I a ma first time single mother to an 11 month old, and I know that reading these blogs has helped me through the first year of single motherhood and taught me so much. But here Michelle, I have to thank you for the beautiful expression of why you choose to keep going even when it’s hard. I’m still breastfeeding my son, despite having supply problems after returning to work, and it is mother like you that inspire me to keep going. Thank you!

  9. All of the comments I read are good, especially Jen’s. You’re a great mom – just hang in there & go with your instincts. And avoid the nay-sayers. This too shall pass.Love, Mom R.

  10. I tried to comment the other day on your other post…blogger booted me out and it wouldn’t publish. Anyway, I think you’re golden, and I love how you wrote your explaination. I totally agree. I wanted to suggest getting your own sling scale so you wouldn’t need to drive to the LC so often…you can weigh Mary yourself whenever you want to. I got one for my homebirth a couple years ago. sells them. It might be worth a few tanks of gas you might save and a peice of mind as well to have your own scale. (hugs) and lots of love,

  11. Michelle, that comment seems to completely ignore the fact that breastfeeding is so decidedly superior to bottle feeding for the baby. How could trying to do what’s best for your baby be “all about you?” I don’t see where she’s coming from. I think your efforts are very admirable and understandable. I would do the same thing. As you so well know, nursing a baby is an awesome thing and it’s perfectly normal for a mother to want very badly to do it. God bless you and your efforts. You are clearly a mom who wants what is best for her baby. That’s what it’s all about.

  12. Michelle, I will pray for you and that things go better.

  13. I salute you for not only persevering with class, Michelle, but also for explaining it so beautifully. With a mother like you, your children are sure to see the example of what joy can come from suffering.There IS a point to suffering, else why would Jesus have done it?But really, I just love how you express yourself here.Sending up prayers for you all!!!((hugs))

  14. Michelle,Hang in there and don’t take that comment to your heart. You are a beautiful mother with beautiful motherly and holy desires for your family. God will bless you and HE IS!!It will all be fine. It is so wonderful that you are putting in the time to be sure that you and your baby are happy and healthy. Don’t feel guilty for putting in the time and the sacrifice. You are practicing the heroic virtues – it is all part of your call to holiness as a mother. I’m sure that our dear Blessed Mother has you and Mary wrapped in her mantle!Prayers going your way.God bless you and your family!Donna

  15. I am so very much with you in this one! My children are 30 and 27 now, so it is a very long time since I had to worry about breast feeding – but even though it is all so long ago, my failure to be able to fulfil that seemingly simple function of providing milk for my children can still bring a tear to my eye! It is only natural to be upset when you want to do this, but cannot!With me, I started out both times with more-than-ample supplies of milk! My babies both started sleeping through the night fairly quickly, but this apparently triggered a fall in hormones or something, because I immediately ovulated and subsequently began having normal periods. My milk supply began to dwindle with that first ovulation.Before my first child was born, I started out not even particularly much liking the idea of breastfeeding – but when I actually tried it, I loved the feeling of closeness and comfort it brought. Yes, my sadness at not being able to carry on breastfeeding was, partly at least, due to selfish feelings. But it is only natural to be sad at not being able to fulfil what should be a normal, natural function.Of course, I was grateful that formula was avalailable and that my babies did well on it. I did, however, feel something of a failure as a mother in spite of this. You can say that all feelings of falure, depression, etc. are, in a way, a lack of gratitude to God. But we are all human and we are not perfect. God loves us despite our imperfections and will, I am sure, not judge us too harshly for them.

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