Awe and Ambivalence

I have a dilemma. Some of you know that I have been rolling this dilemma around in my head (and out loud sometimes, too) for about three months now. Warning: the following contains references to boobs and the feeding of my baby. scroll down past the baby pictures if you dare…

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why, yes, I DID knit that sweater and silly hat!

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Still here? Ok here goes. When Nathan was born, my goal was to breastfeed him for six months. We made it to that goal, and as soon as we reached it, I started wondering about when I would know that it was time to wean him. That was three months ago. I still haven’t figured it out. I keep changing my mind, but thanks to inertia, nothing much has changed other than Nathan is now nine months old and we’re still going along as we have been for a while now. The issues here are complicated (at least to me; we’ll see what you think once you’ve read them) —

1. I hate pumping. More than I can even explain. Since I am the worst dairy cow EVER, I have been pumping since Nathan arrived (increasing supply, maintaining supply, at work, before bed every night…). Nothing sucks more (ha!) than having to put down your day old baby to attach yourself to a machine. (yes, I know that there are LOTS of things that suck more, but we’re talking about me here, ok? It’s my blog and I’ll whine and be dramatic if I want to.)

2. Nathan is tiny. Less-than-third-percentile tiny. Therefore everyone is always worried that he is starving. We’ve been “supplementing” his diet with formula from bottles on a fairly regular basis since he made his appearance. It’s hard not to think of both his ittybittiness and the doctor’s continued demands that we add formula to his diet as a failure on my part. (yes, I am aware that I am not a failure, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like one every once in a while)

3. I know that there is a ton of research about breastfed babies vs. the rest of us. I also know enough about research to know that none of the studies published tell the whole story. There is a lot of interesting discussion in this article. This is the part that I nodded at and thought about for a long time after I finished reading it (emphasis mine).

“I continue to breast-feed my new son some of the time—but I don’t do it slavishly. When I am out for the day working, or out with friends at night, he can have all the formula he wants, and I won’t give it a second thought. I’m not really sure why I don’t stop entirely. I know it has nothing to do with the science; I have no grandiose illusions that I’m making him lean and healthy and smart with my milk. Nursing is certainly not pure pleasure, either; often I’m tapping my foot impatiently, waiting for him to finish. I do it partly because I can get away with breast-feeding part-time. I work at home and don’t punch a clock, which is not the situation of most women. Had I been more closely tied to a workplace, I would have breast-fed during my maternity leave and then given him formula exclusively, with no guilt.

My best guess is something I can’t quite articulate. Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental. It contains all of my awe about motherhood, and also my ambivalence. Right now, even part-time, it’s a strain. But I also know that this is probably my last chance to feel warm baby skin up against mine, and one day I will miss it.”

I think that is the part that I find most difficult to factor into making the decision — the awe and ambivalence. I am pretty proud of myself for lasting this long, because I was really mostly ambivalent about the whole process. I did it because I thought I had to. Then I met a wonderful mom of two. She kindly and gently reminded me that there are lots of moms like herself who would love nothing more than to breastfeed their children but are unable to do so. I felt like a giant heel, but after our conversation I started to feel the awe in an experience that I had been taking for granted. It is an amazing thing and I have spent many hours with Nathan that I may not have if I could have passed off those early morning feedings to Mike. A few weekends ago when Nathan wasn’t feeling great, I was really glad that I had the ultimate pacifier. Nursing him calmed him down faster and better than anything else. But…

4. Now that he is feeling better he has been somewhat uninterested in nursing. Does that mean he is ready to switch over to all formula and all bottles all the time? Or is he just too busy with his new freedom (he crawls now. everywhere) to think about eating? Or maybe it’s because he wants more solid foods? Or is this just a phase and as soon as I wean him he’ll decide he wants to nurse again? Besides…

5. I’m kind of stubborn and a part of me wants to make it until 12 months (twice my goal! sounds nice, doesn’t it?).

I think I’m done, but ask me again tomorrow and I’ll bet I’ve changed my mind again. It’s a dilemma. One that I am so fortunate to be facing.

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Here comes trouble.

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Watch out for the teeth!

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Who could say no to that face?

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6 Responses to Awe and Ambivalence

  1. Julie says:

    It’s a hard decision, isn’t it? And EVERYBODY has an opinion about it. I wonder what would happen if you quit pumping? I was always worried about supply, too, but I know a mom with an unusual work schedule (she’s a doctor who works only every other week). She doesn’t pump (or nurse, of course) at all when she’s at work, and her supply goes way down. But then when she’s home, it works its way back up again. So you could, if you were so inclined, try it without the pumping for a while — but of course the risk would be that your supply wouldn’t bounce back and the decision would be made for you.

  2. Leah says:

    I have no idea what you should do, but since I did my master’s thesis on breastfeeding I find this very interesting. One of the things I learned from my research (looking at messages in parenting and women’s magazine breastfeeding articles) was that messages on breastfeeding are overall not well-rounded and don’t help women make these choices or feel good about the choices they do make. It seems like the health benefits are overplayed, other benefits are underplayed, and these sorts of challenges and issues are just left out of the picture.

  3. Veronica says:

    Wow. You have been through a lot to make breastfeeding work this far! Good for you! I had no idea you were going through so much.

    A couple of thoughts. First of all, you’ve been pumping a LOT. Do you have a large supply in your freezer? Or have you been working through all of your pumped milk pretty well? You might be able to drop some pumping sessions and only pump once while you are at work.

    Second, you are feeding Nathan food right now, so that will help round out his diet more and more and more. And once he hits a year old, his main diet will be table food (or whatever he can eat at that point) and milk (cow or goat’s or soy or whatever) and you can still have breastmilk in that diet. Unless you had a supply issue from the very beginning, formula is associated with slower growth for the first few months of life than breastmilk.

    Which brings me to another pont. There are 2 sets of growth charts out there. The one most hospitals use is for formula fed babies. They have a different (not necessarily healthier)growth chart that breast milk fed babies. I would be VERY curious to see how Nathan looked on that chart. When Lily was a baby, she was small on the formula fed chart, but perfect on the Breastfed chart.
    I will admit I am biased. Yes, I teach breasteeding classes and have Lactation certification, so I have a point of view that not everyone would agree with. But I will say that what you have done to make it this far is SPECTACULAR.

    That Hannah Rosen article? Widely discredited by every major organization that you might imagine for it’s lack of reasonable and responsible research and scientific evidence. But I do not discount her point of view as a mother. Being a mother is hard. You have to make a lot of tough decisions. It never gets easier. (I still have to fight against the urge to feel bad about letting Lily watch a movie!) But doing something just because some one next to you is doing it is never right. You have to make things work for your own situation. But rest assured– The longer you do breastfeed, it really is better for you (breast cancer, osteoporosis, uterine cancer), and has it’s pluses for Nathan too– like you said, it WAS handy when he was sick.
    OK, that was long. You can always give me a call if you want more help. But hang in there. You’re doing great!!!

  4. MOM says:

    Ok, I read it all! I can’t help much. You made it much longer than I did with my children and they turned out wonderful, healthy and beautiful. Maybe you stop thinking about it and feeling guilty and just do or not do. Pump when you want to or just don’t and don’t feel guilty. If you make it to a year great for you and Nathan, if you don’t he will be a wonderful, beautiful little boy.

  5. Kim says:

    Thanks for your comments! I’ve been continuing with my inertia plan. =) When I can pump, I do. When I can’t, oh well. Hopefully Nathan will decide to start nursing again, but if he doesn’t, then I’ll probably give up the pumping soon. We shall see how it goes.

  6. Becky says:

    I’m new to the nursing thing so I don’t have much to say about it….But I LOVE the sweater and hat!!!! =)

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