What is really best?

I was determined to breastfeed my children. I wanted that bonding time, I wanted them to have all the health benefits, I wanted to do what was best. So I read the books, I took the classes, I worked hard on being mentally prepared for this new journey. I went in telling myself that I wanted to “at least try,” understanding that it is not always an easy road. Despite all this, I wanted so badly to be successful. It was natural, it was what my body was designed to do, it should happen if I wanted it to.

When my first son was born, I was told he latched beautifully. As a first time mom with no actual experience with BF, I believed them. When each feed began to hurt more and more, I just thought that was normal. I had heard about the cracked nipples and the pain that occurred in the first few days, I just figured we were right on track. No one told me otherwise. I continued to nurse him in the hospital and the nurses continued to reassure me that we were doing great. We were discharged with a clean bill of health, a smile, and nothing more. Now it was up to us to navigate this parenting thing.

I will never forget that first night home, culminating with my son and I sobbing together in the rocking chair in his nursery. I was in so much pain that thought of him even trying to latch caused me to emotionally collapse. The sounds of his wife and newborn son sobbing over the monitor woke my husband who suggested that we supplement with some formula that night. After much reassurance that it was ok, the baby would be ok, and that I was not failing, we made a couple ounces of formula and my son and I both got some much needed rest. Two days later, we had our first appointment with his pediatrician and all I can remember about that appointment was the nurse that took his vitals and did his preliminary check before the doctor came in. She asked some of the expected questions, including how feeding was going. I shared how challenging our first night home was and that we had given him some formula that night. Based on the look that this nurse, an older woman who clearly needed some tips on bedside manner, gave me, you would think I had told her that we gave my son some whiskey so he’d sleep. Apparently to her, formula was just as bad, maybe worse. She prodded a bit more and was “relieved” when she learned that we were still breastfeeding and had not given him any more formula. After that appointment, I was shaken. I had done something wrong and no one, not even my husband, could convince me otherwise. This was the start of my spiral.

Breastfeeding my son became the primary goal while I got to watch other people enjoy holding him. When I held him, it became about latching. I began to foster resentment toward my husband who was finding ways to bond with him that I wasn’t. Didn’t people say that breastfeeding created this incredible bond between mother and baby? Where was that? Why wasn’t it happening for me? It got to the point where I dreaded holding my own child. Every time I had to nurse him I would cry, tears streaming relentlessly down my cheeks. After almost 3 weeks of trying to nurse and eventually trying to pump, all the while sinking deeper and deeper, my husband stepped in and told me we needed to reevaluate things. Once I was given the space to finally say that I wanted to stop, I felt a weight lifting. Suddenly, I was able to be mommy to my baby and not just his food supply. I later learned that I had all the makings of postpartum depression and my drive to EBF was propelling me deeper into it.

Fast forward to 2016 and we were having our second. My husband wanted us to go straight to formula after our last experience. I told him no, I still wanted to try. So we made a plan. I would start nursing in the hospital and see how things went. I promised my husband that, if he noticed me starting to spiral again, he got to call it. Little did I know, my son would decide things for us this time. He struggled to latch and when he did it was excruciating, like toes curling excruciating. On our second night in the hospital, he was refusing to nurse. After 8 HOURS of trying to get him to latch, we called in the nurse on duty and asked for some formula. Instead of fulfilling our request, she proceeded to grab my breast and attempt to get it into my son’s mouth. When she failed, she said she would come back in about 15 minutes to try again and left the room. My husband chased her down the hall, and demanded that she get formula for our newborn. I still tried to nurse a bit more after that, but after an hour of being home, it was clear that our second born would be formula fed as well.

It took me years to get over the guilt. I felt like I had failed. My body couldn’t do what it was designed to do. I was flawed. Every year, National Breastfeeding Week felt like someone was tearing open those wounds all over again. Why could these women do this and I couldn’t? I have learned since then that there were some physical barriers I had which most likely hindered my success. The most frustrating part of that discovery is knowing that if my nurses and lactation consultants had really paid attention, they could have caught it and helped. Something as simple as nipple shields could have made all the difference.

But that is no longer here nor there at this point. When I reflect on my two experiences now, I think about how hospital policies and pressures of “breast is best” completely messed with my head. My desire to BF began clouding my own self-awareness. It became something I had to do and not something I wanted to do. Many people try to offer support to mom’s who cannot or chose not to breastfeed by saying “fed is best” but I want to offer a new phrase to use, one that truly encapsulates the whole picture, which includes the mom as well as the baby— HEALTH IS BEST. Never let how you feed your baby destroy your own physical OR mental health. At the end of the day, whether you breastfeed or formula feed your baby, the health of BOTH of you need to be the priority!

And by the way, mommy… You’re doing a great job!

An unexpected answer

A month ago, I vaguely posted on my Instagram that we, as a family, were trying to figure some things out. The short version of that story is that we thought that, despite being on a BC pill at the time, I might have been pregnant. After being over a month late and countless negative home tests and labs at my doctor’s office, I finally got a referral to see an OB. An ultrasound confirmed that I am definitely NOT pregnant and everything looked completely normal and healthy. I am now on a medication that is supposed to restart my cycle (we still do not know exactly why it stopped).

Before all of this happened, I was still longing for one more baby and, as a mom of two boys, let’s be honest, I desperately longed for a little girl. But I felt so strongly that our family was not yet complete, boy or girl did not matter. My husband and I did not see eye to eye here. As far as he was concerned, we were complete with the two children that we already have.

I prayed constantly for God to change the mind of whoever’s plan was against his. In other words, if we were done, change my heart, if not, change my husband’s. After over a year of praying like this, my desire burned stronger than ever, but so did my husband’s feelings on the matter. I began to get frustrated. We were at a stand-still on this and I was so worried that eventually one of us would start getting resentful; neither of us showed any signs of wavering.

Then, I was a little late, it was odd, but we both just kind of shrugged it off at first. Then days and weeks started passing without any signs of my cycle starting. We started buying tests and wondering. Despite the negative results, with each day that passed, I began to think I could be pregnant and that this was how God was answering my prayer. We began talking semi-hypothetically about what having a third child would mean and where in our lives we would need to make adjustments.

In an unexpected twist of events, the more we had these conversations, the more I realized that a third baby was not what our family needed. I became increasingly content with my little family, just as we were. I began hoping and praying that my cycle would start and got worried when symptoms that I had dealt with in my last two pregnancies appeared. When I went for the ultrasound, I honestly did not know what I wanted to see. I didn’t want to be pregnant, but I also knew that if I wasn’t, that left more unanswered questions. As I said, earlier, the ultrasound confirmed that I was not pregnant.

The rest of the medical stuff is not important; my change of heart was the point I was trying to make. I was positive that God used this situation to show me that my desires did not line up with his. I had a peace about it now. I have since seen little babies and not felt that longing ache for one more of my own. It was such a sudden change; I knew it was definitely the answer to all of my prayers about this.

Fast forward to today at my MOPS meeting. Before our scheduled speaker, a representative from Compassion International was going to briefly speak to us. I hate to admit that I was not too phased by this. Our church has partnered with them for a while so we have heard the speech and seen the pamphlets before—sponsor a child out of poverty. Before you think I am heartless for being so quick to dismiss this woman and her cause, let me add, that I have sponsored a child before. I was a sponsor to a little girl that stole my heart during a missions trip in Kenya. But I was young, working a low-paying job, and did not fully understand the commitment at the time but rather got swept up in the emotions of the trip. After about a year I had to stop sponsoring and let someone else take over for her.

But today was different. I did not walk into the meeting today even knowing we would be hearing about Compassion let alone did I wake up today thinking I would sponsor a child. I saw the pamphlets on our table with the pictures, but I didn’t pay them much attention. Then the representative played a video, and we heard from some of the children, and my heart began to open. I looked in front of me on the table and there was this adorable little girl who was just over a year younger than my “baby” and it was like she was looking right at me. At that moment it was as if God was saying, “Here you go. This little girl is the one you have been praying so fervently for. This is the child you knew you were missing.”

I couldn’t put her packet down. I felt, without a doubt, that she had been placed there for me to see. I immediately took a picture of her info and texted my husband along with the words, “I want to sponsor a child.” I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be, it was so random, and it was another expense. He asked what it would cost. I told him and added that I would delete my Starbucks app (I know, right?!!) to cut back on one of my biggest impulse spending traps. To my surprise, he answered right back telling me to go for it! I quickly filled out the form and turned it in before doubt could try and weasel its way into my head and heart.

In the end, I was half right—God WAS using the mystery of my missing cycles to answer my prayer, just not in the way I thought. I am a certain that if I still felt like I was meant to physically bring another child into this world, I would never have heard God’s plan for this little girl. I am one of the first people to say to someone who is waiting for an answer to prayer that God does not always answer us in the way we expect him to; but I am still blown away every time it happens in my own life!

Finding my tribe

When I first became pregnant, I was advised by many to avoid “mommy” groups, chat rooms, etc. I was told about how toxic they could be and how judgmental other moms could be to each other. I am sure, if you are a mom or you are pregnant, you have heard similar advice. As a first time mommy-to-be, I was grateful for the warning, but it was also a bit deflating—if I cannot turn to mom groups for advice and support, where could I turn? I was the first of my friends to have a baby so I did not have a circle of influence that I could relate to and with.

So I tried the chat rooms and a few local groups, mainly, at the time, for breast feeding support (that is another story for another time). Despite being in a room of women, I felt incredibly alone and isolated. I felt judged for the littlest things and some bigger things, none of which were really anyone else’s business. But when you are a new mom, the feelings of isolation and aloneness are real on their own, so to feel ostracized among other moms is one of the hardest and lowest feelings to endure. When we learned that we would be moving to a new duty station, I felt defeated. I was already struggling so much to feel a sense of belonging at home where I had my family, how was I going to survive when I had no one?

It is an interesting feeling, as an adult, to have to relearn how to make friends, but it is something military wives have to do frequently. I had to decide to go against my introverted nature and “put myself out there.” I remember posting on a spouse page on Facebook, admitting that I felt like I was seven again, but asking how I could go about making some friends here. I got a few responses encouraging me to connect with my “Family Readiness Group” (FRG), but my husband’s command doesn’t have one. Then one woman enthusiastically encouraged me to check out a group called MOPS, informing me the first meeting was in just two weeks. Great!

Then I looked into it… MOPS stands for Mother of Preschoolers. A mommy group? Oh no! I was told to stay away from these and my limited experience had affirmed those warnings. But, I needed to at least get out of my house. I did not go to the first meeting because we were still settling into our house, but I made it to the second one, with my 5 month old in tow. I was assigned to a table and the women seemed friendly enough. I cannot remember who the speaker was that day or what was discussed. But I will never forget the defining moment of that meeting for me—my son was hungry and needed to be fed. I had to take out a bottle and mix in *gasp* formula. “Here it comes,” I thought, “the judgmental looks, the know-it-all comments about how bad formula is for my son even though they don’t know the feeding struggles my son and I had dealt with.”

I took out the bottle with pre-measured water and, while holding my son, attempted to carefully add in the formula, all the while bracing myself for the backlash. Instead, I had one woman offer to hold my son while I mixed the bottle and another offer to mix the bottle while I held him. That was it, there were no comments about the contents of the bottle or my “choice” to bottle feed my son. Instead there were women who genuinely wanted to help. It may seem so small, but to a new mom who had already endured a lot of shaming, it was huge. I continued going to the meetings and, fast forward four years, I am still going and I am now in my second year on the leadership team. I meet some great women each year. Not all of them turn into amazing friendships, but they are what I need at that time.

This a photo of my table this year and, while it may not look like much, it represents a lot—it is conversation, connection, understanding, a safe place to be me unapologetically. While I have continued to go to MOPS and have some incredible friendships that have come from the group past and present, my California tribe is now comprised of women from a few different circles. Going to that first meeting opened a lot of other doors. That was how we found our church and through that I joined some small groups. I now have an amazing tribe of women surrounding me, a group that I am absolutely dreading having to say “good-bye” to in just a few months.

It is so important, especially as stay-at-home-moms, to find our circle. It may look different for you than it did for me, but you need to just put yourself out there and find what fits. I had to deal with some really sour grapes before I found what worked for me, but once I found it, motherhood seemed less daunting; I now had a sense of family while I was so far away from my own, and I had an incredible support system. Yours is out there too, you just have to go and look for it!