When I was pregnant with my first baby, my sweet friends threw the most precious baby shower. It was all of my 20-30 something girlfriends. The hostesses organized a trivia game where each girl had to guess the answers to some questions specific to our pregnancy. The question that generated the most laughter was "What is Abbey most looking forward to about being a mom?" I got nervous and wrote something appropriate feeling like "bath time" or "gummy smiles"... but every girl in the room knew the real answer: "nursing." I couldn't wait to nurse our baby and evidently it wasn't much of a secret.
I read all the articles and books. We went to the class (yes, "we." I asked David to come... and pretty much regretted it as soon as they played the ethnically diverse and completely uncensored video). I just thought breastfeeding was the most beautiful, natural, and amazing thing. At this point maybe some of you are thinking I'm a total weirdo... but if you are... this might not be a blog post for you...
This is a post for those of you who felt like me. Who had the idealistic post birth expectation of your baby instantly being placed on your chest, latching the first time they were given the chance, and nursing like a champ. This is a post for those of you who thought you'd be fully capable of providing your baby with all the nutrient rich fatty goodness it needed for the first few months of life. This post is for those of you who thought it would come naturally... and for whom it turned out to be one of the hardest things you've ever done. I've got some words for you mama.
1. your worth is not determined by your ability to breastfeed
Our nurse walked in around noon after a day and a half in the hospital and told us that all we needed to do was sign papers and we were free to go. I looked at the form she gave me, on which a circle indicated my intention to breastfeed this baby... this baby that screamed every time I put him to the breast and wouldn't latch for longer than 2 mississippi at a time. "How much are you going to charge us to stay here until 7pm?" I asked. "No extra. You pay by the day." She replied. "Well," I stubbornly began, "We're staying until we can do this breastfeeding thing." And stay we did. After several hours of lactation consultants touching, positioning, suggesting, pointing, coaxing, encouraging, and employing a nipple shield, I finally agreed to leave on the basis that I didn't think I was going to starve my child. When we got home, it would be two weeks before he would nurse in any position except side lying. I had to lay down every time he was hungry. And there could be no noise. Zero. Or the meal was cancelled.
My memories of trying to keep the shield on while he bobbed at my breast frantically crying all red faced and desperate are the stuff of nightmares. I knew he wasn't really going to starve. We would find a way to feed him one way or another... but the difficulty was terrifying because of what I feared it meant about me. Shouldn't this be "natural?" What's wrong with me? What does it mean about me that this isn't easy for us? Why doesn't he want me? I'm his mama. What if we can't bond?
In those moments, my worth, in my mind, hinged on the ability of my child to latch and feed. But the truth is... it doesn't. My worth, and your worth, has nothing to do with our merit. It has everything to do with our creation in the image of God and faith in the finished work of Jesus.
2. your love for your baby is not measured by your ability to breastfeed
There are some things you can control. There are other things you cannot control. Our responsibility as mamas is to do the best we can with what we're given in the power and strength of the spirit of God. If that, for you, is the tragic combination of a short nipple and a high pallet, it doesn't mean you don't love your baby if you switch to formula- it means you do love your baby because you want to see them thriving. Your child's welfare is more important than the fulfillment of your idealistic dream. And just because la leche league says that loving your baby means nursing him, doesn't mean it's always so simple. The most tangible way to love your child is to meet his or her needs: arguably the greatest of which at this stage is to be fed.
3. you're not alone
Yes, for the occasional mama, breastfeeding is easy and natural and effortless. But it is not that way for everyone. Don't you dare go thinking you're the only one who is struggling. The enemy wants to isolate you in shame. Reach out to mamas around you. Let them trouble shoot with you. Learn from them. Let them comfort you. You are not alone and we are not intended to struggle in isolation.
4. Breastfeeding is not ultimate
I had this thought all the time in the beginning of Will's life: "If this was the 1800's ... he couldn't survive." Stop it. If you're thinking this... no. No, it is not the 1800's. Its 2017. Take hold of the resources and means God has provided to make sure your baby is healthy. If you're living in a first world country, you're baby isn't going to die if you can't nurse them. But it feels that way sometimes doesn't it? Maybe death isn't your fear... maybe its statistics about intelligence or bonding or health. Breastfeeding is a good and beautiful thing, but if you feel like not being able to nurse is the end of the world, it may be an idol. An idol is anything that we worship that isn't God; anything we ask to save us that isn't Jesus; anything we want more than him and his way. Have you made that good thing ultimate to the point that you're not able to be faithful in stewardship or maintaining a kingdom mindset?
5. BREASTFEEDING ISN'T YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS; JESUS IS.
Are you afraid of what people might think if they knew you were supplementing or considering switching to formula? I've got some good news for you. Christ is your righteousness. You're not saved by the opinions of others or by your ability to breastfeed your baby. You're saved by the precious blood of Jesus. He isn't seated at the right hand of the Father saying "Forgive her, she breastfed her baby." No! He's telling God to forgive you based on what he has done. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Nothing is ever dependent upon your ability to perform- and giving your baby formula is not a sin.
6. God is in control even when everything feels so out of control
That's the only way I can think to describe the way that those first few weeks felt: out of control. And I didn't like it one bit. But there is true comfort to be found in acknowledging that God is intimately involved in those littlest post birth and childcare details. He knows exactly how he's going to provide for you and your family and your tiny baby. Speak those words out loud as you struggle to nurse or try to stop the shower water from hitting your blistered sore body. "God you see and you know. Please give me peace as you convince me of the fact that you are in control. I beg you to use this to make me more like Jesus by teaching me to trust you more completely. "
7. God always gives us what we need to learn to trust him
He works all things for our good and our good is inexplicably tied to his glory. He gets glory from our worship, our neediness, our posture of dependence on him. You may feel like you're not able to give your baby what he or she needs, but your breastfeeding experience might be more about God giving what you need in this given season to learn to trust him, even if that means withholding a desire. Can you receive it? I look back on the intensity of those days and how they drove me to my knees and rejoice in that form of suffering because it did produce endurance and more of a confidence in God's presence and help. He is at work in your life through this struggle.
8. Gratitude is the gateway to Joy
If you're despairing over the way your breastfeeding journey is going, or isn't, I encourage you to spend some time thanking God for the ways that you can see his provision for you and your baby. Name each and every thing you can think of. It wont be long before your heart is moved to praise and thanksgiving, even if it's still mingled with your sorrow. The psalmist gives us this formula over and over for prayer... lay it all out there, then be moved to thanksgiving.
9. A bit of rest can be the difference between perspective and despair
Please, mama, if you're sobbing over this... I beg you. Call a friend to come over and sit with your baby for an hour or two and go take a nap. Everything looks so, so different when you're rested. And sometimes that ends up being more helpful than you would imagine... a calm relaxed mama is a gift to her baby. I am praying for you now... that you would be able to rest and exhale.
10. These few weeks are only that... Remember eternity
He knows what is best... I promise, promise, promise. How do I know? Look at the bible! A big thick book of story after story of God knowing better and working for the good of his people. And look at your life! You will find him faithful time and time again. Zoom out and see your difficulty to breastfeed in the cosmic story of redemption and take heart. His good purposes cannot be thwarted. He is with you and for you and will see you through this seemingly endless time. Even if the short term outcome isn't as you'd hoped... "By His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, who through faith are protected by God’s power for the salvation that is ready to be revealed (1 Peter 1:3-5)." That is certain and secure.