I really thought I was getting it together.
Finally after all these weeks of turmoil and torture, my lulu had just turned four months old. She was sleeping better, and I was settling down tentatively into motherhood. I went back to gym, and was planning my return to the working world. And we were doing better. I felt less claustrophobic and more confident and was honestly enjoying every second with her.
Until last week.
It was Ella’s four month vaccination and monthly checkup. And the moment I saw that number on the scale, any fragile equilibrium crashed down. The whole month she had only put on 150 grams. The nurse said her growth in length and head circumference was perfect, and that I shouldn’t worry at all but I should start slowly supplementing with formula. But I don’t hear anything she said. I come undone.
I should have known. I felt that she wasn’t getting heavier. I saw that she wasn’t filling out her clothes as the weeks passed. But how was I to know. She was so happy and active and engaged and lively.
I left the clinic in shock. I sent my husband dashing to Dischem for formula and rice cereal. The second I got home I unearthed a baby gift of a feeding spoon and started pushing mashed banana down her throat. But inside I was broken.
I had failed. One hundred percent and completely. I was starving my baby. I called our paedeatrician who somewhat calmed me and said to carry on as normal as now
Normal? How could I carry on as normal. I had failed as a mother. I had failed my daughter. Hr primary need of being fed could not be fulfilled by her mother. Nothing could console me.
At 12am that night Lulu woke up to eat. But my guilt had sends my milk to its sudden death. She eats and eats but in my heart I know that it’s not enough for her. We try with the bottle, but she screams and chokes and gags and spits. Yet we still try force her. I know that she is hungry. As I carry her back to bed, I crack. Holding her teeny little body in my arms, I sob and sob and sob. I sob for the knowledge that I can’t give her everything she needs. I sob for the fact that I didn’t know she wasn’t getting enough milk. I sob for the fact that my little baby relies solely on me for her nourishment, and no matter how hard I tried I have failed her.
I try be rational. I succeed for moments. I remind myself of what the reality is. That she is healthy and active and reaching all her milestones. Up till now, she has been getting enough milk. That eventually she will have to be nourished from other sources. That no one person can provide another person all they need, only G-d can do that. That if and when she is hungry enough she will take the bottle. That eventually all babies do learn to take the bottle, even if they resist violently at first.
But there is a deeper part of me lurking. There is this deep need etched into my soul, this need and wish and desire to be enough for my baby. To provide her with all she needs. To make sure she never lacks anything, and that she is never in pain. I feel desperate to get my milk back, to have enough of what she desperately needs. I want so much to have enough milk for her. I want to give her enough of what she needs. Even as I feed her rice cereal, I feel a sense of loss. She is one step further from being solely dependent on me.
I define good mothering to having enough breast milk. I need to break free. From these unfulfilled demands on myself.
The next few days pass in a haze. I obsess over the quantity of her wet nappies. When she sleeps till 9 am one morning I am convinced she is dehydrated and we going to have to rush off the the emergency room (she was probably exhausted after being kept up for hours in the night while we try force her to suck the bottle, then syringing milk into her mouth). I try bottle after bottle. My shoulders are like thousands of rocks. I consult lactation experts. Night after night, I cry and cry when I hear her trying to suckles from my empty self.
Meanwhile, Ella is fine as ever. She adores the teaspoons of banana I give her. When people ask me how she is, I say fine and feel like the hugest charlatan She is not fine, I want to tell them. She is starving and it’s all my fault. I am the worst mother in the world.
The more anxious I am the less milk I have.Meal times become a battle of wills and an laden event of pressure and anxiety. I try with Prolak and Fenugreek and toy with the idea of an anti-psychotic which assists lactation. I drink beer after beer. I pray and pray and pray. To the G-d who sustains everything. I ask him to remind me that even as a mother, I will never be able to sustain my child alone. That in a few short months she will need chicken and rice and apples to grow. I try remind myself to breathe.
These days are the worst I have experienced since her birth. Finally, one Monday afternoon something snaps. After another awful attempt at forcing Ella to drink from the bottle, I resort to pouring milk slowly into her mouth from a small cup. She screams and screams, but I carry on. She needs this liquid, she is starving I am sure of it. Eventually the milk streams out the side of her mouth, pours into her eyes and noise. And I stop.
I say to my husband I will not try to bottle anymore for now. I will not let feeding become a battle ground and pour milk down my screaming baby’s throat.We will do rice cereal and carry on nursing as usual. There has to be another way.