When I was pregnant, several people asked me if I planned to breastfeed or bottle feed the baby. I always told them the same thing: I plan to breastfeed, unless it doesn’t work.
I put that caveat in there because there are reasons why breastfeeding just doesn’t work sometimes. I know some women who had a true low milk supply due to various reasons, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, thyroid issues, or previous breast surgeries. These reasons don’t apply to me, and I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed effectively, but I thought it would be naive not to acknowledge the possibility.
When we found out that Zoë wasn’t gaining weight and had lost 12% of her birth weight (which was a little too much), we boarded a rollercoaster of supplementing with formula and pumping as much as possible to increase my milk supply. If I was not sleeping or eating, I was either feeding Zoë or pumping. Because we spaced out feedings more overnight in hopes of getting most of our sleep then (which worked tremendously), there was no time for anything else during the day. None. And I was going insane.
Despite my constant post-feed pumping, only one or two supplements (of 1.5 to 2.5 ounces) per day were breast milk. I obviously had a milk supply issue that extra feeding and pumping didn’t fix, so we decided we would see an in-home lactation consultant. She came to our home and stayed for nearly two hours, observing our feeding routine, offering tips and advice. She checked Zoë’s oral anatomy, and she checked my anatomy, too. Zoë was perfect; I, however, was not.
The reason our prescribed plan for increasing my milk supply didn’t work wasn’t that I needed to do more or do something differently. It wasn’t working because, as it turns out, my milk supply physically can’t be increased; I have insufficient glandular tissue. My supply was as high as it was going to get, and there wasn’t anything I could do to increase it.
So there I was, four weeks into a breastfeeding nightmare, beyond the standard exhaustion that comes with having a newborn. I was physically, emotionally, and mentally spent, extremely discouraged and ready to give up, when I finally got an answer to the problem we were having. My milk supply was not sufficient to sustain my daughter alone, and it never would be.
My discouragement quickly turned to disappointment. So much of my time during Zoë’s first month was wasted connected to a breast pump for nearly 4 hours every day. My hope of giving her (exclusively) the best food available for her was crushed. I gave her what I could, all the while wishing in vain I could give her more.
Thankfully, I was surrounded by people who built me up with love and encouragement. My husband, whose praises I sing quite often, took Zoë’s entire first month off from work to be home with me full time, and there is absolutely no way I would have gotten through it without him. I maybe changed three diapers before Zoë was two weeks old!
My lovely friend Dawn, who has five children, was always a text message away, and she was (and is) always a reminder of truth. One thing she told me when all these problems began is that God was not caught off guard like I was. God has always been aware of these problems. He knew I would not be able to breastfeed effectively since the beginning of time. And it would be okay. Everything would be okay.
I hoped to give Zoë breast milk through six months, but that didn’t happen, either. Around two and a half months, she stopped accepting both breast and bottle at the same feed. She would only do one or the other. Since the bottle was where the majority of her food came from, we decided she would exclusively get a bottle, and I would exclusively pump. After a few weeks of that, we decided it was time for me to wean. I couldn’t keep this up long term, and it was time to stop. In October, I put the pump away and embraced the freedom I’d been wanting ever since the breastfeeding nightmare began.
This past spring, I began studying theology. One of the things I learned about was common grace–basically, good things (from the Lord) that are available to people regardless of what they believe. These are things such as nature, medical advancements, education, etc. I’ve come to think of formula as a common grace. For those of us who cannot breastfeed exclusively or at all, praise the Lord we can still feed our children! By the grace of God, I can keep my baby fed and healthy, and have the freedom to stop breastfeeding. This is a good thing from a good Father, who himself is sufficient to sustain every creation.
He knows every hair on my head, every day of my life, and every problem I will ever face. He knows my disappointments and my fears. And He is good, regardless of circumstances, regardless of our fallen state and imperfect bodies. He is good when we are angry at what he has ordained, and his grace is enough to cover our grief.
In Christ, we are richly blessed, and that is and will always be enough.