Breastfeeding Grief, "Fed Is Best," and My Hopes For The Future

"One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go. Whether it's guilt, anger, love, loss or betrayal. Change is never easy. We fight to hold on and we fight to let go. If you've been hurt until it breaks your soul into pieces, your perspective in life will definitely change, and no one and nothing in this world could ever hurt you again." - Mareez Reyes

Benjamin is turning nine months old and it has been seven months since my breastfeeding journey has ended.

I have to be honest: 

I am still sad about not being able to continue beyond those two tireless and exhausting months of trying to get Benjamin to stay latched (while also supplementing and pumping). To be frank, I absolutely HATED pumping; it was time-consuming, never amounted to much or enough, and felt dehumanizing. 

Yet, the sadness lingers as I still crave to breastfeed - pumping and all. 

I still feel like a major failure. 

I still have a hard time letting go of my disappointment and emotional attachment to breastfeeding. 

To top it off, I feel jealous when seeing moms breastfeeding (for longer than I had) and this makes me even more vulnerable and feel less than. Instead of being genuinely happy for breastfeeding moms, I feel a sense of loss, lack, inferiority, insecurity, inability, frustration, even anger (mostly towards myself). I couldn't get myself to stop feeling this way or to stop thinking or crying about it. But really though, I am mourning an experience that I had wanted so badly to work. 

Breastfeeding grief is real y'all, and it sucks. 

Breastfeeding grief seems to be one of those silent struggles that women feel ashamed to talk about, probably because breastfeeding has become (or has been?) either a success or fail kind of experience, and NO ONE wants to fail, especially a mom. There are just too many expectations and limitations within the breastfeeding world and it's either you can or you can't. Unfortunately, the "can't" part can become deeply internalized (without the right support) that it turns into grief. 

(There is also a "will" or "won't," and I support those who choose not to, but this is another story for another time.)

I wouldn't be surprised if breastfeeding grief adds or leads to postpartum depression; it truly is a mental, emotional, and physical challenge, which can do some real damage to a mother's mental health. And for awhile, I did feel damaged, like there was something wrong with me, leading me to fear that I might not ever be able to try again or "be better/successful at."

After months of this emotional turmoil, I finally sat down and had a talk with myself. A good talk. 

I had this whole conversation played out in my head for about an hour or so about how hard formula feeling is and how much guilt, shame, and heartache I had been dealing with since stopping breastfeeding. (But if you were in my head, it was actually more like an interview for some newsworthy t.v. show. I know, I'm weird.) 

If I had to go back and explain everything about this personal "interview," I really can't recall anything (laughs) other than that I was in tears and felt better about myself at the end. That is how I know that I am on the way towards healing this grief. 

Over these past several months, I am astounded to find little support (mainly emotional) there is for formula feeding moms and/or moms who have struggled to make it towards their intended breastfeeding goals (that led to formula feeding). There are many resources, products, and support for breastfeeding moms (where I live and on the web) and I'm grateful knowing that I have the privilege and access to those things. I just wish it were the same for moms who are like me that need open and warm reassurance that they aren't failures, that alternative feeding is not a bad thing, and that the "best" doesn't look the same for everyone. 

We all know that breast milk is the most natural and fitting for human babies and that formula is the synthetic version. You just can't replicate breast milk. But saying "Breast is best," can only go so far - it does not support all moms, it hides the struggles, and it spreads this false perception that there is only one and best way to feed your baby. Furthermore, it's surprising to me that I have found many books on breastfeeding that overuse science and facts to scare moms out of formula feeding and it's just sad that books that should be informative can also be judgmental and biased. 

As much as I believe in the normalize breastfeeding movement, I also support the "fed is best" campaign. Until you have been on the other side of breastfeeding, you realize what really matters: that your baby is fed. 

Now that I am pregnant again, I am hopeful to continue my breastfeeding journey; I am being given a second chance at doing something I have always wanted to do. My hopes aren't high nor are my expectations, but my goal with our next baby is to breastfeed for the suggested first six months (pumping ONLY after establishing supply), and if it doesn't work out, I know that I will be okay. 

We will be okay. 

Know that it took me a long time, a lot of effort, a lot of bottles, and a lot of tears to finally be okay with that. 

For more information, here are a couple of books that I will be reading:
  • Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t by Suzanne Barston
  • Latch: A Handbook for Breastfeeding with Confidence at Every Stage by Robin Kaplan M.Ed. IBCLC


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