This summer will mark 11 years of motherhood for me. Eleven years of changing, growing, and learning that there's so much more I really don't know.
My mother raised nine children, all natural births (not on purpose every time, she'd be quick to tell you....those doctors and nurses foiling her drug attempts!), all breastfed.
When I had my first via planned C-section, a little bit of my perfect plan crumbled away. L was frank breech, legs folded up, bottom down. There was no way she was coming out that way. Pioneer days version of me would have labored three days and died.
Modern day me was crushed and anxious that my body wouldn't be doing things the way I'd always expected to. For a long time, I felt this guilt about telling other moms I had a C-section.....it just seemed like I did something less mom than them. But, time and maturity have taught me something. You know what? Thank God for modern medicine. Thank God for hospitals and skilled surgeons.
Back in the day, my silver lining of true mom-ness after my C-section was nursing L 17 months. I had no problems with supply, and after the first three weeks of figuring out a good latch and surviving the blistered awfulness of a constantly nursing newborn, everything went smoothly. L nursed pretty constantly for the first six months, and then when she started some solids, I had a respite, and we continued on until it was just a bedtime routine before she self-weaned.
I was mother, hear me roar. I nursed my baby until she stopped.
Then, six years of secondary infertility with pregnancy losses along the way and we found ourselves with a foster daughter. It was my first experience with formula feeding, and contrary to recent articles, she thrived.
She grew from a 5lb preemie to a robust and vibrant toddler. All on that powdered stuff I could get in exchange for currency at the grocery store. Magic.
Still, I was a bit self-righteous about nursing. After all, I was (finally) expecting again and of course nursing would go just as well the second time around. Maybe better, because, after all, I was now a pro.
Oh folly of pride. From the moment Sweet Pea was born, I struggled with supply. Every supplement, every home remedy, I tried them all.
Nursing cookies? Baked. Guinness with dinner? Drank it. Increased water intake? Oh man, I almost floated away. Fenugreek? Check. Brewer's Yeast? Check. All the supplements that everyone who ever nursed or even heard of nursing told me about? Tried them.
It didn't make a dent. Guinness was by far the most effective, and an evening beer was a great way to unwind, so the excuse of milk supply welcomed. But still, I couldn't keep up with the nutritional needs of this little baby entrusted to me to nourish and care for.
Finally, it was Sweet Pea who saw reason and ended the madness. At eight months, she had more sense than me and self-weaned. I pumped what meager amounts I could get for another month before finally succumbing to sanity and switching fully to formula.
Still, every bottle I mixed in front of someone, I felt the need to explain that I had tried everything to avoid this. Why? Because of things like men who know nothing of what it is to nurse sharing articles by sketchy moralists. I felt defeated, guilty and shamed. I felt lacking that my body would not cooperate. It could not cooperate.
Many of the factors contributing to my sub-fertility contribute to low supply and difficulty in breastfeeding. It's a double betrayal by my body.
Before I knew what it was to feel like a failure, before I knew what it was to try and not succeed, I thought I knew all the answers. I thought I knew that nursing worked because it was natural and women's bodies were made to do it and how could they not because just try harder.
Until I tried so hard it was insanity in my life. Then I really knew. I'll always try to nurse any babies I have because it may work for a time. But, when it stops working, now I know, formula is a gift, not a curse.
It is a blessing that we have ways to feed and sustain babies when mental, physical, or emotional challenges prevent breastfeeding.
Every now and then, I'll meet an expectant mother who has all the answers, who knows all the best ways to labor, who has the best laid plans for nursing into toddlerhood. When I meet her, I try to remember the me that was her, who knew all the things just like her, and I try to extend her grace.
Because, really I didn't know what I was talking about, but I really thought I did. Now I know how very much I don't know. And I'll think to myself as I walk away from her, "bless her heart" in the Southern-most expression of that phrase and pray she discovers the truth in a gentler way than I did.
I thought I knew. I thought the answer was just try harder. It's not. The answer is God knows the struggle of that mama's heart and far be it from me to add to her burden, whatever the parenting style, food philosophies or screen time routines.
When I thought I knew, I judged. Now I know, that judgment in my heart was unfounded and hurtful.
Still, I'll try to extend grace to those ignorant of the injustice they lay at the feet of all mothers when they criticize any of the things we do in the best interests of our family.....but inside I'll be thinking, "You just don't know that you don't know yet."