Late in our struggle to conceive, I had the most vivid dream that I was nursing a baby girl. But when I woke up, reality came crashing down. I remember that feeling of waking up, and just for a split second, thinking that was my life. I remember feeling devastated that I might never get to breastfeed a baby—my baby.
I think it was partially because of that dream that I was so excited about the opportunity to breastfeed my baby when we finally got pregnant. I read La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (my grandma had sweetly purchased a copy for her granddaughters to use one day and I was the first to use it!) and Anthony and I took a local breastfeeding class taught by a doula. I talked to friends who had recently had babies about their experience breastfeeding and asked them for advice. Though I was aware—after all my “studying”—that breastfeeding often was not as easy and natural as I had perceived it to be, I still felt excited and prepared, armed with support and resources (and lots of nipple cream).
Lucy was finally born and started nursing as I had hoped. One month in and breastfeeding was going great—of course, not without the inevitable discomfort of my milk coming in, a steep learning curve for Lucy and me, and the backaches from leaning over too much—but in general, she was eating like a champ and I was feeling more and more confident about this whole breastfeeding thing. Having learned that the first month is usually the hardest for breastfeeding moms, I assumed I was well on my way to meet my goal of breastfeeding Lucy for one year.
That all changed when Lucy was around six weeks old. Suddenly, she stopped eating well and seemed frustrated when she nursed. Lucy would pull away from me after a few minutes of breastfeeding, turning her head away and refusing the other side, yet she still showed clear signs of hunger immediately afterward. The first doctor’s visit deemed Lucy was fine, and chalked up her behavior to getting more efficient at nursing. Unfortunately though, Lucy’s behavior around nursing continued like this for a few more weeks. Although I knew I would seem like an overly anxious first time mom, I trusted my motherly instincts and went back to the doctor’s office. This visit showed what I had known in my gut to be true—Lucy had lost weight, which can be worrisome and even dangerous for a newborn.
The next couple months were the hardest I’ve yet to experience as a parent. Lucy’s resistance around nursing only got worse, to the point of completely refusing to nurse altogether. At the time, she still did not like taking a bottle either, so we would have to wait until she was half asleep to feed her. The doctor treated Lucy for silent reflux, but that didn’t seem to help much. My fear of Lucy not eating or gaining weight snowballed into full blown anxiety, which certainly didn’t help the situation either. Per the doctor’s orders, we went in for almost weekly weight checks for Lucy. Per my lactation consultant’s recommendation, I was pumping six times a day in addition to nursing her, just to keep my milk supply up in case Lucy did start nursing better again. No one could figure out what was causing Lucy’s sudden change in eating patterns.
Despite the difficulty during this time, I learned so much about God’s love for me. Every time Lucy turned away from me when I went to nurse her, I felt like I got a tiny glimpse of how God must feel about me so much of the time. Doing everything He can to pour out His love for me and show me how much He loves me—to the point of dying on a cross. And yet some days I don’t even look at Him or talk to Him; I seem unaware or uninterested in the love He so desperately is trying to show me. It was a lesson for me about how God actively, not passively, pursues us and loves us. All He longs for is for us to receive that love from Him—just like all I wanted was for Lucy to receive the love I was trying to give her via breastfeeding.
When Lucy was three months old, after two months of this runaround, I was at my wit’s end. Nursing was always a huge ordeal, met with screaming and crying. On a friend’s suggestion, I decided to take Lucy to a chiropractor, which I was told could help with her resistance to nurse. This seemed to help, but progress wasn’t immediate. Although Lucy still wasn’t a fan of the bottle (she wasn’t really a fan of eating at all, somehow) I knew that physically and mentally, I couldn’t keep nursing Lucy if her eating habits (or lack thereof) continued.
I went to see my lactation consultant as one last hurrah to try to make nursing work. Just as puzzled as I was, she didn’t have any nursing advice for me. But what she did have to say was much more important than any breastfeeding help she could have provided. “Look at how many times you’ve been in here,” she started. “You’ve done everything you possibly can to try to make breastfeeding work. You’re trying to figure out what’s going on for her, and she can see and feel that. By trying to figure out what’s going on rather than force her to nurse when she’s upset, you’ve taught her trust.” Tears started to well in my eyes. “You’ve been an incredibly attentive mom; you know her better than anyone else. You’ve shown her what it means to love—and that’s way more than breastmilk can provide.”
“You know your baby better than anyone else. You’ve shown her what it means to love—and that’s way more than breastmilk can provide.”
I’ll never forget those words. Soon after this, something changed (we still don’t know what) and Lucy started nursing better again and taking a bottle well. I’m so thankful that breastfeeding worked out for us, as I cherish every quiet moment together that’s just ours. But whether it had worked out or not, my lactation consultant was right. Breastfeeding is wonderful for those who are able to do so, and there are plenty of benefits of breastmilk. But regardless of how a mother feeds her baby, the food that baby receives will never parallel the love and trust that a mother can instill in her child—no matter how she feeds him.
With a little grace,
If you are going through a difficult time breastfeeding your little one, please feel free to reach out to me via Instagram DM or via my contact page. I had so much support from several friends who were currently or recently breastfeeding and it made such a tremendous difference to have their encouragement—and their support if I needed to stop nursing. I spent a lot of time on Google and in the doctor’s office trying to figure out what was going on with Lucy, so I can at least stand with you in solidarity and empathy.
Thank you to my incredibly talented cousin, Haley, of By Haley Rose for all of these special photos!