The battles were fierce.
At least, that's how I felt when I tried to breastfeed my daughter. Each nursing session began with screams and cries no earthly being should be allowed to make. I would offer my breast, and the thrashing would start. While her little hands clawed and pushed one side of my chest, her tiny feet kicked the other. My husband had to restrain those flailing limbs before we could accomplish anything.
Because she was so ticked off, she wasn't able to latch on by herself. She'd move her head quickly from side to side and make these alarming growling noises, almost like a little puppy trying to attack a toy. We would carry on like this for a while before she would finally start sucking, but only with the help of a nipple shield. And even then, she fought it.
From day one of her life to eight weeks, this is how breastfeeding went for us.
Feeding her became such a source of anxiety that I completely dreaded it. I hardly ate. I cried a lot. I thought, What am I doing wrong? and This is all my fault. I felt depressed and exhausted. Our baby girl wasn't doing any better. Along with not being able to properly breastfeed, she was upset the majority of the time she was awake. Inconsolable. We tried so many things: acid reflux medicine, Colic Calm, all the techniques they teach you to burp your baby correctly. I developed callouses on my hands from swinging her over and over again in her car seat, which was the only way to make her stop crying, often only temporarily. We thought maybe she was lactose intolerant, so we tried Colief. I remember wondering if all newborns were like this, and if so, why, for the love of all that is good and right in the world, would anyone want to have a second child. We had no idea what we were doing. And all the while, breastfeeding remained this heavy thing, looming over us.
Everything came to a head at the pediatrician's office when we learned that in a whole month, she hadn't added any weight to her tiny seven pound, four ounce body. There were other babies we knew that were heavier at birth than she was at almost two months. I thought, how can this be possible? She usually nursed for so long, sometimes over an hour at a time, how is she not getting enough to eat?
When you are working so hard to help your baby, news like this is devastating. I would see updates from other new moms on Facebook about how well their babies were gaining weight and how joyous they felt about being a mother, while all I felt was bitterness.
After another week of trying to nurse her with no improvement, we made the decision to give her formula. She guzzled that first bottle down like she hadn't eaten all day. All the problems we thought she had went away immediately. She calmed right down and started smiling more than screaming. We were so relieved. Unfortunately, once we gave her that bottle, she refused to even attempt breastfeeding anymore. I started pumping and quickly realized that I was hardly making any milk.
So, basically, she was trying to tell us that she was starving this whole time, and we just weren't getting the hint.
In the end, I chose to stop breastfeeding and pumping altogether because it was just too hard. What was supposed to be this wonderful, sweet bonding experience between my baby and I became this burdensome, stress-inducing nightmare.
For us, formula was a blessing, but it wasn't easy for me to accept that blessing. I blamed myself and felt like a horrible mother because I couldn't give my baby what was best for her. I felt like less of a woman because I couldn't breastfeed. I thought I was ruining my baby because so many books, doctors and websites told me that breastmilk was liquid gold. I desperately wanted someone to tell me that it was okay, that I had made the right decision.
And people did. They showered me with encouragement and love and support.
And it didn't help.
Finally, I realized something. Sometimes, you have to release the burden while it clings tightest.
Yes, I could have analyzed everything I did to find out where I went wrong. Yes, there are tactics I didn't try: pills I could have taken to increase my milk supply, tubes I could have attached between my breasts and bottles to encourage her to nurse. I could have pumped every two hours in hopes of making more milk. But what I really needed was to allow myself to accept the grace that God and others were already giving me. Because once I let myself accept this grace, I felt the freedom to make a decision.
And my decision was to stop. To stop all the striving and straining. To stop the guilt. To stop the battle.
Peace finally came when I took all of my loose ends and just dropped them without having tied them together. Peace came, and along with it, the ability to see the truth: I love my daughter. I am not a horrible mother. My husband and I made a wise, beneficial choice for our family. I can rejoice in feeding my baby formula, knowing she is getting the nourishment she needs.
To my delight, we now have a smiling, gurgling, blessedly chunky baby who is incredibly joyful and, most importantly, healthy.
For a while there, I fought against receiving the one thing we all desperately need in this whole raising-a-tiny-human thing. But I am slowly learning to take hold of it with these feeble fingers of mine.
There is grace.
Even when it doesn't look at all like what you thought it would look like. When you choose to lean on it and on the One who gives it, instead of on your own strength, you have not lost anything.
You have not failed.
You may not have any strength left to fight for yourself, but that's right where you should be. It is there where you will find, if you let yourself, that you have been given the victory you were searching for all along.
Guest post written by Sara Smith. Sara is in constant need of grace as she stumbles through the wonderful yet frazzling adventure of being a mom to her delightfully feisty baby girl. She's married to an adventurous officer of the law, loves Jesus and can't say no to sugar. She blogs at Feathers & Roots.
Photo by N'tima Preusser.