Formula

I had to stop breastfeeding when the baby was 5 weeks old
I say had to, but really, it was a choice
That’s what motherhood is– choice after choice after choice
How will I mother in this moment?
How will I respond to the things that are out of my control today?

I had to decided to stop breastfeeding because 
It brought the looming, postpartum storm clouds even closer
And it was causing both physical and emotional pain

But let me be clear
You don’t need a reason to not breastfeed
If your truth is simply
I don’t want to

I knew I needed to stop breastfeeding
But the process of quitting
Was in many ways
Even more challenging
Than giving birth

In the weeks and months after giving birth
the woman’s body is an animal on its own journey
And trying to steer it in different directions
Feels like trying to direct a wild bull

But a woman knows where the bull needs to go
Down in the most intuitive parts of her body

Listen closely, can you feel it?
The discomfort in your belly 
The fogginess of your thoughts
The heaviness in your heart
When you’re not living in choice

So I made the choice
That it was time to stop

Intellectually, I was all in
I had read the stats and stories and successes about formula feeding
Emotionally, I was paralyzed
My instinct and intuition at war with each other
Further confusing my decision from one moment to the next

I’m doing the right thing, I stand firm in this choice
What if this is something I regret for the rest of my life?

Watching my milk supply slowly dwindling away
Something wild-eyed and animalistic inside me 
Panicked and thrashed and screamed

The baby needs this, she will die without it
You can’t let your milk disappear

I remember standing in the shower
Tears streaming down my face
Milk streaming down my belly
Trying so hard to listen to my inner voice
The chorus made up of my brain, heart, and stomach

Hugging myself, I whispered,
What do you need to heal from this? 
How can I help you be okay?

And the sudden compassion towards myself and my body
This animal that was hurting
Shifted everything

I started talking out loud to my body
The body that I didn’t recognize, but accepted as still mine

I thanked her for having such a strong drive to feed and protect the baby
I promised her it was okay let go

I told my body about how I was feeding the baby
Lovingly, constantly, and with milk that was devoured
Even if it wasn’t homemade

I commended my body for her awareness of others’ needs
Even as she was bleeding and hurting
In unimaginable ways

Every day I talked to my body
As if she were a wounded, worried, and scared animal
That I had rescued from a shelter

I talked to her in soft tones, dressed her in soft clothes, asked her soft questions
And intently listened for her soft, whimpered answers

I made her a playlist of songs that I knew she would enjoy
Songs that we would sing to the baby during every bottle feeding

While formula feeding,
I paid attention to the happy squeaks that the baby made
The contentment in her eyes
The “milk drunk” faces
And the rooting she still did
To find the nipple of the bottle

I realized that I was providing for her,
Even if the milk wasn’t mine
I saw that providing for this child emotionally,
Which I could now do in the wake of freedom from breastfeeding,
Was more powerful
Than anything my breasts could contribute

After all
What are a few antibodies
Compared to connected, safe, unwavering
Human
And motherly
Love

I noticed
That my baby and I were bonding
In all the same ways that I saw my breastfeeding friends
Bonding with their babes

She cried out for me
Soothed in my arms
Smiled at me
And nuzzled up to me
In all the ways
One could dream of

And I was present in my joy
Because I was no longer restrained
By the cords and the suctions and nursing bras
That were suffocating me before

I stopped trying to suppress the feelings of guilt that would sometimes seep in
And accepted the experience for what it was–
Grieving over a loss

And one thing I know about grief is that you can’t ignore it
And pretend it’s not there
The only way around it is through it
So through it I journeyed

I reminded myself that just because something feels hard and guilt-inducing
Doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do

I sat in the nursery and pictured my infant in different life stages
Toddler
Young child
Tween
Teenager
Young Adult

I thought about what she might be like
And the challenges and hurdles we’d have to overcome together
This is but our first hurdle, my love
I whispered in her tiny ear

I felt proud that I had chosen the path
That would allow me to connect more deeply
And authentically
With this baby who needed connection
Just as much as she needed milk

Years from now when this infant is loud and vibrant and silly 
When she fills my days with too many words and messes
I will smile thinking back to those days in the nursery

How the milk she drank felt like the most important thing
And now
Not even a thing

I love you and you’re okay
I say simultaneously
To my body
And to my baby

I love you and you’re okay

3 thoughts on “Formula

  1. Hi, Courtney. No matter which topic you choose, you turn it into a work of art and contemplation. This subject is a perfect example. While it is about many things, it is also about coming to honor ourselves, our bodies, our experiences, our inner demons and our spirituality. No one is exempt from that responsibility regardless of the form in which it presents itself.
    Thank you. One request, post more often!!!!
    Ken

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