I know that you want the best for your precious baby. You've spent nine gruelling months providing a safe and comfortable home for the life you and your partner created together. The physical changes, aches and pains and the emotional rollercoaster ride is a challenge for even the most straightforward of pregnancies. Whether you bloomed or wilted, pregnancy is tough. Congratulations on your huge accomplishment, but now the time has come to welcome your little one into your world so you can fill its world with all its heart desires, including providing the very best nutrition. We all know the best nutrition for your baby is your breastmilk, so obviously breastfeeding is the best option for all babies...? To some, this is the only message they believe and only message they want to push towards new parents. So where does this leave you? A mother who has been unable to breastfeed their baby.
Whether you've heartbreakingly tried and failed to breastfeed, or you have a physical or mental health condition that has meant you're unable to breastfeed, it's a bitter blow to hear that you're unable to provide the 'best' for your baby. Some women are more than happy to forego breastfeeding and that's great if that's what they want to do. But you either desperately wanted to breastfeed or are now in a position where your inability to breastfeed is causing sadness.
I've been there. I feel your anguish and the overwhelming loss you are experiencing. You are starting to resent your body and doubt your abilities as a mother. I remember thinking "how could I ever be a good parent when I can't even provide the nutrition my baby is supposed to have?" I even started to become depressed about my identity as a woman; biologically, women only have breasts because they are designed to nourish a baby - mine couldn't.
These feelings went on for weeks. I tried to hide them from others as I didn't want them to think I wasn't coping. Motherhood is supposed to be one of the most magical moment in a woman's life, and we tried to conceive for years. My body ached for a baby and now I've got my precious son, how could I expose unhappiness?
Inside I was in turmoil. This was before the moment of change.
One day, I was staring in the mirror at my 'useless' breasts when my baby started crying. I held him close to me and comforted him until he was calm. As I looked lovingly at my son in my arms, it suddenly hit me. He felt the connection and familiarity of me soothing him on my chest. He mellowed to my voice and heartbeat, all whilst resting peacefully on my breasts. Something inside me shifted. I was so focused on what my body couldn't do, that I forgot what was most important from a mother; the ability to provide warmth, love and comfort. Just because I wasn't breastfeeding didn't mean I had any less of a bond with my baby. After that I embraced the tender bottle-bonding moments; our eyes gazing at each other, little fingers clasped to mine, the peace. They have turned into precious memories I will cherish forever.
I'm writing to you today because I want you to know you are not alone and I desperately want you to find your moment of change. Whether it's a moment of self-realisation like mine or a moment when you decide to seek professional help, you deserve to enjoy motherhood. Breastfeeding grief is very real. It's not to be downplayed and many untreated cases can develop into post-natal depression.
Believe me when I say that infant formula is not the devil. It's been scientifically produced, rigorously tested and specifically designed to provide nutrition for babies. It's not a load of rubbish thrown into a can. No matter what some articles push; the horror stories of chemicals and poor regulations; if you research into independent sources, you will find that many concerns are unfounded. For example; 'British Specialist Nutrition Association Limited' state: "Formula milks are amongst the most strictly regulated of all foodstuffs (Regulation EU No 2016/127; EU Directive 2006/141/EC). The EU also strictly regulates levels of any pesticides, contaminants and micro-organisms, along with packaging. It is completely erroneous to suggest that formula milk is unsafe."
I understand why they are trying to promote breastfeeding. The UK has a very low breastfeeding rate and a large number of mums say the lack of information and support for breastfeeding is a key reason for their eventual failure to breastfeed. Support groups are fantastic and they are very important in aiding a successful journey. I'm not knocking their purpose by any means. I just feel there should be a way to promote breastfeeding without making you (and me) feel isolated and 'less of a mother'. A more sensitive approach and maybe even antenatal classes that are called 'infant feeding' sessions and not 'breastfeeding sessions' would be a start. That would be much more inclusive and provide an opportunity to educate parents on all methods of feeding. Bottle-feeding advice, techniques and guidance are currently not discussed; people are fools if they think it's a case of following the instructions on the tin or leaflet. You and I know that it's not easy either.
I encourage you to talk about your feeding journey and your current state of mind. In hindsight, I was only harming myself by keeping my feelings locked away. Please get help and advice from a medical professional if you feel you may be on a downward spiral. It's important to keep reminding yourself that you are doing an amazing job by keeping your baby fed. That's all that matters; the method is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
And finally, don't feel hopeless at the fact you are grieving, you're more than entitled to. In the meantime, surround yourself with people who bring love, positivity and comfort to your life and with time, you will find your moment of change. I promise.
Sending love and support,