In the past, it was enough that her daughter was getting enough to eat. But now, Esther Vandersluis knows what she missed out on.
Not over the unexpected success, but because, “I now know what I missed.”
Esther had difficulty breastfeeding her oldest daughter, Maia, who was diagnosed with failure to thrive and needed to be tube-fed. That experience left Esther grateful for the medical advances that made it possible for her daughter to eat and grow.
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With her first two children, worries about lost bonding time took a backseat to simply getting them fed. With this daughter, things are very different. Esther wrote:
For the first time ever, breastfeeding is working for me with no struggle. The beginning was still tough, yes. Mostly on my end this time. Cracked nipple, mastitis twice, and just pure pain and exhaustion. But now, it’s going perfectly. My baby is growing. She’s eating well. I look forward to our nursing sessions. I have no need for anything to feed her except for my own milk that is plentiful.
Along with that comfort has come knowledge of what she missed out on before. Not that she didn’t think about it when she was having problems breastfeeding her oldest:
I spent so many months, days, hours mourning the loss of the breastfeeding relationship with my first when she was just a newborn. But I didn’t actually completely know what I was missing.
Now I know.
Now that the experience of bonding during breastfeeding is no longer abstract, Esther finds herself mourning over what she didn’t have the chance to share with her oldest daughter:
So this week I’ve been in tears again. Because I look at my beautiful, healthy, exuberant four year old and I think back to when she was a newborn and I couldn’t give her the milk she needed.
I think back and I question again what I did wrong, how I failed, and what I should have done.
While it may be fruitless to wonder what happened, it’s hard to avoid going down that path. However, Esther knows she can’t go back in time and fix what happened.
That’s why — after a bit of mourning for what might have been — she thought about how frightening it was to see her child latch, but not eat. And she remembered how she worried over her daughter’s weight.
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Those memories are also a way to reflect on the fact that she did bond with her daughter while feeding her:
I remember the special moments we had when bottle feeding her formula. I remember the bond I felt when I stopped trying to feed her in a way that just didn’t work. I remember that I did what I had to do as a mother.
It’s a good reminder that Esther did “the very best I could have” during a difficult time.
The stress and disappointment that accompanied those breastfeeding difficulties weren’t the whole story. Esther wrote:
I remember the joy my firstborn gave me despite all the struggle. I remember the immense love I had for her from the beginning.
While feeding her youngest brought home to Esther how wonderful breastfeeding can be, her different experiences revealed another truth:
It’s beautiful and it will always be sad when a mom is not able as it is our innate desire to do so. But it will never mean the mom is failing, the mom is inadequate, the mom is wrong.
As Esther wrote, moms need to feed their baby in the way that is best for them both. What’s more, “bottle feeding is an act of love and bonding just as breastfeeding is.”
She concluded by acknowledging that moms may need time to mourn when breastfeeding doesn’t work out. She added, “But then we step up and we feed our babies those bottles with the same love as any mother. Love is best. Always.”