Let me tell you a story about the time I discovered something more important than breastfeeding. If breastmilk is so beneficial, what would possess me to stop nursing my first baby at four months and start feeding him formula?
It wasn’t without hesitation, believe me. It also wasn’t without confusion. After all, how does a die-hard breastfeeding mother pick the best formula out of a grocery aisle full of the stuff?!?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
On September 26, 2008, following 46 hours of labor, my bouncing baby boy was born by C section. I was over the moon! I was going to cherish him, protect him, and only feed him breastmilk.
It’s the best thing for him, so there was no going back for me.
Not when I was so heavily medicated that all I could do was slur drunkenly and make little sense.
And not when I couldn’t latch him on.
Not even when the nurses kindly suggested I use a bottle.
I. Was. Doing. This.
We struggled with latch problems even after my medicine wore off. I just couldn’t get it right. Finally, a kind nurse brought me a nipple shield. It was amazing! No more latch problems! At the time, I thought it was the perfect blend of breastfeeding and bottle feeding. I went out and bought a second one.
For over a month we used the nipple shields. When I discovered that they could cause serious issues, I tried to stop using them. Unfortunately my son couldn’t nurse without the shield because it was all he knew. Using a nipple shield had only compounded our latch problems.
We both cried as we spent as long as an hour and a half to two hours trying to latch him on. Every time. Then slowly but surely, we got better at it. I remember the first time we did it in less than an hour. Progress!
When he was three months old, we kinda had the hang of it and I loved bonding time we shared. It was awesome being able to give him the absolute best. I was so proud of us for pushing through and making this work.
Two days before Christmas I heard the news no one wants to hear. Cancer. Surgery. Radiation. Like a truck speeding right for me, coming out of the blue. All of a sudden we were talking about my chance of survival.
I needed surgery followed by a dose of radioactive iodine. A very potent, highly poison, ingestible capsule was going to end my ability to breastfeed. The oncologist was adamant that I would not be breastfeeding for twelve months after the radiation.
I had some soul searching to do. All our hard work fighting to breastfeed seemed to be a waste. Of course it wasn’t a waste, but at that point it seemed to be. Then I remembered the doctor saying my cancer wasn’t aggressive. That I may have been able to go years without it truly affecting me if they hadn’t found it. My chance of survival was 98%. Why not wait?
So I approached my husband with a plan to postpone treatment for nine more months, just to give me time to nurse our son until he was a year old.
He probably would have reacted better if I’d planned a bank heist. He was horrified!
I’ll never forget his (very wise) advice: “He’ll have a better life as a formula fed baby with a mom than a breastfed baby whose mother is dead.” His point made absolute sense, and I abandoned my plan to wait for treatment… and nurse my baby.
I went through surgery, a scan, another surgery, and another scan while I was able to continue breastfeeding him for one more month.
The night before my radioactive iodine treatment, I held him to my breast, rubbed his silky baby head, and hated the cards I was dealt.
I cried as I kissed him. I was going to have to spend two weeks without him in my home because the radiation that would be seeping from my pores was so very potent.
We didn’t get the chance to wean slowly, but I did get to soak in my last time to breastfeed him. It broke my heart.
When I was finally able to have him in my arms again, it didn’t matter that I was feeding him a bottle. I had my baby. I was going to be okay. More importantly, he was going to be okay.
As beautiful and beneficial as breastfeeding is, there are things that are more important. Love for instance. And survival. We were fortunate enough to have both.