All around the web, you’ll find essays on the benefits and beauty of breastfeeding. Breast is best, they all say. And who can argue with that? It’s what we mammals are meant to do – most women swelling to proportions porn stars dream of, As to Ds, Cs to Es. Milk spilling forth in quantities they couldn’t even imagine before they gave birth, fears of supply problems momentarily erased as their body spews forth like a shower head. Baby blinking milk away, mamma soaking through yet another bra. Messy, but natural. Sticky, but perfect.
Those tender breast feeding moments are often painted with moving words that describe the warmth and the closeness of feeding a child from one’s own body. Even without a picture, you can see it, a long haired mama in a rocking chair, the back of a little bald head against her boob, warm summer light streaming in through sheer white curtains illuminating both like God is shinning brightest on them. The pain of it, that which comes when a newborn with a mouth like a vortex latches on to suck and suck until the nipple is practically blue, is a badge to be worn with pride. And why shouldn’t these mamas be proud? Breastfeeding isn’t easy with its infections and lacerations, it’s red, it’s hot, it’s fire poker torture at times. Breastfeeding isn’t easy (it was so hard for me in the beginning I just had to say that again!). But breastfeeding is organic. It’s empowering. It’s miraculous. It’s scientifically the optimal way to feed a baby.
Who can argue with that?
And I won’t.
But what I will argue is that bottle feeding isn’t necessarily easier. And that mamas who do it, and with success, deserve just as big of a hug.
Because with a bottle, you’re still nourishing a child. And whether it’s full of your breast milk, someone else’s, full of fancy formula, or generic brand stuff straight from the Walmart shelf, you are STILL feeding life.
Right now, I’m upstairs in the guest room/office listening to my baby girl cry because she’s hungry, frustrated, and not interested in a silicon nipple. This is the 5th time our nanny has come to care for her, to prepare me for when I go back to work in a few days. Today, however, is the first time I’m not stepping in, ready to bare breast, my skin and scent and caress there to comfort my tear soaked child.
This is what mamas of all shapes and sizes do. They feed their babies, somehow. This is what working mamas in particular do, they find a way.
Bottle feeding may not hurt my body like breast feeding did in those early days, but it hurts my heart.
Not for the reasons you might think.
It’s true that sacrificing moments of closeness with my daughter literally makes me sick to my stomach, but that’s not the issue here. The thing I take issue with most is watching her struggle. Her confused little mouth, her frustrated face, suckling at the bottle for a second, then pulling back in anger that it’s not what she knows.
Bottle feeding, so far, has been our biggest challenge.
We’ve tried almost every bottle brand with sporadic success. Some days she’s interested, most days she’s not.
There are those who don’t breastfeed because of circumstance, or genetics, or choice. There are those who provide formula to hungry mouths that don’t know the difference, babies who’ve loved the bottle like it’s a breast from the start. To those babies, the bottle is a breast, to them the bottle is best.
Last night, after a day of crying (me and the baby!) and struggling to bottle feed, I finally calmed her with my breast then kept trying. The pride and excitement I felt when she latched on to the bottle rival, and may even surpass, that I experienced with early breast feeding. I practically yelled to my husband, “She’s doing it!” Her tiny hands grasping at the bottle like it was the most wonderful thing! Once she got the hang of it, she’d cling on when I tried to take it away. “More mamma,” she said with her grunts. “More.” We were seated next to a window, straggly strands of my hair, desperately in need of a cut and a deep wash, falling in my face, and across her tiny feet. There was light shining in. It was the tenderest of moments. And if there is a God, I’m sure he or she was smiling, and just as proud as if I were EBF’ing (exclusively breast feeding).
So today we try the bottle again. And today I have even more respect and admiration for all of the bottle feeding mamas out there. Breast feeding may be best, but bottle feeding is definitely just as beautiful.