Friday, October 18, 2013

Real Mothers Use Formula

It's 5:34 in the morning. I've been up thinking since 3:55, when Claira let out her third bout of cries for the night. It's only been since her 6 month appointment a month and a half ago that I have gotten a straight 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis. Thank goodness for teething to remind me that I have many sleepless nights in my future.

Like I said, I've been thinking. Thinking about my life post Claira's birth. I haven't blogged nearly as often now that I take care of an infant. But today I blog about motherhood, motherhood post-Claira's birth. It actually isn't any different of a feeling than pre-Claira's birth.

I remember an afternoon several years ago when my friend came to visit with her three year old son. I was trying to thank my friend for including me in all her social gatherings, where everyone present had children of their own. As I spoke, my emotions got in the way and I could barely make out the words, "I feel like a mother...."Cooper, the three year old, who had been playing with cars on the floor, looked up at me and with piercing eyes and an empowered tone exclaimed, "You ARE a mother!"

Cooper knew what Sherri Dew knows: "Our motherhood began before we were born." I can honestly say that I feel no different in terms of my worth as a mother after having Claira than before I had her. I simply have always been a mother. I believe that every woman is a mother. Thus, the loss of children, born or unborn, is a great and heart-wrenching burden.

The night before leaving the hospital with Claira, I was informed that she was losing weight too quickly and my milk supply was not giving her the nutrition she needed. I was told I would need to supplement her diet. It took several moments for my mind to register what the nurse was saying. My heart seemed to know immediately, though. I would be introducing my baby girl to formula. I burst into tears. I had been to the OB for three different pregnancies where I was always asked, "Will you be breastfeeding your baby?" When I applied in the affirmative, I always received the response, "That's wonderful! Breastfeeding is the best thing for your baby."

It was somewhere in the middle of that long night that I recognized my motherhood again, as Claira cried in hunger, and I relented to giving her some donor breast milk. She needed nutrition, and even if that meant not receiving it from my body, she would receive in any way I could find. I left the hospital with my bloodshot eyes from my body laboring her here and my heart laboring over the uncertainty of her future. It felt like a matter of life and death to me. We left with 16 ounces of donor milk in hopes that my milk would come in soon. Donor milk was $3.50 an ounce. I knew we couldn't keep up this habit.

It turns out that many women who experience infertility issues also experience low milk supply. This surprised me, as I remember my milk coming in with Truman. During the first 2 weeks with Claira, I was a hormonal disaster and realized that I would never, ever, be able to give all that she needed. I remember driving to my neighbors to pick up some extra formula, feeling like I had let down my daughter and all of the medical community who had helped me try to get more milk. Herbal supplements, around the clock pumping, constant feedings. My milk never "came in" as I hoped, but I was able to combination feed her for her first 4 months. I see small time period as a gift.

Grief makes joy brighter.  My life with Claira now? Joy that leaves me in tears. When her hand reaches out to touch my face. When she leans over to catch my eyes and smile from across the room. When she surrenders to sleep in my arms. When she jumps in her jumper like she'd determined to hit the ceiling. When she kisses her reflection in the mirror. It is in these moments that I remember that I am a real mother, I always have been, and real mothers sacrifice whatever it may be--their dream of nursing their babies, the incredulous looks of other mothers when they see her bottle and wonder if it is truly possible that it might be f.o.r.m.u.l.a.--to keep their children healthy and growing strong.

Real mothers exist without having to prove themselves with natural births (which I just so happened to do, and I don't think I love Claira any more than I would have otherwise), without having extensive training in child development (which I also happen to have, and still don't have a clue what I'm doing most of the time), with or without fancy baby clothes and gadgets (let's face it, we are broke).

Yes, real mothers feed their babies formula.