by Nicole Serafin, Tintenbar, Australia
I recently gave birth to my second child. I also have a 5 year old daughter whom I breastfed and then progressed onto solids when she was ready. Our son is also breastfed but has a much bigger appetite than our daughter and I decided to include some formula feeds. Formula never entered into the equation with our daughter, but with our son it has been a completely different experience. Of course, breastfeeding is pushed by many midwives and a lot of mothers, but some women are not as lucky and for one reason or another are unable to, or choose not to, breastfeed.
I have felt the inadequacy that some women face from this – it is huge, and so wrong and unnecessary.
I did not think that I had an issue with formula or not breastfeeding. I had been lucky with both of our children and was able to breastfeed them both without any problems, so I never had to consider any other options. When it came time to give our son formula in place of one of his feeds, I could feel myself begin to question if what I was doing was the right thing, if I should really do it, or should I just keep feeding every 2 hours and wait until he began to wean himself?
For me, on one hand I felt sure that introducing formula was the right thing to do, but on the other hand, I was bound to him and he to me on a physical level, as I had to always be with him in case he needed a feed. However, by introducing formula into his feeding pattern it allowed both me and him the freedom of more flexibility, both at home and when we were out.
So I sat with this feeling of confusion, knowing that formula was needed, not only for flexibility but also because he needed more than just breast milk. Then there was the feeling of guilt; the guilt that I may have been being selfish – that giving our son formula was purely for my benefit. Then I realised that there was some ‘self’ in there – self in respect that it would give me more flexibility and space in my day. However, I realised that this was not selfish, but a loving, supportive choice for my child and for me.
In my experience, if I am to consistently make it all about and only about my child, then I soon become exhausted, irritable and find myself unable to make decisions with the same clarity that I would if I looked at what was needed, not only for the child but also for myself. I am always feeling what I need so that I am then able to support not only my child but all of my children, my partner and friends. If I am not considering the bigger picture, which is life outside of the child, then I quickly get caught up in it and everything else begins to suffer.
It is so easy to push ourselves beyond the point of exhaustion, all in the name of being the “perfect mother”; but really, what is that? Is there even such a thing?
It is important to make sure that we take ourselves into consideration, what works for us and the rest of the family, and not just what works for the child, no matter how old they are.
After going with my initial impulse I made up a bottle of formula, and in the same way that I would get ready for breastfeeding, I sat with our son in that stillness, being completely with me, and with him, without any distractions as I have been at times for a breastfeed: I proceeded to feed our son a bottle of formula.
It was nothing short of amazing: as I looked into his eyes and could feel the love that he is, I knew in my heart that it was not about breastfeeding, formula or bottle feeding, but that we are able to connect to our children regardless of the method of feeding. It has shown me that it is not about what or how we feed, but the way in which we go about it. I had the same intention both with formula and with breastfeeding, and that was to nurture and support him in whatever way was needed.
I can connect to him in the same way that I did with our daughter, no matter how they are fed, but just by simply being – being with them in that moment, and every moment.