I have low milk supply. How do I know? Through long and laborious efforts, ultimately unfruitful (or at least, with very limited fruitfulness), with my first two infants. Knowing that ‘breast is best’ and striving – in classic type A fashion – to be the best mom possible to my tiny bundles of joy, I poured untold hours into making breastfeeding “work” with my babies. I pumped round the clock. I took Fenugreek. I used the supplemental nursing system through which extra food could be fed to the baby while I nursed. I met repeatedly with the lactation consultant. I went weekly to the breast feeding clinic for weigh-ins to track weight gain (or, often, lack thereof). All these efforts eventually revealed that in our particular case – my babies’ and mine – breast was simply not best. My babies failed to thrive. Once they were bottle-fed, they did great.
When our newest baby entered the world two weeks ago, I brought all this knowledge into the scenario and knew that breastfeeding would almost certainly be a limited venture. My plan was to start off on the breast for the first few weeks, see how things went, then start supplementing as soon as it was clear the baby needed it. When we met with the pediatrician on Friday for her two-week appointment and I learned she hadn’t gained any weight in a week – well, that was that. Cut and dried, right? Start supplementing the breast with the bottle. So I did.
A post-partum woman is not the most rational creature in the world, however, and the combination of hormones, sleeplessness, and emotions did their work. I felt bad, as I had the first two times. I wished it could have been different. I envied all the ‘normal’ women who have sufficient milk to feed their babies. I felt, at the end of the day, like an inadequate mother. My baby needed nourishment… and I could not provide it to her. Other moms can provide their babies with “liquid gold” but mine, for reasons I can’t explain (this has been most helpful to me in pondering it), is evidently more along the lines of liquid lead.
As I prayed it through and reflected on it, though, I realized how much our vision of ourselves as mothers – who we hope and wish we could be – often does not match our reality. I love the idea of breastfeeding a well-nourished, content baby… and yet this vision and my reality will never intersect. For other new mothers the longed-for vision may be other scenarios that they can’t achieve… getting pregnant easily and without assistance, for example, or vaginal birth, or unmedicated vaginal birth, or a pregnancy that doesn’t make them feel horrible day after day for nine months, or even mothering healthy babies with no special needs. (All of these, incidentally, I have been blessed enough to experience, repeatedly, and yet it’s still so easy to feel bad about the things that don’t work out instead of thankful about the things that do, isn’t it?)
And I thought too about how we as moms want to nourish our kids… whether physically through providing the food they need as infants (as in my case) or in a thousand other ways. This is the job God’s given us, so of course we should strive to do it well. BUT, and this is a big but, we will never do it perfectly. We will never be able to fill them, satisfy them, make them content or whole. If I feel inadequate, it is because, in a way – I am inadequate… and yet can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. We mothers are nourishers, yes, but not the Nourisher. As we acknowledge this, we can lay aside the idols we can make of our own visions of motherhood and repent of the ways we try to control, even reign over, our mothering and our households. We can trust and allow God to nourish our children through us and then leave the rest, all that is beyond our ability or control, to him to meet their needs in his own perfect ways.