One day, you will tell me not to cry over spilled milk. And I will tell you that you’re silly because I’ve seen and heard you cry over spilled milk many times before, mama.
I saw you cry the night I was born prematurely; too soon for this already harsh world. With your hands tightly clenched, you held your breath, waiting for me to take mine. And I did. Those tears streaming down your face? I knew they were tears of joy and happiness for my safe arrival. Despite the fear and uncertainties written all over your face, you smiled and your eyes danced with love to the beat of my heart. I knew right then that God had chosen the right mama for me.
I saw you cry after countless hours of kangaroo care, and many relentless attempts to nurse me while I lived in the NICU. I just couldn’t latch because of my medical condition, mama. You whispered softly, “It’s okay baby, we’ll keep trying…mama will pump and do whatever it takes until you’re ready to nurse.” You turned away and tears gently rolled down your cheeks- were you scared to see me hooked up on wires and tubes or was it because you felt like you had failed mama?
I know you sat alone and cried in your room that night, as you desperately pumped away with the lights turned off so no one could see your tear-stained face behind the curtain. But I heard your cry; I felt every agonizing and aching pain rip through your heart and entire body, mama. No, I don’t have special powers silly old goose- we share one heart remember?
I saw you cry with disappointment and frustration after pumping every 1-2 hours around the clock, 24/7. Yet, there was nothing to express, except for your unconditional love and determination. You cringed when I was given formula because you’d been told many times before that “breast is best.” I know you wanted to give me nothing less than what was naturally expected of a woman and a mother, but your boobs just wouldn’t cooperate.
I saw you cry after you had seen more than a handful of lactation consultants; you winced in discomfort as total strangers grabbed and squeezed your breasts to show you how to work your own boobs. I saw the embarrassment and humiliation in your eyes, which you tried so hard to hide mama. And yet, you never failed to keep a smile on your face and politely say, “Thank you for the education and support…I’ll keep trying and do whatever it takes for my baby.”
I saw you cry when your milk finally came in after two weeks of pumping. This time not out of frustration and feeling like you’ve failed, but out of tremendous excitement and triumph that you finally expressed 1 oz of pure liquid gold. That look of utter pride and joy over what little amount of milk you got was priceless mama.
I know you cried silently when you had to accept the hard fact that I would never be able to nurse from your loving bosom; I needed to be bottle and tube fed. Questions and doubtful thoughts raced endlessly through your exhausted mind; will you and I be able to have that special bond and connection like other breastfeeding mothers and babies? I’m sorry mama, I know how much you wanted to breastfeed…I saw your torn, broken heart and shattered dreams in your eyes. Yet, you never failed to keep a smile on your face and say,”It’s okay baby, mama will do whatever it takes…whatever is best for you.”
I saw you cry when your supply dwindled after only 4 months of exclusively pumping. You began seeing lactation consultants again, and took every product and herbs available to get your supply back up. You pumped day and night, fumbling in the dark to assemble the pump and storage bottles every time the alarm went off. You pumped while feeding me through the bottle and tube, being careful not to waste a single precious drop of milk. You pumped through the excruciating pain of chaffed, blistering nipples, and clogged ducts. You persevered with all your might, while fervently praying to the heavens above, “Please just give me one more day of supply…one more drop…I can’t fail my child again.” But nothing you or anyone could do could bring your supply back up, and you’d go to bed most nights weeping softly into your pillow, wondering what you did wrong or when things would get easier.
I saw you cry when you accidentally spilled that little amount of milk you worked so hard to express. I heard you cry when you finally pumped that very last drop of milk; you felt like a failure for having a pair of broken boobs. And I saw you cry when you packed away your mechanical Medela nursling. It was final. I know your heart ached inexplicably with sadness upon seeing other mothers breastfeeding effortlessly; you wanted to run and hide when some gave you flack for not giving me the “best” or “not trying hard enough.” Those who judged you just don’t understand because they’ve never had to walk an uphill mile in your shoes.
I heard you cry after begging and pleading with our insurance company to cover my costly breast milk prescription because formula caused my lower intestines to bleed. I saw you cry after frantically searching and calling many people and organizations to see if they offered financial assistance for milk. You got nowhere. As you helplessly watched me scream and writhe in pain from the formula, I heard your desperate plea to God, “I would crawl to the moon and back on broken glass…just please don’t do this to my child, she’s struggled and suffered long enough.”
I saw you cry when you were notified by the milk bank and perfect strangers that they would donate milk free of charge. Your prayers had been answered and you cried tears of gratitude and relief with those tired, exhausted eyes of yours. You smiled and said, “Mama will never ever give up on you baby. I promise.”
Now do you see, mama? You have cried many times over spilled milk, more than I have. Even if I had been able to accept formula, and you had nothing else to give, that would not make you any less of a mother than those who are able to breastfeed. You were never a failure in my eyes, but a super badass mama at keeping me ALIVE. You breastfed me. You bottle fed me. You tube fed me. YOU did YOUR best for ME out of LOVE.
I know the unspoken pain is still there, forever etched in memory, but every time I see a smile on your face, and your eyes dance with love to the beat of my growing and thriving heart, I know wholeheartedly that God had chosen the right mama for me. I love you mama.
This really hits a chord. While I was able to nurse my son from breast for 5 months. I had to quit and supplement my pumped breast milk with formula for Failure to Thrive. I felt like such a failure. Then when even that didn’t work my son got an NG tube, and a GTube soon to follow. Then when my milk dried up I felt like a failure all over again. I cannot stand when moms put other moms down for doing what they need to. A fed baby is all that matters!
As a pumping mom to a 24 week preemie with severe reflux this article hits home, thank you for this unique perspective!
This is a beautiful testament to a mothers love for her precious babe.
Any amount of breast milk you can give your little one is good. Please don’t beat yourself up. You are doing the best you can. You do have your babes best interest at heart. You are an amazing awesome mom who would go to the end of the earth for your little one. Way to go mama! I’m so proud of you!