My boy won’t feed from a bottle. He used to, and now he won’t. I don’t know why. One day he’d take one when required. The next day, about 10 weeks in, nada. He mouthed the plastic teat, scowling, appeared dumbfounded that we expected him to suck milk out of it, and screamed utter blue murder until I fed him from me.
And there it is. From me. Those two words, expressing something given and received but also something originating from its source, encapsulate my dilemma. They’re why exclusive breastfeeding is so wonderful and so hard all at once.
It’s wonderful because it’s the last biological link with my son after pregnancy and birth. When you nurse a baby, you feel, see and hear milk being drawn out of you. It’s like nothing else, just as feeling them kick and shuffle inside you is indescribably weird and unique. He seems more animal when he feeds than at any other time, and I suppose he is, following in the footsteps of mammals through the millennia.
I love that he’s so healthy on it, gaining weight (those chubby thighs!) and staying remarkably well. I love that he’s so happy nursing from me and I love the hours of quiet bonding, that we can’t feed without cuddling. I love that my body has quietly succeeded at something which is far from easy, however natural it might be, even in the times when my mind is a mess. I love nursing’s ability to soothe. I kind of love feeling like a super feminist she-wolf in every new public place I feed him. I love how clever it all is, how the milk can change to suit a baby’s needs through the day.
When Theo was born and I struggled to get through each day and night, the strength and wisdom of my body, what it had done and was still doing, was a solace. I remember thinking: I might not know what I’m doing or how I’m going to do it, but my body’s saying, we’ve got this. Every time I feed him it tells me that again.
So it’s wonderful. But it would still be wonderful if he took a bottle every once in a while – and so much less hard. As it is, I’m tied to him. I can’t leave him for more than two hours, not with his dad, not with his grandparents, because they can’t feed him.
This is more than just a practical issue. Of course he can go more than two hours without food and suffer no ill effect. He just doesn’t want to. He gets hungry often (partly because he gets reflux) and when he gets hungry, he gets mad. Then sad. Then pitiful, crying big, heaving sobs, hands shaking, face red, hot and sweaty all over. He feels things strongly, like his mum, and he’s stubborn as hell, like his dad. It’s horrible for him and horrible for whoever’s with him. I suppose there would come a point where he’d be so hungry he’d drink from a bottle, but how long would this go on before he did? We’ve never pushed it hard enough to find out.
It’s just…it’s hard to be me, fully, when I can’t ever go away for an unspecified amount of time. I can’t be free or get a full night’s sleep or get drunk or storm out the house after a marital disagreement, muttering to myself that his father can take care of him for a bit. I can’t completely relax when I am out in case he’s been sick or didn’t eat enough at his last feed and is hungry again.
I can’t really crash low and hibernate when depression hits, which I guess is a good thing, but there’s a part of me that’s being crushed smaller and smaller because I don’t ever give her pain any space to breathe. My sad, frightened side needs a rest, needs to be held, and it’s very hard to learn how to do that when I have to be on baby duty 24/7.
I know it’s only temporary. My mother in law is going to try to get him on the bottle when she’s here visiting. If she doesn’t manage it, he’ll be weaning soon and feeds will get further apart. It’s just hard to see that right now. The thing he most wants and needs comes from me and there’s nothing I can do except provide it.