THE BLOG

Faith and the Art of Formula Feeding

08/07/2014 02:57 pm ET | Updated Oct 07, 2014

Author's Note: Before we begin, a note to you EBF and EP mamas -- you amaze me. What you do is hard, and mighty, and I applaud, honor, and value your effort and your advocacy. I celebrate you.

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Give us today our daily bread.

That was the sermon topic on November 11th, my daughter's first visit to our church community. I wore her snuggled in our Moby, the go-to wrap of those who had gone before us down baby lane. Folks cooed and awed over her tininess, her small size amplified by my six foot and postpartum-swollen self. She WAS tiny -- all 6 pounds 9 ounces of her fit easily into the crook of my arm, a Christmas stocking, the most exquisitely itty-bitty newborn sleepers. She was tiny then, which was normal, which was perfect, which was fine -- until she didn't grow.

Give us today our daily bread.

She ate round the clock, every hour when I'd let her, squirming and fussing and never quite seeming satisfied. She was born knowing how to latch perfectly, and I remember feeling so relieved that first night in the hospital when it was easy and she was nursing and all was right with the world. Of course, pain followed as my sensitive Irish skin balked at the sudden attention, but she was always where she should be, always an eager eater and a champion sucker. Yet still she was never satisfied. And she didn't grow. For weeks, she didn't grow.

Give us today our daily bread.

I never had any doubts or questions about how I was going to feed my child. Here in Portland, where women confidently nurse babies in parks and stores and at late night concerts in bars, whip out a canister of formula and you may as well be lighting your infant on fire for the looks you'll receive. Peer pressure aside, I believe the research that says breast milk is the absolute best food for a baby. I believe it because it's good common sense. I had a drug-free childbirth, we spent a small fortune on cloth diapers, we co-sleep and baby wear and fourth trimester blah blah blah -- obviously I was going to breastfeed. I knew it would hurt, and be hard, but I never doubted it would ultimately work.

Give us today our daily bread.

But she didn't grow. So began the parade of lactation clinic appointments and herbal supplements and bad-tasting tea -- of round-the-clock rendezvous with a wildly expensive and horribly unromantic pump, endless bottles of water, weighed feedings and mountains of magic galactagogue oatmeal. To say we tried is a bit of an understatement. We suffered, and cried, and winced through cracks from a stressed-out starving baby whose perfect latch was beginning to show signs of strain. I spent a lot of late night hours crying to God about how badly I wanted to breastfeed, please could he fix me, please provide. We tried. We tried. We tried. For weeks and weeks, we tried.

Give us today our daily bread.

Finally (finally) at an unscheduled weigh-in, a Wednesday and our third trip to the lactation clinic in her fifth week of life, one of the lactation consultants grabbed my hungry baby and fed her a bottle of formula. And I cried. The woman, sweet in her firmness and absolute certainty, apologized and spoke soothing words into my supposed wounds: "It isn't your fault, these things happen, sometimes formula is the best thing and that's why we have it, and you aren't any less of a woman and we'll let you stay in the city..." I smiled as I corrected her, because I didn't feel guilty or embarrassed or as if I had failed. I felt... victorious. I felt light. And my child, who had seemed so frail and temporary to me moments before, seemed saved and solid and real. I felt joyful. I felt grateful. I gave thanks.

Give us today our daily bread.

Manna was tasteless, I hear, and sticky and maybe a little bit gross. It certainly wasn't what those desert wandering Israelites were expecting, and I guarantee it wasn't scientifically and nutritionally recommended food on the dunes that season. But it nourished them, it fed them, it allowed them to grow. When I strip away the veneer of wanting only the best for my baby girl, I have to face the fact that, for me, my desire to exclusively breastfeed was as much about my pride as it was about feeding my little one. Because what is best for my girl is being nourished, being fed, being allowed to grow. So I give her what milk I can and I mix the rest from a can of powder and praise God that he always provides, even when that provision doesn't look like I wanted it to, even when it doesn't meet my expectations, even when he doesn't use me and my body and my determination to do it.

Give us today our daily bread.

She grew, then, pounds in weeks and right back up to where she belongs on the curve. I am learning to welcome the dagger glares of proudly bare-breasted mamas when I whip out my bottle and powder in public, because I am feeding my child. I am feeding her, even if it means letting go of a little bit of social status. I'm out loud and proud about being in that small, swell percentage who simply don't make enough milk, just in case someone else in that camp is sitting next to me hiding her bottle and powder and feeling shame about how she has to, or chooses to, feed her kid. Chances are you know a mama who is -- encourage her. I am so very grateful to the wonderful women who surround me, mamas who have successfully breastfed and some who haven't, who have been incredibly supportive and helpful and grand.

Give us today our daily bread.

I'm thankful for provision, and for a lesson in the essence of provision -- that it isn't about me, my expectations, and my definitions. It's about gratitude and acceptance and humility and big, big love. It's about dying, fearlessly, to my plan and living into a bigger story. Even when it's something as basic as Gerber Good Start.

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Update: I wrote this piece on my blog in the first few months of my daughter's life. We went on to successfully combo feed and she continued to nurse through the end of her first year. Despite our best efforts, I was never (in our best estimation) able to produce more than 8 ounces a day, but she drank them all. We are not yet expecting our next child, but I am putting avenues in place for donor milk for him or her, as well as working closely with a doula and several lactation consultants to draft a plan for the second go around to make my own production go as well as it possibly can. If you are able, please look into donating surplus milk to mamas like myself -- and please shelter and support them in their efforts. To see how my love is doing today, follow us on Instagram @girlofcardigan. love.

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