Before I gave birth to my oldest I read all the books and made the decision that I was going to do all the best things ever for him. Yep. I was going to rock this motherhood thing from the get-go. I got my own "mommy soap box" and stood atop it proudly wearing signs that I thought made me a better mom. These signs read "sleep scheduling," "discipline starts at 9 months," "exclusively breastfeeding," "babywearing," and the list went on and on. My child would never be one of those kids. And then Caleb arrived...
Suddenly we were faced with terrifying choices and debilitating helplessness. Long story short, my body wasn't producing enough milk... like any. And with each child I've been blessed with, I've dug my heels further into the ground and committed to breastfeeding with a level of stubbornness that honestly terrifies me. Before you give me your action plan for how my body can make more milk, let me let you in on a few of the crazy things this momma has already done. I've worked daily with one of the best lactation consultants in the state (Her personal cell number is programmed into my phone.), I've taken herbs and supplements, drunk beer, eaten oatmeal for breakfast for MONTHS, rested, drunk carefully measured amounts of water, pumped a ridiculous number of times a day (yes, with compressions), co-slept, worn my baby, and the list goes on and on and on. I don't even want to think about the crazy that I've tried and put my family through. Literally months of my life spent just trying to make milk. And then even more months shamefully explaining why I am feeding my babies formula because there truly was no other realistic option for keeping them alive. To the women out there who have struggled with low-milk supply and deal with the judgment of the mom squad, I see you. I hear you and empathize with your disappointment. It's real and dark and so incredibly frustrating. In a world of "breast is best" (and it is), I know you tried and just. could. not. If I could hug you and give you a cup of tea that didn't have the word "lactation" in its name, I would.
Before Emily arrived, I tried to convince myself that I wasn't going to be crazy about it this time. I was going to let go when Emily stopped gaining the weight that is necessary (3.5 oz/week). I wasn't going to pull out that horrid breast pump just to produce 2 more ounces a day because that was LITERALLY how much more I would get from all my multiple pumpings. And to some extent, I did swear off some of the crazy, and Emily and I were able to exclusively breastfeed for 2 months before her weight gain plummeted and we both gave up sleeping for weeks. When the crying and crazy got to be too much, I called a friend who had offered a few bags of frozen breastmilk just to get us through the lowest parts of the day. And after that, another friend offered me a freezer full of breastmilk (say WHAT??) that she couldn't use for her baby, and I took it. I was and am incredibly grateful to these women whose generosity I will never be able to repay.
But on one of my darkest days, I remembered an offer that I'd gotten from a woman in my MOPS group that I didn't know very well. She is a nurse and an incredible mom to four children, and at the time she was due with her baby boy a month after I had Emily. She had graciously come up to me after a MOPS meeting as my other two friends were offering me frozen milk and said that her body always made enough milk for two babies and she would be happy to pump milk for my baby so that Emily could have breastmilk rather than formula. At the time, I wanted to believe that with Emily my body would figure this whole milk-making thing out. That I would finally find the just right supplement that would make me the perfect breastfeeding mom. Pride much? I cried out to God on my pregnant and post-partum knees, begging him to allow me to feed this child myself. But His answer was "no." His answer was "not your way, Krista." His answer was "let me show you My grace."
On that dark day a couple months into my daughter's life, I sent this MOPS mom a FB message. Was that offer of milk still open? Quickly, the answer came back "yes!" She's a busy mom who works part-time, and I tried to think of something that I could do to return the favor. Could I pay you for the milk? Could I make your family dinner one night of the week? Could I....? What could be equal to your giving my baby a gift that I physically could not give her myself? And her answer, "No payment. This is what moms do to support other moms." Straight up, This mom was giving my daughter and me grace. Pure, unadulterated grace.
I have heard many sermons on grace and never understood it as I do every time I fill up my youngest baby's bottle with fresh breastmilk, milk my body could not make no matter how much effort I put in. I see grace in Emily's face as that double chin grows. I squeeze grace as I pinch those chubby thighs because who could resist? I breathe grace as I watch her eyes close in satisfied sleep as she drinks down the ounces her body needs to grow and be content. I understand daily grace when I open my door and find that my friend has dropped off huge containers of fresh and frozen milk just when the fridge and freezer are almost empty. It's grace. Freely given. Gratefully received. Life sustaining.
Do I still breastfeed? Up until this week, yes. I've tried to nurse as often as Emily is willing, but just yesterday she decided that she was done. She would not be consoled, tricked, or latched when sleepy. I'll pump for a couple days just to make certain this isn't just a fluke thing, but this is probably more for my pride and comfort than for the 2 ounces a day my body is making right now. My breastfeeding days are definitely numbered, and that's okay. God had a different plan for Emily and me. A plan to put a new and amazing friend in my life. To show me that sometimes the Body of Christ meets your literal physical needs with their literal physical selves. To help me come one step closer to getting this grace thing.
Today Emily is 8 months old, and as of today she is also my baby who has exclusively taken breastmilk the longest. When you factor in that she was also born into one of the craziest periods of our family's history, that becomes even more amazing. It happened not because we tried harder or knew better, but because He heard our prayers and answered them in a way that was and is stunningly right. He is enough. He is always enough. And whether He chooses to provide for us in the way that we think He should or chooses to completely derail our plans, He will always be Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, Life Sustainer, Great Giver. And all we get to do is receive and return thanks for the grace one day (and sometimes one ounce) at a time.