I was a 26-year-old newlywed when I found out I was pregnant. I was also working full-time as a writer, book editor, and managing editor for a hugely popular magazine under the same publishing company I joined a scant two months after graduation. I met some of my best friends at my job, and I even married one of them. To say my job was my life would be pretty accurate. But, all of a sudden, there was a little life growing inside of me.
I worked until I hit 38 weeks of pregnancy, riding out deadlines, photo shoots, and proofreading throughout the trimesters. And as my belly grew, so did my certainty that I would breastfeed my child. I was not a sancti-mommy -- I've never judged formula moms. But I felt compelled to pursue breastfeeding for my baby, in whatever form it would work for us.
In April 2016, I gave birth via an emergency C-section, and I asked for the nurse's help to get my newborn daughter latched straight away. I almost throttled her when she answered, “Ay, ngayon na ba?” My wild-eyed glare must have scared her because she quickly shoved our damp and gooey daughter onto my chest and backed away. And at that moment, our breastfeeding journey began. My milk was already coming in while I was still in the recovery room. I've never had issues with latching, supply, or engorgement. Don’t hate me, but I am one of the lucky ones who can eat an oatmeal cookie and feel my boobs fill up an hour later.
All I’m saying is moms know they have hard choices to make, day after day, and this one was mine.
The real struggle started when we introduced the bottle to our daughter at 6 weeks old. To say that there were tears would be a gross understatement. She took the bottle like a personal insult. And thus started the intense Googling and asking for advice on forums and Facebook groups. My husband and I quickly assembled a motley crew of random bottles and nipples, from Mimijumi and Avent to the cheapest silicone nipples at the grocery. They all ended up collecting dust in our cupboard. You’d think we were making our daughter drink sulfuric acid the way she cried and vomited each time we offered a bottle. Her acid reflux didn’t help matters, either.
Yes, I would tiredly answer anyone who tried to help, we tried warm milk and cold milk, thawed milk and freshly-pumped milk. We tried cups, syringes, spoons. I went outside the room, the condo, even walked to the Starbucks across the street just so she couldn’t smell me. The only thing we never did was to starve her into desperation so she would take the bottle. (You gasp at the mere idea, but this was actually a suggestion by many well-meaning titas.) Lots of other moms I knew reported success with this nipple, or that bottle, or yaya wearing mom’s two-week old T-shirt (true story), but absolutely nothing worked for us.
I was tired. Bottle-feeding her consumed me. My husband just sighed every time I came home clutching a new bottle that was “guaranteed” effective. I stared jealously at little babies peacefully sucking on their Dr. Browns/Pigeons/Tommy Tippees while their moms blithely pushed them around in their strollers. I got disheartened pumping and storing milk because I was starting to give up hope that she would ever drink any of it (I ended up donating a freezer full of milk). I wished I could turn back the clock and introduce the bottle earlier, nipple confusion be damned.
As the end of my maternity leave loomed near, the frustration became panic. Slowly, I had to face the fact that maybe I wasn’t going to be that working mom toting a breast pump and a cooler to the office. And for the first time since I gave birth, I cried. I couldn’t not work. What about our finances? The job I left behind, the people I loved working with? What about me? I went from being a magazine editor to a walking mammary gland -- my friends loved the joke, but the post-partum identity crisis was no laughing matter.
There was only one certainty among all the questions: I could not give up breastfeeding my daughter. I couldn’t bear to leave this tiny, red-faced creature squalling for the boob while I sat at a desk, miles away. She was mine -- and the responsibility to nourish her was on me.
I don’t judge moms who came back from their maternity leaves with babies bottle-trained or not. In fact, you are probably made of sterner stuff than I am. All I’m saying is moms know they have hard choices to make, day after day, and this one was mine.
So I said good-bye to my job and feverishly worked out our finances, our new routine, our new normal, and until today, it’s a work in progress. I also said good-bye to that conveniently mobile lifestyle many of my age enjoy. There was no getting back into the swing of things. While my friends were figuring out how far they could go to watch Coldplay live, I had to figure out how far I could go until her next feed (Answer: one therapeutic grocery trip, a pedicure, and a pit stop at Potato Corner, all in the mall beside our house).
It’s made me confront how much I like myself, or if I even like myself at all.
It’s gotten easier over the months especially when our baby started solids and learned to drink water from a cup. She latches mostly for comfort now, but will only fall asleep if on the boob (that’s another story). She’s the loudest, most hyper 1-year-old I have ever met, whose first instinct is to wave enthusiastically at anything (inanimate objects included). I live for the moments her big eyes find mine while she nurses, and she touches my nose ever so gently.
I sometimes miss my old job, but I’m pretty sure that’s linked to sometimes just missing the old me. Breastfeeding my baby full-time has taught me more about myself in the past year than any other experience. It’s made me confront how much I like myself, or if I even like myself at all. After all, you keep your own company, nursing while the party goes on in the next room, while your husband sleeps next to you in the wee hours, while you stare at a wall in an overly cold breastfeeding station. It’s in these quiet moments that I’ve evaluated and resolved my feelings about myself, my marriage, my fears about the future, even my grief about the loss of my dad while I was expecting.
My baby will often only stay asleep if she’s latched, so it’s been a solid year of lying prone, phone in hand, while my little one slumbers on. I’ve been alone with my thoughts more this past year than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and it’s given me the opportunity to look at myself past the usual filter of millennial me, me, me. I am quite a different person now than I was a year ago.
Because while breastfeeding is indeed a wonderful way to bond with your baby, I feel that it also strengthens the relationship you have with yourself. It perfects your patience, pushes you to make the same commitment day in and day out, and reinforces your resourcefulness. It builds your confidence and sense of self-worth enough to give zero F's about things like accidentally exposing yourself in public. I thought I gave up my job to take care of my child, but it turns out I also gave up my job to take care of me -- and I’m happy things turned out the way they did.
Mich Roque is a 28-year-old writer and editor slowly navigating the intricacies of WAHM life. She loves books and films, even though she hasn't read or seen one since giving birth to her mini-me in 2016. She believes coffee and doughnuts fuel both her writing and parenting.