The tears coursed relentlessly down my cheeks. I had been sitting on the couch for hours breastfeeding my infant, my first. Finally, he was asleep in my arms.
A week ago my life made sense. Now, everything was a blur. When I tried to sleep, I couldn’t. When I was awake, I longed for sleep. I was profoundly unprepared for motherhood. In fact, the first diaper I had ever changed was my son’s. I cried just as often as he did, and oh, did he cry. About two weeks after birth, he was diagnosed with colic, and the only thing that would ease his crying was to nurse him or rock in the rocking chair with the vacuum running.
As my baby lie sleeping in my arms, my phone rang. I picked it up quickly so not to wake my son.
“Hello?” I asked abruptly at nearly a whisper.
It was a florist who had something to deliver. Ugh. I couldn’t handle a delivery right now and I didn’t want any more congratulations. Congratulations for what?
Due to my son’s constant nursing, I wasn’t wearing a top. The thought of having to scrounge up a bra and shirt, let alone greet someone at the door, was more than I could handle.
“Can you leave it on the front step?”I asked.
No, he couldn’t. He had to have someone sign for it.
“Well, can you deliver it later when my husband is home?”
No, he couldn’t. They only deliver a few hours every afternoon.
“Fine. Be here in 10 minutes or forget it.” Angrily, I hit the ‘end’ button.
To my surprise, he actually got there in under ten minutes. I barely had time to get a shirt on. As he walked up the steps, I opened the door then signed the delivery slip and accepted the flower.
After he left, I stood there, staring at the small pot in my hands.
It was an African Violet.
A single, solitary, stupid, unforgiving African Violet.
I was furious.
Who in their right mind would give an African Violet to a new mom? Has this person ever raised an African Violet? If they had, they would know it’s the most finicky houseplant known to humankind. I could hardly care for myself, or my baby. How was I supposed to take care of a plant?
I called my mother and told her, in no uncertain terms, that she needed to drive the hour and a half to my house and take this ridiculous plant off my hands. It would be an act of ungratefulness to throw it out, but I didn’t have the energy to care for it. If it died in my care, I might just die right along with it. Thankfully, my mom said she would take the plant when she came that weekend.
Fine. It wouldn’t die before then.
I hung up the phone and realized I was shaking.
What’s wrong with me?
I didn’t quit breastfeeding because of an African Violet, but almost.
A few weeks later, my OB/Gyn told me I was suffering from postpartum depression. A good friend of mine had seen the signs and recommended I make an appointment. Despite going on medication, it took months to feel like me, again. In the meantime, I had to contend with caring for a colicky baby.
On one particularly challenging afternoon, I called my husband home from work. The tears were pouring down my face when he arrived home. He reached for our son and I gladly turned him over.
“Why don’t you go for a walk?” He asked calmly.
“I can’t. I’m sure I’ll have to feed him again soon.”
“I can give him a bottle,” my husband suggested. “Take a break, and honey, I love you, but I don’t know why you are so set on breastfeeding.” This wasn’t the first time my husband questioned my desire to breastfeed.
“I can’t quit,” I said desperately.
“But, I can’t stand seeing you like this, and there is no reason why we can’t feed him formula. If we switch, you can get a full night’s sleep.”
I know my husband meant well, but he didn’t understand. Armed with twenty-first century knowledge, moms don’t give their babies bottles. “Breast is best,” right? Plus, if I wanted to lose the baby weight, I had to breastfeed. And, have you seen the cost of formula these days? On top of that, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
Still, I needed a break, so I passed my son over to my husband who prepared a bottle as I left for a walk.
I desperately wanted to quit breastfeeding. I wrestled with myself; with personal expectations, societal expectations, and familial expectations, as I tried to make the best decision for me and my son. It was more than unrealistic expectations; I mourned my loss of freedom. My identity was changing, and I felt lost in the process. Breastfeeding connected me to this little person in ways unfamiliar, unexpected, and frankly, unwelcome as I struggled with deep depression.
In the end, I decided that a healthy mom would make for a healthier baby, so I quit breastfeeding.
For a long time, I felt like a failure whenever I took out his formula & bottle in public. I wish I could go back and tell myself there is no shame in formula feeding. That, in the end, it all worked out and that my son is happy and healthy. My son grew well on formula. Despite the pundits.
I did have two more children, both of whom I successfully breastfeed for 12 months+ each – which I am extremely proud of – not because I find formula feeding to be an unworthy option – but because I wasn’t a victim of my past. Eventually, breastfeeding became a joyful part of my time with my babies.
That African Violet thrived under my mom’s care. It was the centerpiece on the table in my Mother’s house as we celebrated my son’s first birthday. We had survived – my son and I. Not only had we survived, but like that little African Violet, we had thrived.