Monday, October 10, 2011

Spirit-Led Parenting : Early Breastfeeding Challenges

I never expected to be anything even remotely close to a breastfeeding enthusiast. I planned to try it out, read a few things and took the recommended classes. Along the way, I tucked away one piece of advice that had jumped out at me more than any other at the breastfeeding class. Try to make it six weeks. It can be really hard to get started. But just give it six weeks... Of course, I had no idea at that point exactly how hard it could really be. I would quickly find out that nursing a baby, although one of the most natural aspects of motherhood, can also be one of the most frustrating.

Reality hit almost immediately after Maya’s birth, as I struggled through the first night of parenthood, unable to figure out why I couldn't seem to feed my baby. Over and over I tried to help her find a good latch, while she would pull away, crying. I cried too. In the morning, a lactation consultant sat with us for quite some time, watching Maya's mouth and trying out some new holds and strategies with us to combat the latch issue. Finally, she suggested that I wear a contact breast shield for a few days, until Maya was accustomed to the positioning necessary for nursing. The plan was that I would wean her off of the shield within approximately one week. That didn't happen.

Once at home, I still battled through feedings. The shield made my letdown slower, which resulted in Maya becoming so upset as she tried to begin a meal that she would cry hysterically, making the process all the more difficult. When we could get her latched, she often took forty-five minutes or more to finish a feeding, meaning that I would sometimes end one nursing session and begin another one an hour and a half later, attempting to squeeze a bit of sleep in between. Please, Lord. Help me make it through this. I tried – even begged - to quit several times, while my husband sat beside me, patiently reminding me of my six-week goal. "It's just a few more weeks. Then we can see how you feel. You can do this!" As much as I wanted him, or someone, to just let me off the hook, it didn't happen that way. Looking back, I'm tremendously thankful for that.

Something happened over those next few weeks. We sort of hit a groove. I remember the first night that I didn't feel it was necessary to wake Mark up to help me with a feeding. Maya no longer cried during mealtimes. And while she still ate quite often, her feedings grew somewhat shorter in length, giving me longer stretches of sleep. I felt as though I were getting my feet back under me. By the time the six-week mark rolled around, I was ready to take a deep breath and keep moving forward.

As time went on, breastfeeding became a familiar experience - something I could never have imagined in those first weeks. And a new day dawned when Maya turned six months old. Starting on solid foods and reaching new developmental milestones helped her to naturally transition to less frequent nursing sessions and other ways of soothing herself. And remember that breast shield? The one that we planned to ease Maya off of within a week? Well finally, at six months old, she was able to do without it. It was smooth sailing now, and there was no question in my mind that I'd nurse her through her whole first year.

So, what does breastfeeding have to do with a Spirit-led parenthood philosophy? Well, in itself, not much. I've become an unlikely advocate of breastfeeding. But what I want to get across with my story isn't as much an endorsement of breastfeeding as it is another example of the value that comes from heeding the Lord's wisdom and your own God-given instincts over one-size-fits-all advice when it comes to parenting your child, no matter which feeding choice you are led to make along the way. At first, I could not for the life of me understand why I had been led to breastfeed when it was such a rough road. My baby's eating habits fit no "typical" description or pattern. But looking back, I can see that when I allowed myself to accept the individual needs that Maya carried into this world, to release my predisposed expectations of what my breastfeeding experience should be, and to respond to her cues and to the unique challenges we faced together, I was blessed with some of the clearest revelations I've received from God thus far about Himself and about parenthood. Here's the thing...the important aspect of my story wasn't the way in which I chose to nourish my child. It was the way He guided me to a greater understanding of dependence upon Him, of surrendering my desires and plans, and of what it means to simply trust. For me, breastfeeding was the path this part of my spiritual journey took. This past week I wrote out this part of my parenting journey for the book, and I found myself overwhelmed with emotion at what God did in my life as He used my challenges in feeding my baby to weave a beautiful story of redemption and growth in Him.

So what am I trying to say here? A few things. First, that I know and sympathize in a very real way with the struggles that can come with breastfeeding, and that my story is a testimony to the difference that help from professionals, support from loved ones, and perseverance (sometimes through tears and gritted teeth) can often make in overcoming those difficult times. Secondly, that I relate very deeply with the pain of those mamas who desperately wanted to breastfeed and could not. Your stories have touched Megan and I so much that we are focusing a section of the feeding chapter in our book on that subject, covering you over with words of encouragement and peace. And thirdly, I echo once again the central theme that Megan and I want to hold above everything else as we write these posts and work on our all things, let the Holy Spirit be your guide.

To those struggling with the initial breast vs. bottle decision, the Counselor can bring wisdom. To those stuck at a difficult juncture, He can bring clarity and encouragement. To those mourning a breastfeeding journey that did not end as hoped, He can bring comfort and strength.

May we surrender ourselves to trust and follow – no matter where He leads.

Did breastfeeding come easily for you, or did you face obstacles as well? What got you through the hard times, and what would be your best advice for a mama who is deep in the trenches of a rough breastfeeding journey?

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Also - don't forget that your submissions of stories for possible use in our book are due TODAY! Details here and here. Thank you so much!

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