Thursday, 31 January 2019

Bottle Run

This morning I washed and sterilized all fourteen of our baby bottles.

We do a full run of bottles every other day or so, cleaning them out and boiling them for the requisite two minutes in batches of three or four. We have an inch of water in a large soup pot that lives perpetually on our stove, ready to bubble at a moment's notice. Our electric kettle has also been getting a workout this season, as we need purified water constantly on hand for mixing the formula. Pro-tip: if you pop open the lid, your kettle will keep a rolling boil as long as you need it to (in our case, another two minutes). The little magnetic timer on our fridge has counted down 120 seconds so many times that it's probably due for a battery change.

I'm about due for a battery change too.

My baby is five months old. Keeping him fed and awake and entertained and fed and relatively clean and sleeping and fed... good grief, it is so much work. Occasionally motherhood is a walk in the park, full of smiles and sunshine. Much of the time, though, parenting has been a lonely slog through four feet of winter slush, where all you're wearing is a pair of soggy boots and a baggy sweater that some other human has peed on. And I feel like that with a hugely supportive husband and no other responsibilities beyond the four walls of my home.

I want so very much for this kind of confessional conversation to be the norm among mothers, but I think we all cling to our semi-polished social media personas because we need to feel like we are succeeding at something every day, and -- I'll speak for myself here -- if my friends look over my digital shoulder and think I'm doing this well, maybe it will be easier to convince myself that I'm doing okay. I pose so much more often than I reveal, but I think revelation is a lot more helpful in the long run.

So this blog is my attempt to be a little more authentic than I intend to be on Instagram. The revelation to go with the pose; the raw, behind-the-scenes, blooper-reel, dear diary sort of stuff that would be helpful for everyone to know, but that I often bury in face-to-face meetings and curated photoshoots. So while you're here, let's hit a big one.

It's taken until this morning for me to make peace with those fourteen bottles. After the unspeakable pain of delivery, I thought nothing would scare me again -- but while labour was excruciating, it was brief, and the pain that I experienced with breastfeeding was intense, and emotionally draining, and on a two-hour cycle. I cried and cried and cried. I swore a lot. I dreaded feeding my child and quickly grew to resent that tiny, hungry belly of his. And on top of that, I had a very little milk.

We introduced a bottle while we were still in the hospital, and for the first few months we "topped him up" with formula while I tried to increase my milk supply. We saw a lactation consultant who was kind and expensive, and probably helped a little. I took the recommended drugs and supplements, which were disgusting and expensive, and probably helped a little. I tried not to frame our situation as a failure of my motherhood, but my heart has never accepted the truth. My brain knows that as long as our baby is full, my job is done -- but while the pain of feeding him has faded and the time it takes has reduced, I still catch myself privately celebrating days where our formula volume is lower (because then he's getting more from me, right? So I must be doing better). I know that's toxic thinking, but that's how it is in my brain.

Today, after much crying and bitterness finally seen for what it is, I'm washing all the bottles and starting again. I'm going to take my boobs out of the equation. Maybe I'll make little milk-cicles out of whatever I can hand express or (shudder) pump, but I need to make the bottle my friend instead of my competition, and I don't know how to participate without competing. I've given my Little five months of the breast, but it's finally time to pack 'em away.

I think. What do I know, I'm making this up as I go.

Isn't everybody?