For more than a month, we have tried to coax the Little Mister to drink formula. So when he took 80mls tonight in a bottle held by me, I wasn’t prepared for my heart to break a little.
We first tried to give Milin formula shortly after I went back to work, at four months. I couldn’t express enough to leave for the two days I was out, and had been completely unprepared for how hard it would be to work, express, and feed him on demand every two hours at night. So for the last six weeks, the Little Mister has effectively gone on hunger strike whenever I have been at work. Lips pursed, back arched, neck at an extreme angle turned away from the bottle, he has made his feelings about formula clear. Until this last week or so.
It started with him finally taking it from Tony, when he was starving. Then, he was taking it without tears. And then tonight, because he was fussy and grizzling (I think the teething adventure is starting), I thought I would try it. For the first time, Milin, in my arms, took the bottle I offered him. He took the entire 80mls without so much as pausing for air. All of it was formula from a tin.
Afterwards, eyes closed, cherub face a picture of bliss, arms floppy, the Little Mister fell asleep in my arms. I laid him in his cot and cried. I felt like he didn’t need me anymore. Before he took that bottle from me, I had felt that I was special. Only I had the food he wanted. If he cried, he needed me and all his woes would ease. It was our time.
“He’s going to do things without us all his life” Tony said. I know. But I wasn’t prepared for him to start now.
Milin has never been an easy feeder. Like many new mums, establishing feeding was difficult – but we got there. I was so proud of him, and of us. We both learnt what to do. I hadn’t understood how hard feeding would continue to be, but even though it was, I realise now I loved doing it. It was probably partly through feeding that our bond was formed, and that I discovered how much I loved this tiny squirming bundle who was mine and needed me above all else.
The pressure to breastfeed is so powerful in New Zealand. Even deciding to introduce formula had been hard for us. The World Health Organisation supports exclusive breast feeding for six months. Here, that is viewed as a minimum. As a new mother already under so much strain, I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that if I couldn’t also breast feed I had failed.
In the end, our decision to introduce formula was tied to my return to work. But I can’t also help hoping it will help the Little Mister go to bed with a fuller tummy. As a working mum, I’m carrying around enough guilt already – I’m not going to add to it because I’m feeding my baby formula. But, tonight, with a heavier heart, I will go to sleep feeling a little sadness over a time with Milin I won’t get back. That is, unless he refuses the formula again tomorrow.