Feeding myself has been a journey.
I think about this as I watch my little girl grasp a steamed string bean in her hands, fervently cutting her new little shards of teeth on the limp pod.
On March 8th at 12:32 am, I became the one person who could feed this child a concoction that was designed by the Almighty and my own body—specifically for her. Before then, my responsibility in providing nourishment for my daughter consisted of me feeding myself well, something which I continue to do, so that the milk which flows from my breast to her tongue will be sufficient in helping her to thrive.
But this—this feeding myself well—it hasn’t always been so easy or important to me, even in the recent past.
I often think of my eating disorder and how it successfully passed from my mother to me, and the potential reasons why it did so, because I am determined that it will stop with me.
There are probably a lot of control issues behind this level of determined thinking that I need to be conscious of. But it is good that I be mindful about how I am feeding myself and how I am feeding my daughter, and also, how I am feeding myself in front of my daughter.
I first began distressing about feeding my daughter on the second night she was alive. Technically it was the first night, since she was born shortly after midnight, but after fifty hours (yes—five, zero) of labor, and three and half hours of pushing, I had not slept in three days and so technicalities escaped me. My husband, who had also not slept much or eaten a real meal in a few days, lay knocked out on the family bed at the birth center’s recovery room. I meanwhile, tried my hardest to latch Esther’s mouth onto my nipple every 12 minutes, in fear that neither of us were “doing it right”. The lactation consultant had not been by, and I attempted to remember what I had learned in the breastfeeding class I had attended a few weeks prior.
I remember looking down at my cracked and bleeding nipple and at my squirming newborn’s hungry mouth and thinking, “Am I really the only one who can do this right now?”
In that question were housed a multitude of doubts, and not simply the exhausted frustrations of a brand new mother at 3am.
They were doubts about my own ability not just to learn the tricky art of breastfeeding my particular baby, but about whether or not I could really feed another human being, and do it well.
Food. Sustenance. Nourishment. It is essential to life. The food we eat or do not eat determines of much of our health and wellbeing.
Perhaps the “normal” mother is not intimidated, much less frightened by this task of feeding. Perhaps it is my history with food that makes this responsibility so terrifying, which sends me spinning into questioning my capability to do any of this.
Doubts plague me—doubts about whether I, a formally bulimic and anorexic girl who got pregnant, had to deal with all kinds of people coming up to her, touching her belly and commenting on how “big you’re getting”, who lost all her modesty in the delivery room, and who is now dealing with a crap-ton of postpartum hormones—whether I can really do this thing called “being a mom”.
Mostly because “being a mom” means I’ve got to feed my kid. And I only just learned how to feed myself.
But then again, Perhaps the “normal” mother, regardless of how well or poor she has fed herself in the past, or how much she struggles with insecurities or how many doubts she has about her capabilities…perhaps every mom feels this pressure: the pressure to nourish; the pressure to sustain; the pressure to feed.
Perhaps I am just as “normal” as everyone else.
I decided I wanted to breastfeed my baby well before she was even conceived.
Oh, I did my research, and I knew that it was the healthiest option. Also, my husband and I were in agreement that I would stay at home with our kids, so I wouldn’t have to worry about pumping while at work or some of the other challenges that sometimes lead mothers to choose formula over the breast. I had read articles, books, blogs, and testimonials, and I was pretty sure I would be that “crunchy mama” with the cloth diapers, baby carriers, and avidly breastfeeding until well after most kiddos are weaned.
But, I’m not going to lie; the simplicity behind breastfeeding is also what attracted me to it.
No mixing and warming up bottles in the middle of the night, no spending hard earned money on formula, no forgetting to bring enough milk for a trip out of town. As long as my baby was with me, my breasts would be there, ready to supply all of their nutritional needs.
I realize now, that breastfeeding is not always so simple.
Many women struggle to develop a good latch. Some have trouble maintaining an adequate milk supply. Others get plugged milk ducts and mastitis, or even thrush. These things could happen to me too, and they could be difficult. I learned this as I browsed “What to Expect When Your Expecting” while 30 weeks pregnant, and at the breastfeeding class I took at the birth center where I would deliver Esther a few weeks later.
And while these challenges scared me a little, I still wanted to do it—to breastfeed my baby. The pros greatly outweighed the potential cons, and I knew that this commitment to breastfeed would be the first of many decisions I would make about feeding my little one once I finally brought her into the outside world and out of that cocoon of coziness she was wrapped in, germinating for 41 weeks and a day inside of me.
And on that exhausting night in March, when the thunder and lightning raged, the wind blew, America celebrated women, and Jews celebrated Purim, I met the one I would be saddled with feeding. I met my daughter.
I remember how she looked against the bright lights as my midwife and my husband handed her up over to me. I remember Dennis exclaiming, “It’s a girl!” as he cut the cord and I kissed her head on my sweaty and bare chest.
I remember saying to her, “Hi baby, I’m your mommy.”
And when they finally left us alone as a family, after they cleaned me up and I had stopped shaking, I remember pulling that little unnamed baby close, and feeling her mouth grope for my breast, as they were already leaking the golden colostrum that was designed especially for her.
Getting the hang of breastfeeding Esther came in stages for me.
First, it was just getting over the sore nipples and engorgement. Then it was fretting about my forceful letdown, which left Esther sputtering and me spraying milk at whatever happened to be a foot in front of me at the time. Then it was regulating my oversupply while still staying comfortable, which involved pumping at least four ounces of milk first thing in the morning.
By five months, I finally felt confident.
…And then a month later we started solid food with her.
Quickly, it became clear that feeding my child would no longer be as simple as pulling her to my breast. No. Now there were bibs and sticky messes and baby spoons and packing pureed goop into glass jars next to ice packs.
Suddenly, I was reading all the labels and spending evenings blending large batches of whole foods and freezing them into ice cube trays. Suddenly I was worried about whether Esther was getting enough zinc, or protein, or—as my little one just battled some crazy constipation—fiber.
I lament at the amount of time and preparation this all takes.
And I think back to when I first learned to feed myself well, or rather, when I began my process of learning to do so.
I remember the intentionality with which I packed my lunches when I first committed to recovery from my anorexia and bulimia. They had to have the right kind of nutrients: enough “healthy fats”, as my dietitian called them, and each of them had to contain the correct serving size of each food group, and enough calories.
At an age when most people were living off of late night pizza and beer (college-aged), I was learning to feed myself.
Now, I’ve been recovered from that seven-year-long disease for four years. But I still have to deal with the root issues as battles in my brain.
Now, Esther doesn’t eat many baby purees, and we’ve embraced the simpler yet messier task of baby-led-weaning (BLW). But I still read labels and plan out her nutrition intentionally.
And every day I’m faced with the pressure of feeding. Feeding myself, feeding my husband, and feeding my daughter.
I do the grocery shopping. I do the meal preparation. I eat, and what I eat goes into producing the milk my daughter eats. I fill the sippy-cups with water and prune juice. I cook the dinners. The snacks I buy are what we end up pulling out at 9pm when we’re watching The Newsroom and our little one is sound asleep in her crib.
How did slowly learning to feed my own self well suddenly turn into being crowned “Queen of Feeding”?
We will have more kids. And I will be in charge of what they eat.
I will feed my tribe.
This sinks in slowly over the months, like tea seeps into hot water in a steaming mug. Like I slowly conquered breastfeeding, my milk supply leveling out as I finally stopped leaking milk through all of my shirts. And I suppose that’s how it has been: gradually and with grace, until I’m ready to sustain. I have become this source of nourishment slowly, and it still is a process.
The anxiety about feeding lessens as the days pass. As avocados are sliced and coffee is brewed and I scrub sweet potato off of the dining room floor. As my child weans herself and I grow into my motherhood and food begins to taste different without the pressure of the very new.
And I remember the first time I ate ice cream after anorexia without wanting to empty myself clean. And how soon it isn’t painful anymore.
I want to teach my daughter that eating is good, and food is an adventure, and if it ever starts to feel hard, that I know how it is, and that I got through it by the grace of God and His determination to make me whole.
Feeding myself has been a journey.
Feeding my daughter has been a journey.
And I am walking closely to grace as I teeter past these milestones and menus and meals, eating whole foods and whole pints of ice cream like I’ve always known I was capable of once I became whole.