I was 39 and single when I became unexpectedly pregnant with my daughter Donny. The fact that I was in between jobs as a digital producer, being supported by my mom, and still living with a roommate didn’t exactly fill me with the certainty that I could actually pull motherhood off, but I decided to roll the dice and see where I landed.
Now, I had no experience with babies (almost all my friends were single and didn’t have kids), but I quickly learned that the decision making was just beginning when the few moms I did know asked me questions like, “What’s your birth plan?” (I had no idea what that even was) and “Are you going to breastfeed?”
A little background on me: A few years earlier, I’d had a right breast mastectomy after being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. When all the subsequent reconstructive surgeries were done, my chest had never looked better, but I felt my breasts had taken enough abuse. Subjecting them to breastfeeding was out of the question. (If I’m going to be totally honest, breastfeeding had never appealed to me.) But really, this decision wasn’t about my breasts, it was about figuring out the best way to take care of myself as a mother.
As we all know, taking care of a baby is sooooo f*cking hard, regardless of whether you’re bottle feeding or breastfeeding. But, as I discovered, setting some of my own rules early was my salvation. I needed to bottle feed my daughter because of the flexibility it afforded me. I needed that flexibility for my own sanity. Here’s how Donny and I both benefited from bottle feeding:
1. I could fully recover after my daughter’s birth, and be a better mom as a result. I was doing this all on my own. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve been plunged into a world of sleepless nights, full of chaos and exhaustion immediately after Donny’s birth (vaginal, but by no means a cake walk). But, my older sister Deborah offered to stay and do night duty those first two weeks, and I took her up on her offer. It would be my only chance to recover before going totally solo as a parent. On Donny’s first night home, Deb and I hugged goodnight, both of us clueless about baby care. “Well, this should be interesting,” she said, laughing. “Listen,” I started, “please wake me up for any reason whatsoever.” “Thanks, Jen, but I want you to get the rest you deserve. I’ll figure it out.” So off I went, sleeping soundly through the night with no worries about pumping or expelling. And that’s exactly what I did for two weeks!!! When it was time for Deb to leave, I was more than ready for my own turn with Donny (and determined to nominate Deb for a Nobel Peace Prize). I felt completely rested and nurtured, and I’m sure that translated into Donny’s own sense of comfort and ease.
2. We were still able to bond during night feedings. Before bedtime I prepared a tray with a pitcher of filtered water and several bottles with pre-measured formula. When Donny woke up, I didn’t even have to go to the kitchen (I didn’t warm her bottles, either). I’d add water to the formula, shake up the bottle, and snuggle down in bed with her. Despite the lack of sleep, I remember this time as being pure magic. Just the two of us staring into each other’s eyes … at least when I wasn’t watching Ewan McGregor’s reality series, “Long Way Round” on my laptop (which helped me stay awake!). Once she finished the bottle, or nodded off near the end of one, I’d put her back to bed. No fuss. No mess.
3. Anyone could easily feed my baby, and that helped her bond with others. From my roommate to close friends to babysitters, anyone who wanted to feed Donny got to. This not only allowed them to help me out so I could do things like eat, soak the hemorrhoid Donny gave me coming out, or just relax while visiting with them. But, more importantly to me, it allowed other people to feel a special bond with Donny. It was something cool we got to share with each other.
4. I could have the occasional spontaneous adventure, which helped me be a more patient mom. That short time away from my daughter helped rejuvenate me. For example, one summer Sunday when Donny was 10 months old, Jason, an all-time favorite friend, texted that he was in my Brooklyn neighborhood for brunch with friends. Did I want to join them? “YES!!!!” I wrote back. Jason was not a friend to miss, especially since our outings always turned into adventures. I felt an overwhelming need to ride solo and feel a taste of my old freedom, my old self. I managed to find a sitter (an advantage to having a roommate) and out I went. Jason and I traversed four neighborhoods, toasted drinks in three famed watering holes, and ravaged take-out on a waterfront dock, under the moon. The original three hours out turned to five then seven. But my mind was free of any worries that the babysitter would run out of milk, or that mine, had I been producing it, would be undrinkable at 30 proof when I got home. It was bliss.
5. It helped us find an awesome pediatrician. When I was 7 months pregnant, I hurried to an open house at a popular pediatrics practice. Unfortunately I’d gotten the time wrong. Kathy, a tall, hippie-ish looking, 60-something doctor, was just walking all the couples out. She showed me mercy and we sat down to talk. I said, “Here’s my deal. I’m a single mom and I have no interest in breastfeeding.” Kathy laughed and said with a warm smile, “Hell, these days I think mothers who bottle feed probably need as much, if not even more, support than the breast feeders.” She had me at hello. She’s been Donny’s pediatrician ever since.
Donny’s now 5, and I feel realllllly lucky. She’s joyful, healthy, cuddly, full of creative energy, and absolutely capable of testing every loving bone in my body. (Like when she WAILED for 45 minutes last night during her bath … because she bumped her elbow.) Boob. Bottle. That choice didn’t define who my daughter is today, but it helped define me as a mom.
More Mom Confessions:
- I’ll Never Forget the Boy Who Was Incredibly Kind to My Autistic Son
- I Swore I’d Never Put My Kid in Daycare (& Then I Became a Mom)
- All the Things I Secretly Do When My Kids Aren’t Looking