I remember turning twenty-five years old and calling my grandmother, GG. I was sitting in our two bedroom condo in Chicago, as I watched the red line go past several times. I was engaged to my boyfriend of seven years, but I still felt like a child. I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do with my life. I loved performing, I loved theater, and I was working on my masters in education. Even with all of that, something just didn’t feel right. I called her as I had done so many times before in my life and I said, “GG, I’m having a quarter life crisis. When I was a kid, I thought that by twenty-five I would have my life figured out. Did you feel that way too?” I can’t remember her exact words, but she said something along the lines of that everyday, every single day, we are all trying to figure our lives out. I’m pretty sure shortly after that she told me a dirty joke, and I went on to have an absolutely fabulous twenty-fifth birthday. I didn’t know that that would be the last birthday phone call I would ever receive from her.
A few months later, while I was still planning my wedding, my beloved, amazing, wonderful GG died. She was surrounded by her children and grandchildren, all holding hands, singing her favorite songs, guiding her into my Grandpas arms in heaven. It was, without a doubt, one of the most profound moments of my life. I had spent hours and hours talking to her on the phone about life, her life, and how she became the incredible woman that she was. But I no longer had her on the other end of the line. I felt lost without her. Utterly lost.
I should have buckled up, because my life was about to turn into a HUGE rollercoaster. Four months after she was gone, I got married. Three months after that, I was pregnant with our first child. Five months after that we packed up our entire lives into boxes, left our beloved city of Chicago, and moved to Michigan. It was a complete whirlwind.
I still had no idea who I was.
I kind of felt like I was standing in the ocean as a big wave was coming towards me. As it got closer and closer, I gave into the wave and floated with the water, riding high until I crashed into the sand.
I crashed into the sand on May 23, 2013, when my daughter, Fiona, was born. The second I saw her I knew exactly who I was. I was her mother. This was what I had waited for. Just like the ocean pulling back from the shore, revealing the wet sand and shells it left behind, I felt like I had left behind my youth and my desire to have it all figured out. I was a mother. I had given up my body as my own to grow this tiny human inside of me for nine months. It didn’t stop once she was outside of my womb. My breasts, which had previously enjoyed low cut shirts and push up bras, became her source of nutrition. It wasn’t easy. I cried. I screamed. I dealt with postpartum depression and anxiety, but I knew who I was. I was a mother who would sacrifice anything to be the best mom I could be for this tiny creature.
This was the outline of my life, which repeated itself over and over for five years. I was a mother. I was a strong mother. I was a mother fucking woman, my body was amazing, I was a warrior. I was breastfeeding ’round the clock. I celebrated national breastfeeding week, which always fell right around my birthday. I wore my babies, because it was easier to breastfeed them this way. I did every single thing that I possibly could to ensure that I was doing what I thought was best for my children.
Somewhere in that mix, I lost myself without realizing it. I became a selfless woman for these kids. If the kids couldn’t sleep at night? No way was I going to let them cry! I was their mother. I would hold them, cherish them, love them. No one slept, but I figured it was ok, because I was giving it my all.
Sure, I hadn’t showered in ten days, but damnit! I was becoming the best version of myself for these kids!
Fast forward to a month ago. Lucie (my third baby), at six months, decided to wean herself from breastfeeding. I breastfed Fiona until she was almost two. I breastfed Maeve for nine months, when she self weaned, but I blamed it on my unexpected pregnancy with Lucie.
I was devastated. It had been a hard summer. I broke my shoulder and partially tore my rotator cuff. I wasn’t able to wear her as much as I wanted and we did a lot of traveling. Lucille just decided she wanted to do her own thing. She wanted bottles, and she wanted them now. I could have pumped, but that would have taken time away from my other kids. It all felt really complicated to me. I would post stuff on Facebook about how “fed is best” and all that shit, but deep down, I felt like a failure. My identity as this breastfeeding superhero mother was gone. My child no longer wanted my milk. I thought maybe I wasn’t making enough, maybe my body had failed her.
All of a sudden I had no idea who I was again.
I’m part of a bunch of breastfeeding groups on Facebook. I have friends that are lactation consultants. I have a lot of friends who are still breastfeeding.
I absolutely loved breastfeeding all three of my children, and I spoke over and over again about how much easier it became with each kid.
I no longer have that.
So, who the hell am I?
I’m still a mother, and yet I feel like less of a mother.
I think I feel this way because of every single message that has been sent to me over the past five years about how breast is best. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt! Breastfeeding past one year is amazing! Your kid will be smarter if you breastfeed longer! You can pump! Don’t give up!
Ok yeah, but what if your kid is like, “Nah, I want to hold my bottle of formula and go on my merry way.”
She’s a happy baby. She’s fed. She’s beautiful. She’s smart. She’s thriving.
So, why do I still feel so awful? I had been thrown into motherhood so fast, and so unexpectedly. I held onto my identity as a dairy queen mother, breastfeeding everyone in this household as infants, and I’m having a very hard time accepting myself after this.
I’m a logical person. I know formula is a fucking BLESSING. I am also very lucky that my mother-in-law, who’s a nurse, is able to provide us with as much formula as we need. She has made this whole transition a hell of a lot easier, without worrying about the cost of formula.
I have read about moms making their own formula. Should I be doing that? When would I do that? How could I fit that in?
Right now, I’m trying to figure out who I am as a woman who has shared her body with three other human beings for the past five years. I have given birth three times. I have breastfed three babies. I have gone to the darkest depths of postpartum depression and anxiety. I have wanted to die, because I have felt less than adequate for these kids. I survived that storm, but was unprepared for the aftermath that hit me like a ton of bricks.
I wish I could call my GG. I know she’d have something incredibly wise and funny to tell me. I think about her often as a mother. She was not only a mother to the children she birthed, but she was a foster parent to countless children and adopted two of them. I constantly think of what she taught me growing up. I think about the values I learned from her about family, love, and a good bottle of champagne.
This is a new chapter in my life. I have forgotten what it feels like to be in my body. My body is my own again. I have no idea how to process that, but someday I will.
And it will be great. I will be a better mother, because I can face this body. I will love and respect this body for what it has given me and what it has given my children.
I’ll always be searching for my identity, but aren’t we all?
If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.