I’ve shared some of Arlo’s health issues here on Baby’s First Year, but I haven’t discussed others. I’ve talked about our struggles with his reflux (which thankfully he has all but grown out of ) and of course, his ocular albinism diagnosis — but along with these things, he has also had some smaller issues — a heart murmur which may require a minor surgery to repair, another issue with his groin that can also be fixed with surgery, and more recently, his pediatrician diagnosed him with a common skin rash called Keratosis Pilaris that requires daily rub downs with organic moisturizing balm to keep it from flaring up (this is a small, cosmetic hindrance and is usually not uncomfortable)
Despite this list of ailments, Arlo is still a very healthy little boy. He isn’t sickly or fragile and you certainly wouldn’t know by looking at him that he has any challenges at all. There are days when all of these small issues start to feel heavy and I find myself comparing him to other babies and think “Why is it that my sweet boy has to deal with these things?” Other times, I read heartbreaking accounts from parents whose children suffer with life-threatening or debilitating ailments or from those who have lost a child and I am reminded that Arlo’s challenges are so minor and we are blessed-beyond-blessed that he is as healthy as he is.
With all of the tests and doctor’s appointments and looming therapies and surgeries, I’ve needed something to hold on to…something that helps me feel in control of my son’s health and that thing for me has become breastfeeding.
My daughter got her first bottle of formula at three-months-old. She was completely done breastfeeding by four and a half months. My hectic work and travel schedule made it increasingly challenging and instead of fighting for it, I just threw in the towel. Making that decision is not something I regret, it’s just something I wish I had tried harder to maintain. Looking back on it, most of my decision to stop was equal parts inexperience and frustration.
When I was pregnant with Arlo, I knew I wanted to try and nurse him longer, so I gave myself a goal of six months — if I could breastfeed him (even if it was just a time or two each day) until he was six-months-old, I would feel as if I had been more successful. After he was born, the number of challenges, large and small that he had to face began to grow and suddenly I found myself absolutely determined to breastfeed — no matter what — only breast milk with no supplementing until he was six-months-old.
Often it has felt as if breastfeeding was the one thing (the only thing) that I could do for him, that no one else could. I couldn’t fix his eyes, or his heart or his body — but I could most certainly give him breast milk. And even when it has has been inconvenient or uncomfortable or pumping has felt isolating — it has been the thing I have clung to, to make me feel like I am physically doing something for his benefit.
Eventually, his small issues will be fixed (either on their own or with surgery) and we’ll have a more comprehensive plan for aiding him with his vision impairment — but right now, whenever I am feeling a little overwhelmed or heavy over the challenges faced by my little boy, I can pick him up, hold him against my skin, let him nurse and enjoy the quiet moment spent doing the one thing that only his mama can do. It’s a powerful and comforting thing.
Note: I always struggle to write pieces like this as I worry it might offend a formula-feeding mama. I just want to take a minute to say that I support the feeding of all babies, in whatever way is necessary for your family. I’ve got a super healthy, smart-as-a-whip toddler thanks to formula — so this piece isn’t meant to bash formula fed babies. I just feel really fortunate and blessed to be able to breastfeed my son, I know everyone doesn’t get that opportunity. It has proven to be a source of peace for me as we learn to roll with the unexpected challenges in raising our son.