It was 4 in the morning, and the whole house was quiet and asleep. I sat alone on a couch in the living room, silently sobbing with a frantic baby in my arms. A few weeks into motherhood found me exhausted, bewildered and unable to breastfeed. In order to give my baby breastmilk, I was pumping every three hours. The slow whoosh-whoosh of the pump was starting to haunt me. I dreaded every session; my life was structured around its demands. On top of that I was sore, exhausted, and had a baby to feed and bottles to clean.

Occasionally, I wouldI would attempt to nurse, and it usually left both of us in tears attempt to nurse, and it usually left both of us in tears. We did a frenotomy to fix his tongue-tie and, at first, it seemed to help. That night, however, he was back to screaming. In my sleep-deprived state, I felt like my desire to breastfeed was selfish. Once I would gently slip a bottle into his mouth, he became an angel baby—quiet, content, happily drinking away. Why was I fighting him? I was so confused how all of this had happened. I kept replaying in my mind what had gotten us to this point.

It started immediately after he was born. I was deliriously exhausted from a 35-hour labor. Once my baby was in my arms, I half-heartedly attempted to get him to latch, but when they took him away to be weighed, I was happy to be able to close my eyes. A concern in his blood work sent him to the NICU, and the next two days were a blur. I was wheeled back and forth from our room to the NICU to feed him. I told the nurses I wanted to breastfeed exclusively; this led to him becoming dehydrated and the pressure built for me to be able to feed him. The lactation consultants had all sorts of advice and tricks, but in my sleepless state, they just seemed to be smashing his face against me while he flailed his limbs. By the time we left the hospital, we had a very thirsty baby on our hands who wouldn’t latch, and I was still trying to wrap my mind around this unexpected reality.

The next few weeks involved multiple lactation appointments, setting up a schedule of pumping milk and then bottle-feeding my baby, occasionally with formula. The entire time I felt bewildered and anxious. Before my baby arrived, I hadn’t given much thought to breastfeeding, other than the assumption that I would be able to do it. Once that reality didn’t materialize, I realized that I hadn’t thought through that expectation at all. With a new set of circumstances, I thought more consciously about whether I was still committed to nursing and why. I wanted the closeness with my baby and that special connection; however, I was also desperate to be untethered from the pump. There was no end in sight, and I wondered whether to switch to formula.

Now back to that 4 a.m. tear-filled morning. Weeks of uncertainty were beginning to feel endless, and I didn’t know if my hard work would pay off. My baby was happier with a bottle. I was starting to get used to pumping, even though it was difficult. Feeding with a bottle had benefits: My husband could also feed him, we could have help for night feedings while we slept, we could keep track of how much he was eating, and it was easier to do in public. I decided it wasn’t worth the fight, and I was giving up.

I made one last appointment with my lactation consultant to break the news to her. However, after all the weeks of my hard work pumping, building my milk supply and trying to nurse over and over again, I couldn’t tell her about my decision with conviction. I mumbled something vague about doubting whether to continue and that I was nearing my limit. She said she would support me in whatever I chose to do. She swept me over to her magical couch where babies learn to latch and mine hadn’t. I felt like this was my last attempt.

Then the miraculousI was happy, but still doubtful happened. My baby latched on. The consultant was ecstatic. I was happy, but still doubtful that it would work at home when I was alone with my frustration and a crying baby.

Yet, it did! He continued to nurse from then on. In the blink of an eye, all of the work I had put in paid off. My confusion vanished with the joy of holding my baby close. By the next time she came over, the scene had radically changed. Now, she found me sitting on my couch, not crying, but calmly nursing my baby. The endless regime of pumping came to an end. The weeks of confusion and uncertainty ended in a single day.

I realize that my difficulties with nursing were a minor challenge in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I have so much to be grateful for since I have a beautiful, healthy baby to take care of. But at the time, as a new mother, it felt so huge and overwhelming. I learned a few priceless lessons from this glitch in my transition to motherhood that might be helpful to other new mothers or to others in general.

  1. Expect the unexpected and be prepared to release your expectations. They only serve to create frustration and confusion. Being prepared for other possibilities makes it easier to accept and flow with special or different circumstances.
  2. Reach out when you need help. I have so much support in my life. This experience led me to reach out to so many friends, mentors and health-care professionals. They all responded with advice, guidance and emotional support.
  3. Mothers have to make the best decisions for their babies, and for themselves. Whether you choose to breastfeed, use formula or a mix of both, just be confident that if you’re content, it doesn’t matter how your baby gets fed, as long as he or she is eating. By the time your child is 6 or 7, they will have no recollection of how you fed them, but your sanity now for choosing what is best for you is what will really make a difference in their lives. (I think the same applies to many other areas where we seek what we perceive as the “perfect” scenario for our child, when often settling for less, but a happier atmosphere, would be best for everyone.)
  4. Struggles can resolve and change in a moment. This was my greatest lesson of all. When I was in the thick of frustration with a screaming baby on my chest, I felt like I would never succeed. My exhausting schedule felt endless; every day, I doubted whether I could go on, though something kept propelling me forward. Perhaps it was a faith that I wasn’t conscious of or a deeper will that I could not intellectualize, but I am so grateful that I persevered.

With every new challenge, I seem to forget this lesson. Yet this is the spiritual work of redemption—to internalize the possibility of a new world, a better world. When we are dealing with hardships, especially when there is no end in sight, Judaism teaches us that geula, “redemption” or being redeemed from our present struggle, can come in the blink of an eye.

Our reality does not have to be the way it always was. Sometimes, the change comes from us and sometimes it is a gift from G‑d. Either way, it will come.