M

other Tongue is at its best as a forum for many parents’ voices. I am excited to share the thoughts and perspectives of seven young moms on issues of parenting, health, time management, discovering goals, planning for the future and summoning the courage to make it through rough days. While their vantage points are particular to teen mothers, these essays’ topics and insights are relevant to parents across the spectrum of age.

Each writer is a student of my 11th/12th grade Capital High School Mother Tongue English class for teen parents—a key program of the

, which combines high standards and relevancy-based English language arts instruction with a library-building component and a one-to-one mentorship program that pairs current teen moms with former teen parents who have earned a college degree. 

The project—and these essays—would not be possible without the stalwart, enthusiastic support of the Santa Fe Public Schools Office of Student Support Services and its director, Christine Eisenberg, and the responsive, forward-thinking administration of Capital High School, particularly Channell Wilson Segura and Mariah Runyon, as well as our generous donors. Thank you for your belief in these students and the capacity for success of smart, engaged teen parents with things to say.

I hope you enjoy reading the reflective, articulate voices of these Mother Tongue writers. They are important voices in their families and in our community.

- Lauren Whitehurst,

Mother Tongue blogger and director of the Mother Tongue Project

Bonding without Breastfeeding

By Destiny Vigil
Why couldn't I breastfeed? I asked myself this question all the time. Only recently have I realized that I wasn't equipped with the knowledge or the support to be successful at breastfeeding my child. At first, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. I wanted to, and I tried for a while, but it was harder than I thought it would be, and my determination wasn't there. 
My experience with breastfeeding wasn't the most beautiful thing, as people say it is supposed to be. I knew since I was six months pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed my daughter. The moment I had her, I put her on my breast, and she began to suckle. Everything seemed to be going perfectly. Soon, however, I realized she was eating too often and wasn't getting enough milk. I began to get frustrated, and the hospital nurses offered me formula. Well, I wouldn't say “offer”: They forcefully encouraged me to give my daughter formula. I wouldn't budge. I wanted my daughter to get the best food she possibly could. I knew that the best would come from me, so I kept trying. 
She was restless, always crying and so gassy. I would bring her to my breast, and she was so hungry she couldn't latch correctly. She fussed and moved her head forward and away from my breast. She was so uncomfortable and couldn't relax when she was feeding. I felt like there was something wrong with me. Maybe I was doing something wrong. I thought that I wasn't enough for my daughter. I felt useless because I couldn't make my body work. I thought to myself, “Why was I blessed with a child if I can't even nourish her?”
When we got released from the hospital, breastfeeding was an even bigger nightmare. The baby slept most of the time during our first evening at home, but I dreaded the moment when she woke from her sleep. I knew she would be hungry, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to feed her. So when she woke up screaming her head off because she was hungry, I sent my mom to the store to get formula. 
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mommy’s milk is always best for the child, and the AAP recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. In my case, difficulties arose, and I couldn't breastfeed my child, so I chose formula. 
When I switched to formula, however, my daughter was still super fussy and gassy. Her poops were explosive, messy and fluorescent yellow. To be completely honest, it was disgusting. I spoke with her doctor, and we determined that she is lactose intolerant. Well, what do you know? That explains why she was so uncomfortable even when I was breastfeeding. After further discussion with her doctor, I put her on soy-based formula. My daughter’s doctor reassured me that formula would be just fine, and that it was okay that I hadn’t been successful at breastfeeding. As soon as he said this, I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. Mothering was a breeze after that—relatively. I could finally enjoy feeding her. Even though I wasn’t breastfeeding, my daughter and I still bonded during those early days. I held her, kissed her, sang to her, and we spent a lot of time staring at each other.
Looking back, I know that I didn't have either the support or the knowledge I needed to have in order to breastfeed successfully. It would have helped if my family had been on board and taken responsibility for some of the everyday chores I do at home. It also would have helped if I had known what a proper latch looks like and that it takes six weeks to build up a good milk supply. After having my daughter and returning to school, I learned more about breastfeeding in my parenting class. I realized there were actual strategies that could have made it easier for me to stick with breastfeeding. For example, according to The Baby Book, by William Sears, it would have helped to increase my milk supply if I had pumped. I also learned that it is rare for a mother not to be able to make enough milk to feed her baby.
I'm glad I went through this experience because it has made me a better mother. It helped me discover my child's food sensitivities and be attentive to her nutrition. It also helped us bond in other ways. When she was a newborn, I was the only one who fed her. I rubbed her head and tickled her nose. I sang her to sleep. I felt as if she could feel everything I was feeling and see everything I was going through. This wasn’t always positive for me, but when she looked into my eyes, I understood that everything was okay and that she loved me. I have second-guessed myself a lot in the past seven months, but I know that I have a close, bonded relationship with my baby.