I grew up with a lot of trust in G-d and a deep sense that G-d will provide. This belief came from hearing the story about G-d providing manna each day for 40 years. I do firmly believe that the Divine is watching over each step of ours. But after my daughter was born, I had to reassess what I thought I knew about faith.
The day Meirah was born was one of the happiest days for me and my husband. However, on a more personal level the feelings were quite complicated. As a holistic medicine practitioner, I had wanted my childbirth experience to be as close to the natural process as possible. But Meirah was born in the midst of India’s second Covid wave, when the medical staff wanted quick births that would reduce potential Covid exposure. The doctor had given me around 15 vials of oxytocin to speed up my labor, and I was angry about it. After the birth, my nipples were sore from all the pinching when nurses tried to check my milk supply.
Everybody just had one thing to say: “There is no milk yet.”
We started Meirah on formula from day one as I waited for my milk to come in. My breasts were not feeling full and I blamed it on the excessive oxytocin, I blamed it on the stress of having unwanted medical interventions, I blamed it on a lot of things around me. All I wanted was to go home and be left alone with my baby. I firmly believed my milk supply would increase once I reached home. I brought one packet of formula home from the hospital, but I tried to limit how much I used it. There was always a reluctance on my part.
On the tenth day, when we met Meirah’s pediatrician, I saw the concerned look in her eyes. Meirah had lost weight. I remember another mom looked at my baby with a pitiful look as she asked me, “Is she premature?” I said no. All this led me to believe that maybe something was actually wrong with my milk supply. We started giving her formula more willingly. And Meirah started gaining weight.
At that point, I began a round-the-clock effort to help my body produce more milk. We consulted a lactation consultant, who advised me on latching, and encouraged me to start pumping in between feeds to stimulate milk supply. I would pump and pump every two hours, day and night, with just a few drops to show for it. I told myself it must be that Meirah was suckling well and there wasn’t much left over to pump.
We consulted another lactation consultant, who started me on a heavy dose of domperidone. Despite that, I barely pumped 10 ml — a fraction of what Meirah was eating each day. I consulted with an endocrinologist, two other gynecologists, and tried so many natural galactagogues and home remedies, with no results to show. But I never stopped hoping for a miracle.
Around that time Meirah’s pooping frequency increased dramatically, and my pediatrician explained that it was probably due to an increase in my supply. I was thrilled and proud of my efforts! However, a few days later we discovered that Meirah had lactose intolerance and that is what changed her poop pattern. There was no increase in my milk supply after all, despite all that I had been doing.
Ultimately I was diagnosed with “insufficient glandular tissue” and told, “Nothing more can be done in your case.” My breasts had not developed milk glands the way most people do during pregnancy. The condition leads to what is called “lactation failure,” the inability to make sufficient milk. Biologically, I did not have the resources to create as much milk as Meirah would need. I felt like all doors were shut.
In the wake of this heartbreak, I found a new way forward. Not the miracle I had been seeking, but a compromise. One of my lactation consultants had offhandedly mentioned something called a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), and I ordered one. It allowed me to feed formula to my baby using a small tube attached to my breast. So essentially I was breastfeeding her with formula. Meirah was about five months old when I tried it for the first time, and I cried. I cried because that was the first time I knew how it felt to have my baby feel full at my breasts.
The most common advice I received when I shared my issue with moms and medical professionals was, “Just bottle feed, it’s ok.” I know that works for many mothers, and I respect their choice. But that advice ignored one crucial fact — that I wanted to breastfeed. The SNS allowed me to sustain my choice of breastfeeding. I decided to stop trying to increase my milk supply with domperidone, the heavy dose of which had damaged my thyroid, and to stop pumping. It set me free.
Meirah is 19 months old today, a happy, thriving, naughty child who loves to breastfeed using an SNS. And I have learned so much about myself through this experience. I can see now that I began my breastfeeding journey in denial, sure that with enough effort I could get a different result. I have rediscovered myself as someone who knows how to move on if faced with failure. I am glad that at some point I learned to stop hoping for a miracle and accept reality.
It has taught me that G-d will provide. It may not be in the exact way I asked, but in ways He feels are appropriate. I do truly trust that this experience will make perfect sense one day when it fits with the bigger picture of my life.
During the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were provided for by G-d with manna — the food from heaven. They were prohibited from storing anything for the next day, except for Shabbat. And just like the Israelites learned not to stock up too much manna, and to trust that it would be available the next day, I am thankful that Meirah was provided for even during Covid times. Meirah and I are lucky to be in a time and place where an appropriate formula is available.
At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.
Moses and Motherhood: Of Manna, Melons, and Matan, IlanaKurshan.com
The Test of the Manna, My Jewish Learning
Manna from Heaven: What Could Be Better?, Union for Reform Judaism