Boobs. Breasts. Milk Jugs. Milk shakes. Money makers. Ta-Tas. Titties. Boobies. Breasticles. The list of names goes on and on for this one little (or big) part of a woman's anatomy. As a single woman, I was naive to the power they truly hold, ignorantly assuming their greatest worth was found in an attracted suitor's eye. But this all changed on August 4th, 2011, when I gave birth to my first daughter...
Breastfeeding is an incredible experience. It truly does bond a mother and child together like nothing else I've ever experienced. However, most of what media, society, and other mothers portray about breastfeeding is...well...a lie.
Breastfeeding is not always easy. Yes, it gets easier with each child, but only in the way that changing a tire gets easier the more you do it. The task doesn't suddenly become a less painful or difficult experience, you just happen to be more knowledgeable and prepared for it the next time around. Nobody told this to me. As I grew closer to my due date, women started to mention that my nipples might be tender at first until I get used to it. If you have had the blessing to experience breastfeeding then you know...tenderness is nothing compared to the cracked, bloody nipples, the throbbing, engorged breasts, or the itching, aching, fever-inducing, supply dropping, sickness of mastitis.
But women continue to breastfeed, and I am one of them. I have breastfed all three of my daughters, because I have never felt more bonded to them or more power as a woman than in that moment--that miraculous moment when I, and I alone, am able to give nourishment and life to another human being. I would suggest that all mothers try it, not out of obligation to some mothers' code, but to get the chance to experience that awesomeness that only mothers are capable of creating.
I wanted to write today about my story, because I want other mothers out there to stop feeling like failures. I felt like a failure once. And I've learned that we, as a society, have somehow turned breastfeeding from a bonding experience to a motherly competition. I know I am not the only mother out there who has shed tears over breastfeeding, and I hope by sharing this story, I can stop other mothers' tears from falling as well.
So, back to August 4th, 2011. The day my daughter E was born. E couldn't latch on to my breast. Within five minutes of her being born, my nurse introduced me to a Medela nipple shield. She said it would help her latch since my nipples were small. It worked.
However, she misjudged my nipple size and gave me a shield one size too small. Within an hour, my nipples were bruised and bleeding. The Lactation Consultant realized the mistake, and a new shield was offered, but the damage had already been done and breastfeeding was already causing more pain than joy. I fought through it because I was determined to breastfeed, but I could tell E responded to my flinching and groans every time she latched. It was a struggle. A struggle I had to fight through every two to three hours, every day of every week. And this struggle was not being fought by a prepared, sane person. It was being fought by a sleep-deprived, insecure, hormone-ridden new mom who thought she had already done something wrong and was fighting the urge to resent her newborn child. I remember one night, as she cried from hunger but was unable to latch, yelling and weeping, "What do you want from me?" This was not the breastfeeding experience everyone said it would be.
Then came pumping. As a working mother, not only did I have to face the fear and pain of feeding my own child, I also had to train my body to feed a machine. I had to suction plastic to my breasts, listen to a loud groaning as this machine painfully groped me, and "relax" so I could produce more milk. If you have done this, then chances are you are laughing along with me at the irony of being told to relax or you'll fail at feeding your child. The stress only grew with each passing day.
Oh, and might I add that I had to find time to pump. Yes, the laws support our right to breastfeed, but as many mothers will testify, that doesn't mean we won't be treated differently by our coworkers or bosses for asking for special treatment. So, I used my 30 minute lunch period to pump. It isn't a surprise that 30 minutes a day of pumping is not sufficient when your baby eats at least three times during eight hours. And because of that, I soon realized that I would not be able to make enough milk to feed my daughter. So I pumped on weekends too. I even suggested we try to distract her from being hungry. I became ridiculous and cried often.
Then came mastitis. I woke up one morning with chills, my entire body aching, and pain shooting through my breast when I fed E. I immediately called my doctor and had to take an unpaid day off to go in. (Another perk of mothering, my job--like many--requires me to use up all my sick/personal leave before starting maternity leave, which left me with no sick days for the rest of the year.) I had to take antibiotics and rest, but I also had to continue to nurse E so my supply wouldn't drop even more than it would from the illness. I fed through the razor-sharp pain, but my supply still disappeared by the time she was three months old. My frozen supply got her to four months of age, but then I finally had to admit defeat and buy my first can of formula.
With my second daughter, A, I learned from my struggles. My husband and I bought a new pump (a Medela Pump-In-Style, which I recommend to anyone looking to buy one) which was gentler and quieter. I refused the nipple shield so I could give A time to get used to latching on my nipples. (Small nipples do not mean breastfeeding is impossible!) I started pumping in the hospital so I could build up a larger frozen supply. I even found more time to pump during the day. But even with all the changes, I still found myself shaking the night before I had to return to work. What if all the changes didn't work?
They did work....for a while. But eventually, being unable to pump throughout the day took its toll on my supply. I was proud to have made it to six months instead of four, but I still wished I could have done better.
And why? Because formula is poison? No way. I am grateful for the incredible advancements our society has made in the nutritional value of formula. Because I would someday win a medal for my incredible mothering skills? Haha! Not likely. So why the feeling of failure? For some reason, it seems that we as mothers set ourselves up for failure the moment we begin to compete with the mother next to us.
So let's stop. Breastfeeding is incredible. Do it for as long as you can. Don't let someone else define "can" for you. If you find that breastfeeding is causing you more mental, emotional, or physical stress than you can handle, then stop. And don't feel bad for stopping. "Failure" does not exist in mothering, because it would imply that there is only one best way to do it. And....regardless of what some mothers believe...there is no "best" way to do it. There's just a love-filled way to do it, and that is to give your child your very best each day and to say I love you each night.
I am still currently breastfeeding my third daughter, C. She is two months old. My husband and I bought a car adapter, I cut holes in my bra so I could pump back and forth to work. I drink multiple glasses of water an hour. I let my daughter use my nipple for meals, for a pacifier, for anything she wants as long as she reminds my boobs to do their job. This all has increased my supply so much that we have signed up to donate milk to our local milk bank! Does it mean I'll make it to a year this time? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not stressing this time. Because simply loving her enough to try is what makes me a success. The success is in the love.
The Catholic Mama