CAUTION: If you are one of the three men that read this blog (hi dad!), you might just want to skip this post because today we're talking about boobs. Well, breastfeeding really, but boobs are definitely involved. Consider yourself warned.
Ok, so boobs! We've all got 'em - so, why is it so much easier for some of us to use them than others? Why is that some people succeed at breastfeeding with little effort, while others go to great lengths and fail? Why is it that everyone in the world seems to think it's their business whether or not you breastfeed, making the stress, guilt and pressure nearly unbearable at times? Oh, if I only knew the answer to these questions. (You weren't actually expecting me to have real answers were you?)
One of the things I've read over and over again from new moms is how they are completely surprised to to discover how hard it is to breastfeed. It's not like this is a secret or anything - everyone seems to tell you this, yet it doesn't actually sink in until someone hands you a tiny hungry newborn minutes after the most painful and traumatizing experience of your life and expects you and said newborn to know exactly what to do with those previously non-functional decorative assets on your chest. Boobs...they're not just for breakfast anymore.
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I struggled with breastfeeding with both kids. My attempts with Mac were a disaster (which you can read all about on Julie's Breastfeeding Diaries series). Long story short, he never really figured out nursing, I made myself sick with stress and guilt about it and ended up exclusively pumping for 8 months. It was awful and I vowed to never put myself through that kind of guilt-trip again. But why didn't it work for us? Looking back at my efforts with him now, I chalk a lot of our struggles up to a combination of new mom syndrome (severe exhaustion, crazy hormones, overly-emotional, scared shitless, etc.), oversupply and a difficult baby. I had a tough birth (17 hours of labor followed by c-section) and was a physical and emotional wreck for weeks. I felt like every tiny decision I made at the time was life and death and would affect us in the most dramatic ways. I was so incredibly hard on myself as a new mom because I was convinced that it would all work out if I just tried harder. Mac was also very hard to feed, even with a bottle, and had I been die-hard and persisted with breastfeeding to the breaking point, I still don't think he would have breastfed well and we probably would have both lost our freaking minds. My oversupply issue sure didn't help anything, either. My breasts drowned him, even by pumping before feeding and using a shield. Nothing seemed to help. Even using a bottle, he had a hard time eating for months and would gag and squawk and spit-up profusely.
Needless to say, I went into my next pregnancy with a lot of anxiety and trepidation about how breastfeeding would go the second time, but told myself that if it didn't work it'd be fine and we could just move on. As it turns out, my experience with Mim was completely different. Perhaps because I had a less traumatic birth or because I knew what I was doing the second time or because she was just an easier baby...who knows. But she latched right on and was a rock star nurser...until she wasn't. All of a sudden at 9 weeks, she was DONE. I thought we had everything figured out (and I was feeling quite smug about it) when suddenly she absolutely refused to nurse. What happened this time? Hell if I know. Maybe it was the oversupply; maybe it was my flat nipples; maybe she thought I reeked and needed to shower more frequently. Babies are irrational beings. I saw three lactation consultants and we tried everything. Every position, every angle, every attachment and strategy and method. But despite having two lovely months of breastfeeding (although it was still hard and very painful), I didn't get the nursing experience that I wanted to have. That's when all those horrible emotions I felt the first time around came rushing back and sent me into a downward spiral of despair. There's nothing like being rejected by your babies to make you feel like a horrible failure of a mother.
Once again, I pumped. And pumped and pumped and pumped. For an additional six months. Just like I told myself I would never do. I hated every minute of it. So why did I do it? Love? Guilt? Pressure? Insanity? I honestly don't know sometimes. I have nothing against formula. I don't exactly enjoy milking myself like a cow. I'm not into pain and torture. But I love my baby and I felt so much pressure (from both myself and society) to give her the very best I possibly could and that was one thing I came up with that I could do. I'm now almost a month out ending my pumping career and my breasts are (ever so slowly) returning to their non-lactating, saggy and deflated sad state of being and I couldn't be happier about it. I don't regret pumping (I'm super proud of myself for doing it and proud of my body for being able to nourish her), but I sure do wish I would have let myself off the hook and instead used that time to snuggle the baby or play with my toddler. Oh, hindsight, you bitch.
But through all these struggles, I have been amazed at how wonderful other moms can be. All that "societal" pressure I was feeling to breastfeed certainly never came from anyone I knew or any pressure I directly received from someone in my life. Actually, it was the exact opposite. Every time I mentioned my struggles on this blog I received an outpouring of love and support for whatever we did. No one ever questioned my commitment to my children or my love for them. No one but me made me feel like a failure.
But in order to get over these negative feelings that I had somehow failed, I had to work through some pretty intense emotions. I had to mourn for the lost breastfeeding experience that I had hoped for. I had to get over the anger I felt towards both my babies for rejecting me (yes, I know that sounds crazy). I had to make peace with my body for once again failing me (as it had with getting pregnant, staying pregnant and giving birth). And I had to get over the feeling that missing out on this aspect of motherhood meant that I was a bad mother. Lots to overcome. And I'm still working through some of this stuff. These feelings don't just disappear overnight or with the first formula-filled bottle you give your child. They will probably haunt me (at least a little bit) for the rest of my life. Although, hopefully I won't be on my deathbed decades from now lamenting on my lost breastfeeding experience. Seriously Sara, let it go!!
What I've come to learn about this whole experience is that every mom is different and has different strengths and weaknesses (doesn't that sound cliche?). Instead of focusing on the aspects of motherhood that make me feel bad about myself, I need to focus on the good/positive things that I have more control over. Being a breastfeeding failure doesn't make me a bad mom, just like being able to easily breastfeed wouldn't necessarily make me a good mom. I have other mommy superpowers, like the ability to heal boo boos with a single kiss, take beautiful photos of my children or turn a walk down the street into a space exploration adventure. I have to not be so hard on myself for this. And whatever way you are feeding your baby, whether by choice or by unforeseen circumstances, I hope you're not beating yourself up about it. Let's all just give each other some grace to do what we need to do and know that as long as our babies are getting fed, they are happy, healthy and loved. You are a good mom, too!
Did you breastfeed?
Do you feel like you failed at breastfeeding?
What were your biggest breastfeeding obstacles?
*Baby Mim photos by Jessica of Emma Constance Photography