When I was pregnant with Owen, I prepared myself to be the best parent. Or so I thought. I read a book on French parenting, researched baby products, and made a very important decision at a very early point in the pregnancy that I was going to breastfeed.
So looking back to me at 30-something weeks pregnant with Owen sitting in a breastfeeding class with a bunch of other pregnant mamas, I remember being told, “breast is best.” And I remember writing that down. “If breastfeeding hurts, you’re doing it wrong.” I wrote that down, too. This was important stuff.
I went into motherhood knowing that I would try breastfeeding. Because no matter what our reasons are, we all want to do what is best for the baby, right? I read a few books and met one-on-one with a lactation consultant. But right away, in the hospital, when they handed Owen to me and the German nurse told me to nurse him, I knew it would be different than I expected. Everything I thought I knew from all my preparations had flown right out the window. Owen had difficulty latching, and the nurse told me I didn’t have “ideal breastfeeding nipples” (things I never thought I’d write on the internet). Thus began my journey to find anything that would make it easier for my baby to breastfeed. Once he was in my arms, I was determined to be everything for him, and I was determined to breastfeed.
In the following weeks, I continued to nurse through the pain and Owen was grappling with what would become oversupply issues. He was feeding for very short periods of time around the clock. I met with several lactation consultants. Breastfeeding hurt, pumping hurt. It was searing pain every time he latched, so bad that I had to bite a washcloth because I was afraid I’d squeeze him too tight. Many LCs suggested the nipple shield and I refused to use one. I’m strong-willed (much like my children) and the shield was not part of my plan. I set my sights on correcting his latch instead. It was going to work out, but it wasn’t going to be easy and I wasn’t about to give up. He was thriving so I was going to have to grin and bear it.
Now, I have to admit, even though they talked about how breastfeeding can sometimes be painful, that was the most unexpected part of our journey. I figured breastfeeding would come naturally. That’s how they made it sound in the class. “Breast is best.” “It’s not supposed to hurt.” I really thought labor and delivery was supposed to be the hardest part and everything would all fall into place after that. Pop out a baby and become a mother. That’s how it works, right? Right??
Despite the pain of nursing, I enjoyed those peaceful quiet moments where I was all he needed. Breastfeeding was good and bad for my post-pregnancy hormones. It gave me a purpose but it created a lot of anxiety. A LOT of anxiety. I was the only one who could feed him because the thought of someone else feeding my baby that I carried for 9 months brought me to tears. If I was away from him for too long, I was weepy and stressed. I suffered from postpartum anxiety. Bottles (and pacifiers for that matter) weren’t an option because I’d heard they can cause latch confusion. I refused to pump because it hurt. I refused formula because I had more than enough milk and he was gaining weight like a champ. It had to be me and only me. It was physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. I can’t imagine what it was like for Alex and my mom. They were both very supportive and encouraging, but they were essentially helpless. I look back on the first two months of breastfeeding Owen and positively shudder. It’s not supposed to be like that.
I didn’t know who to talk to, everyone had different opinions and experiences. All I wanted to do was comfortably feed my baby. Wherever, however, whenever. Everyone says the first 6-8 weeks of breastfeeding are the hardest. This is true. I’m glad I pushed through and breastfed as much as possible and avoided the pump. But my sanity took a hit.
I wish I had dealt with my breastfeeding shyness in another way. I wish I had talked about it more with my mom friends. I was afraid to nurse in public because I didn’t want people to see me struggle. In Europe, most mothers don’t cover while nursing. What for? No need, you’re just feeding a baby. It took me a long time to work up to comfortably nursing in public, even with a cover. I hid in bathroom stalls, sat in the backseat of the car, excused myself from the room even when it was full of loved ones who would have been understanding and supportive.
Now, when Della came around, I had a different perspective. I’d learned a lot from breastfeeding Owen and I had an idea of what to expect. I wasn’t wrong about all of my expectations, the pain returned but it was short-lived. I didn’t have an oversupply, thank goodness. But I had a few new complications to deal with. I had an idea what I needed to do differently and my attitude was most of it. Looking back, I felt more positive about the overall experience. Hindsight, as they say, is everything.
But most of all I will take away from this experience – whatever happens, it’s not worth feeling guilty about it. I spent so many months of Owen’s first few months feeling like a failure because breastfeeding was such a struggle for me. That damned phrase – “breast is best!” – haunted me. And I know it tortures other moms, too.
I have heard the slogan “breast is normal” and I like that a lot more. It implies that breastfeeding is healthy and nothing to be embarrassed/ashamed/nervous/frustrated about. It doesn’t come with a dose of guilt. It doesn’t make mothers who make an alternate choice feel bad about themselves. It’s hard to encourage, educate, and empower women who want to breastfeed without offending others. But I feel that this supportive attitude can – and should – be adopted by us all. Because the choice of how to feed a baby is extremely complicated. And because one person’s choice or experience isn’t a commentary to someone else’s.
There are so many ways to be an awesome mom. Feeding by breast, bottle, or with formula is just one choice out of many. When breastfeeding works out, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, and it’s making you miserable, maybe it’s not worth the heartache and frustration. A sad, heartbroken, guilt-tripped mom isn’t the best mom.
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