When I found out I was pregnant, I’d decided that I would breastfeed my daughter. My mother nursed both my brother and me. The health and financial benefits, not to mention the bonding experience I heard so much about, were more than enough motivation. I’d heard rumors about how breastfeeding and pumping hurt, but I wasn’t afraid. I figured it couldn’t hurt worse than my piercings or tattoos. My tiny breasts grew throughout my pregnancy, and I felt confident that I’d master the art easily. Women are designed to be able to breastfeed their babies. If a cavewoman could do it, there was no reason why I couldn’t figure it out. How wrong I was.
The nurses taught me a couple specific ways to breastfeed my daughter, something that was far less simple than I’d anticipated. I know they were trying to be helpful, but stuff that involves piling pillows around one’s waist to create a fluffy gopher hole while holding a baby in an awkward position is anything but. They explained how to help her latch on, and that if it hurt it meant she was incorrectly latched. Two days after the birth of my daughter, I left the hospital armed with my breast pump and directions for making weird, breastfeeding pillow castles. I went home to begin my journey.
Unfortunately I was not a stellar producer of milk. I struggled. I drank endless juice, water, and enriched soy milk in an effort to help my production along. I made pitiful pillow forts, attempting to mimic what the nurses taught me so that my daughter would latch properly, but felt continuously uncertain my baby was getting enough nourishment. I cried when I could only pump two ounces of milk at a time, because I knew it would not be enough. My days became consumed with my desperation to produce. I felt like I was failing as a mom. My husband saw my distress and told me countless times to just give up and buy formula, but at this point it had become a matter of pride. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do it. There was something about my difficulty producing that made me feel like somehow I wasn’t good enough to be a mother, and that hurt more than anything.
After finally reaching out to family and friends who’d recently been down the breastfeeding path, I discovered/ realized a few important things:
- One of my brutally honest friends told me this and it made all the difference in my attitude toward breastfeeding success. She said, “It’s going to hurt. I don’t care what anyone else says. I don’t care if the nurses tell you that if it hurts it means you’re doing it wrong. It will hurt for probably several weeks. It will totally suck, and then it will stop hurting entirely.”
- You do not need special positions or pillow forts to breastfeed properly. Why make a three-act play out of it? Just throw the baby on your boob and make sure it latches. Period.
- Not everyone is a great producer of milk. There is no reason to feel ashamed. It may not be as easy as pumping eight ounces and sticking them in the fridge. Everyone is different. Some of us need to constantly eat, drink and take supplements in order to produce, while others may not be able to produce hardly anything at all. It’s not failure or laziness; it’s about realizing every woman has different capabilities.
- There is no reason to shame people who don’t breastfeed. As long as the baby is fed, it’s all good. There are many women out there who shame those who choose to formula feed. After my experience, I know I would never criticize someone for not wanting to add additional stress to the already sleepless nights, un-showered days, and endless loads of laundry.
Though I am very proud for making it a year, admittedly I was unhappy with myself a lot of the time. The amount of time I lost trying to endlessly pump, feed, and cursing my unproductive breasts would have been better spent resting, enjoying, and sucking up every beautiful moment with my new baby. Instead of cursing my abilities as a mother, I should have focused on all the things I was already accomplishing, realizing that my daughter would have been healthy and happy regardless of how I chose to feed her. We all make our own journeys. Right or wrong, this is the one I chose.
I still keep two bottles of frozen milk in my freezer behind the frozen waffles and chicken nuggets, despite my daughter being weaned almost two years ago. I know they’re expired and should be tossed, but I can’t. I worked so hard for them. I don’t care if it’s weird that I’ve held onto to my old frozen breastmilk. I’m not ready to give them up yet because I worked so hard for them. They are a reminder of one of the biggest challenges I faced during my first year of motherhood. Make no mistake, the struggle is real.