I drafted this post about 6 months ago. I have since begun to come to terms with my issues. However petty they may seem to others (and honestly, I look back and realize how fortunate I am to have been pregnant and birth healthy babies)- they were really significant to me and my mothering experience. I’m happy to report that both of my children are well nourished, happy and healthy Thanks Be to God.
Ohhh I swore I wouldn’t complain or lament, but I need to get this off my chest.
Breastfeeding has been the number one biggest challenge and epic disappointment for me in my 38 years of life. When I was expecting my son, and even before he was conceived, I dreamed of having our very own baby and wondered how magical and fulfilling it would be to nurse him after his birth. I fantasized I was glowing with joy as I peacefully nursed him in my rocking chair while my husband admired us and was in awe with how capable and beautiful I was.
So very not the case.
At 39 weeks and after a failed induction I had an unplanned c-section which was followed by wicked mood swings and disastrous attempts at breastfeeding. Even after we arrived home, baby never latched on, not once- despite all of the different advice, books, contraptions and numerous lactation consultants— my body failed again. I couldn’t deliver him naturally and show my husband how strong as was, and I couldn’t even nourish him. I was defective and ugly and there wasnt anything anyone could have said to make me feel better. I just cried, and cried. And cried and cried. Then I cried some more. Did I mention how wicked I was? This went on for 6 weeks, and I started to worry! Friends would visit and ask if I was nursing, and it would bring anxiety and stress. They would all give me advice, and sometimes husbands would chime in! A simple little question would trigger so many negative feelings, and when those moments came when some of my friends would nurse their babies in front me, anxiety would fill my chest and throat, and I would become unfocused and nervous. It was awful. (Gladly, that doesn’t happen anymore). Clearly this was not normal, and for reasons I could not and still cannot understand, my breastfeeding experience has a profound affect on me.
I had a repeat c-section last summer, but delivered at a different hospital. I was allowed to have my daughter in recovery; they allowed me to attempt nursing right away, and encouraged breastfeeding. I was better prepared this time and I expected to have difficulty nursing. She did latch intermittently and effectively two or three times. Those brief moments were so beautiful and I will never forget them. I was also more relaxed because I knew what to expect- and that allowed me to be more present during her birth and helped me to cherish the not-so-perfect moments. There was one nurse, who taught me the best way to get her latched on my last day, and I will always think she was brilliant and in-tune with her skills and patients and patience!
Once we were home, it became a little more difficult. She would not latch, I was in pain, exhausted, crying all the time and my 2-year-old son became a beast that detested his sister instantaneously. I was chained to my Medela pump day and night, and it was not doing anything for my self-esteem. I was able to partially breast feed, and partially bottle feed, and after such a rotten experience the first time, I took it!
With both children, I ended up supplementing with formula and my body stopped producing milk when they were 4 months old (note: I also returned to work at this time). I never felt that I made that much milk to begin with, but I could not let go. I never experienced the ‘engorgement’ that most new moms talk about. What slays me is my daughter became a champion latcher by the time she was eight weeks old, but I was not producing enough to nurse her exclusively, despite heroic attempts to increase my supply. I began to resent pumping and having her latch constantly so my body would produce more. It was mechanical and cold- and guess what? It didn’t work.
I am so thankful to God that my children are healthy, born without complications and that we have the means to provide them with everything they need. Alhamdulillah. When I snuggle Tiny Girl in my arms with her bottle, I get warm fuzzies when she looks up at me. I relish the way formula drips from the corner of her mouth to her little stinky neck. My heart flutters when I see her chubby little fingers wrapped around mine and I am satisfied that her nutritional needs are being met and that she is thriving. Contrary to some fo the breastfeeding dictators I’ve encountered, they didn’t sleep through the night (damn!), they weren’t/arent overweight, did not/do not suffer from gastrointestinal plight or constipation plus they seemed to enjoy it.
There is such an emphasis on ‘breast is best’, and all I could think about amid the struggles was “if I lived in an impoverished nation would my children be malnourished or die?”
One of the worst parts about all this, is that I took time away from myself being a new mother for the first time and enjoying it. I took time away from myself to relish every second with my first-born. I was so enveloped in my nursing failure that I think it inhibited some of the natural bonding tendencies. I would do anything to go back in time, and hold him as a new infant, and tell him how much he was loved, before he was conceived rather than agonize over each feeding and wondering if I was meant to be a mother. Those feelings began to disappear when I returned to work because I was so busy, I didn’t have time for non-essential thoughts and literally made the best of every second I had with him. My nursing experience with my daughter wasn’t as severe as my first and I generally had an easier time in all aspects of parenting her.
–Yet as I sit here and write this, unsuccessful breastfeeding has left me feeling inadequate, less feminine, less accomplished and guilty. Despite my primal instinct to nurse my children, I failed. I want these nagging feelings to disappear.