At Enlightened Mama, it’s probably no surprise that we’re pretty pro-breastfeeding, but we are WAY more pro-sanity, and truly honor the journey of feeding babies, however that looks, knowing that decisions need to be made that support the sanity of mamas over how their babes are fed. Please take the time to read this AMAZING contribution from one of our sweet, sweet non-breastfeeding Enlightened mamas (you may want tissues)…..
It’s World Breastfeeding Week. This is a difficult subject for me. I was unable to breastfeed with either of my children. With my first, the people in the hospital gave me conflicting information. They tried very hard to figure out what was wrong with me. They each were sure they knew exactly what it was that was wrong with me, and were forceful that I was doing everything wrong (though I was following the other nurses’ and lactation consultants’ directions). They grabbed, poked, prodded, pinched, didn’t ask permission, and left me misinformed, hurt, and confused. I kept trying. I ate oatmeal and lactation cookies, I discovered an allergy to fenugreek and took it religiously anyways, I took tinctures and ordered domperidone from New Zealand (it’s illegal in the US), I saw an acupuncturist, took her Chinese herbs, pumped after every single feeding through bloody and raw nipples for 3 weeks straight. Twice I got more than 5 mL from pumping (but never as much as half an ounce total). I worked with a lactation consultant who was supposed to be the best, but who I did not much like, day after day after day after day. And still nothing. Well, a tiny bit more than nothing, since Bug’s weight would remain the same after half an hour of nursing (if there was actually nothing, it would go down). My tiny supply dried up entirely at four months.
With my second child, I thought it would work. I knew better this time, I knew Liz this time, I was doing things well before giving birth this time. Plus, Regions was undergoing Child Friendly Certification, so they should be better too. I already knew a lot about breastfeeding from trying so hard with Bug, and I learned even more in preparation for this baby. When she was born Liz came to the hospital at MIDNIGHT and stayed with us for TWO HOURS. She got Luna to latch. It was amazing. Then dawn came, and things stopped working so great. The nurses and lactation consultants? They tried to figure out what was wrong with me, and what I was doing wrong. They grabbed, poked, prodded, pinched, did not ask permission. At one point a nurse told me no offense, but that latching onto my breast was “like trying to suck on a basketball”. Then she left the room, came back with an ice cube, and without a word started rubbing it on my nipple. Luna and I kept trying. We resisted formula, got donor milk, I pumped around the clock, I ate lactation cookies, did skin to skin all the time, and fed Luna donor milk through a tiny tube taped to my finger after trying to get her to latch every feeding (with and without the tube taped to my breast). We tried to get the hell out of the hospital as fast as we could… and when we did I continued eating all the right things, pumping around the clock, having Luna skin to skin whenever I wasn’t pumping, taking Golacta, seeing Liz instead of the “great” lactation consultant I didn’t like, seeing the acupuncturist, taking her herbs, feeding Luna with a tiny tube attached to my finger after trying to get her to latch for half an hour every feeding (what I mean by “trying to get her to latch” is “listening to my gentle, sweet baby scream and writhe in absolute misery while trying to cajole her into taking my breast.”). Nothing. Well, not nothing… but almost nothing. Just like with my other daughter. And the 30 supplements/day and all the things I was doing were getting no increase… but they were taking time from my child. Our routine of try-to-latch, try-to-latch-with-tube-taped-to-my-breast, finger-feed through the tube, pump took about an hour and a half… you know how often newborns eat? This meant I had NO TIME to just cuddle my daughter, just breathe in her wonderfulness. She had NO TIME to just be with her mama, to just soak in love. The time she spent with me was mostly time spent in frustration as I tried to get her to latch, which was, again, her screaming in unhappiness (and probably hunger), and choking on my nipple when I’d try to guide it into her mouth. It broke my heart. When it became obvious that all of this wasn’t doing anything to increase my supply – which wasn’t enough to even approach ¼ of what she needed, even at such a young age, I decided that I would give anything to be able to breastfeed, EXCEPT my relationship with my children. Which is what I was losing. My time with Luna was mostly frustrating (and heartbreaking) for each of us… and I had no time with Bug. So this time, rather than draw out the struggle, I chose to stop. It still embarrasses and hurts me to think about this, but I chose to stop. Even though I chose it in order to have a relationship with my newborn (and not lose the one I had with my older daughter) – I am still ashamed of it.
Neighbors and strangers tried to be supportive. We knew that all the right things were not working for me – but when you try to explain that to well-intending people, they tell you to “just keep trying” and that it will work out. No it won’t, not for me. Cue the deep insecurities and questions about if I’m fit to be a mother. Everyone has an idea of something they think we haven’t tried. I’m grateful that people want to help me… but this problem can’t be solved, and it’s hard to hear over and over again the things that didn’t work. Now Luna is 5 months old (and my other daughter is 2). I wear both of them around the lake, almost every day. It’s 4 miles. We love this ritual… except that recently every day someone stops me to ask very expectantly if I’m breastfeeding. You know what I do? I lie through my teeth. I don’t have it in me to explain, or to listen to her solutions or her judgment.
I KNOW breastfeeding is hard. HARD. I know it means you are tied to your baby in ways that I am not. I love that my friends breastfeed, and I love that I have met such kind mamas who have shared donor milk with my children. But it hurts a little, and sometimes a lot, when I see women breastfeeding their children. Not being able to breastfeed brings up a lot of existential questions. It makes me wonder what kind of mother I am, that I can’t even feed my babies. What kind of woman I am, that of the two things my body is really supposed to do – birth children and nourish them – I have completely failed at one of them. What kind of wife am I – money is tight, and this was one thing I could do to ease the financial burden of two young children. In private, I’ve found some peace – my children are both healthy and growing – but in public, it’s different. The wounds are deeper when I’m not alone at home with my children. You may not be judging me when you see me take out a bottle to feed my daughter – but I feel judged. I feel like every one who can see me is thinking, “breast is best” and “what kind of mother would choose not to breastfeed her children?” And I feel profoundly ashamed. Half of me wants to tell you how hard I fought to breastfeed… and a slightly bigger half of me wants to hide in a corner and cry. I wish I knew what it felt like to be able to hold my babies to me and know that, just from that, from them being latched to my breast, they were getting all the nourishment they needed to grow and thrive. I wish I knew what it felt like to nurse them to sleep, to see that sleepy milky smile when they’re done nursing (I know the one, because I’ve seen so many pictures of my friends’ babies drunk with breastmilk and grinning after nursing) and know that I had given them that happy reverie.
I know breastfeeding is hard. I know it takes commitment, sometimes physical pain, and around-the-clock dedication. I have so much respect for women who are able to, and do, breastfeed. I wish I could be one of you. And I’ll never know it, but please don’t judge when you see someone who isn’t breastfeeding their baby…