When my sister had her first child, over 14 years ago, I was shocked watching her use her breast pump. What a loud horrifying torture device. At 19 I was the stereotypical blend of naive and opinionated and told everyone I would never breastfeed. Fast forward 10 years later and nothing could have talked me out of it.
In fairness, no one was trying to talk me out of it. While many people asked me if I was planning to breastfeed, I can’t imagine what the response would have been if I had said no. The undeniable message I received from every direction was “breast is best”. I went to a breastfeeding class. I bought a supply of nursing bras and nursing tops and dresses. I ordered my breast pump. Although I was apprehensive, I wanted to give my baby the very best and generally speaking, for me, that means things natural. No man-made formula!
I’d like to say I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted to feed my baby with my own body. That I wanted to connect with him in this particular, physical way. That I wanted this specific experience, but I don’t think I ever thought that. That wasn’t my motivation. I wanted to be natural, environmental and cheap. I wanted to dive in head first to this new mama thing.
As if by not breastfeeding I would be less of a mom or miss out on some key experience.
What if I was so busy worrying about breastfeeding that I was missing out on just enjoying my baby?
I don’t regret breastfeeding. Breastfeeding taught me a lot of patience and resilience. I got to have the beautiful experience of feeding an infant with my old body, of providing life, sustenance, for both my boys which is pretty incredible. I’m lucky to have had the ability to breastfeed at all.
That moment that the baby latches for the first time is such a victory. It’s this incredible feeling of power, but it’s also coupled with incredible pain. Actual toe-curling pain. Fun fact: your uterus contracts when you nurse. This is a good thing for your body but it fucking hurts. As expected, your nipples also hurt. All of this goes away eventually. The toe-curling stops and if you are getting a good latch, your nipples will be okay as well. The feeling of power also fades, at least it did for me.
I never felt as though it was a choice. If you have the ability to breastfeed, you do, right? Even if it’s hard (yep), even if it hurts (yep), even if it means your spouse can’t help you feed the baby (yep). It’s a time in my life that I can really pinpoint the effects of media/social media and how it influenced my decisions. Even the second time around, I still felt an internal pressure to breastfeed as long as possible. I didn’t feel able to factor myself into the decision- my comfort, my needs, my stress level.
Breastfeeding is incredibly cool, but mom’s needs, wants and mental health should be a top priority instead of the last consideration. This is hard in parenting when you are so very needed, needed for the every day survival of your children. But what about you?
When people ask if I nursed Haines, my auto-response is “Yes, but I quit around 8 months.” It’s a negative story. It’s about failure. It’s about how I didn’t make it to a year, the ultimate nursing goal. But that’s wrong. Haines and I nursed for 8 months. Austin and I nursed for almost 9 months. We stopped nursing when it wasn’t what I wanted anymore and our relationship is just that, a relationship, a two- way street. When Haines and I quit nursing, it was a rushed stressful decision that resulted in days of emotional turmoil. Starting him on formula felt like a failure. But the last time Austin latched, I knew the decision had been made. I felt done. I texted my mom friends for support and asked Tyler to bring some ice cream home.
Will I miss that little flutter suck of a baby nursing himself to sleep? Sure, but my baby’s growing up and I miss my body more. I miss myself.