Recently, I was reminded by a friend that we all have triggers – topics that we are sensitive about that can cause us to feel a spectrum of emotions from sadness to anger to confusion to failure. And in motherhood, those triggers can be endless. No matter how hard we try to change them, there they are staring us in the face daring us to react.
For me, one of those triggers is breastfeeding. Something so beautiful and natural can (when I allow it) get me so down, and over the past few days it’s been taunting me every time I open up Facebook and Instagram as more and more mamas are posting proud pics of their sweet, gorgeous babes suckling at breast with beautiful trees superimposed on them to show how natural, loving, and life-giving breastfeeding is. And it is… it really is… but for me, it’s just not possible.
Can I tell you a secret? Do you promise not to judge? Eh… even if you do, I won’t care… I’ll tell you anyways… I HATE breastfeeding awareness week. *GASP* Maybe hate is a strong word, but I have some pretty strong, negative feelings towards it because it makes me face my own imperfection head-on. It has NOTHING to do with being anti-breastfeeding (because I’m not) or thinking it’s inappropriate to whip out your boobs in public to feed your child (because I don’t). I hate it because of ME – it’s all me and how I feel… and I suspect I’m not alone. I actually really do believe #breastisbest, but I also know that sometimes #breastisnotpossible.
Let me go back really quick to where this story begins so you can kind of get a feel for where I’m coming from, and maybe relate a little… You see, when I was pregnant with my son four years ago, I had every intent of breastfeeding and ONLY breastfeeding. I didn’t buy one damn baby bottle or do a lick or research about various formula options. I was so into doing everything (pregnancy, childbirth, feeding, etc.) naturally, that it never crossed my mind that it might not all go according to my plan (because clearly the path up to getting pregnant with and birthing our son wasn’t enough of a lesson in the futility of planning *cue God’s loving sigh and slight shake of the head*). I even made my husband (God bless that man) take a class about breastfeeding with me. I was so convinced I had this in the bag… it would be easy! And then our son was born.
Listen, anyone who tells you breastfeeding doesn’t hurt is a straight up liar – that ish hurts like a mother! Why do you think dogs and pigs just lay there with their eyes closed when all their little pups and pigments are suckling on them? Because they are praying for it to end! OK… maybe that’s bit dramatic… but you get what I’m saying, right? Sure, maybe as you breastfeed more, and your baby learns how to latch properly (and hopefully doesn’t have a serious tongue or lip tie) the pain lessens and goes away, but most of my friends and fellow mamas would agree that breastfeeding is NOT a walk in the park by ANY MEANS! Beautiful and special – yes; Easy and painless – no.
So there I was a brand new mom after a birth that didn’t really go the way I’d planned (shocker), and breastfeeding was my last chance to… I’m not sure… make it perfect? Prove something? Looking back, I have no clue. But the minute Matthew latched (or tried, or didn’t) it flipping hurt! The nurses tried to help, and I called in my birth coach who was amazing, but it just wasn’t jiving. It didn’t take long for my nipples to start bleeding, and once that happened I really started to hate feeding time. But for some reason I just couldn’t fathom feeding our baby formula… from a bottle. I felt that I would be failing him as a mother, and that we would basically be killing him (thank you biased articles coupled with postpartum hormones), but after a few days, our little guy had lost more than 10% of his birth weight and things were getting scary, so we HAD to supplement.
At this point some of you might be wondering if I really tried everything… I promise you, just short of prescription medication I did. YES, I worked with a lactation consultant. And YES, I rented a hospital grade breast pump. And YES, I did pump for 20-30 minutes every one to two hours while I thought about my baby so that the oxytocin would start flowing. And YES I made those lactation cookies. And YES I stayed super hydrated. And YES. And YES. And YES. But you know what? No matter what I did or tried, at the end of each pumping sesh, I would still had less than an ounce to show for my hard work. It was pathetic and I felt like a failure – pretty much the worst mother in the world.
No matter what I tried, my milk never really came in. “How is that even possible?” you ask. Well, I have I have this super rare “thing” (I don’t even know what to call it because it’s not a disease) called Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT for short). What that means is that when I went through puberty the glandular tissue (aka piping/tubing for future feats of breastfeeding) in my breasts didn’t develop correctly. So when it came time to breastfeed, the milk couldn’t be produced. Like I said, IGT is super rare, so there isn’t much research on it or how to fix or treat it – just other people’s stories. Through my lactation consultant I was able to find this Facebook group where I could read about other women’s struggles, what they had tried, what helped and what didn’t. For two months I tried everything I could (just short of a medical prescription for a medication that isn’t technically cleared by the FDA in the US because I’m not down with that) but nothing helped and I just felt worse and worse. Finally I just had to make a decision to let it go and be okay with that decision. The day I finally gave up on breastfeeding I had so many emotions, but I mostly remember relief.
When our daughter Maggie was born one year later, I wanted to try to breastfeed again. Because we knew about the IGT and what had happened with Matthew, we were able to plan better, and I was able to be more forgiving with myself from the get-go. Right away I had a hospital pump waiting for me (pumping still sucked), and we checked for a lip and tongue ties right away which she had and that we had corrected immediately. But again, no matter what we tried, breastfeeding still didn’t work the way I wanted it to. If I’m being REALLY honest (which I am – ALWAYS), besides being physically difficult for me, breastfeeding was emotionally difficult as well. Of course I had emotions around the fact that my body was broken in a way, but I also struggled with being THE SOURCE OF LIFE. I mean, yes… I had carried these babies in my womb and been their source of life, but that didn’t require that much extra work on my part (well not that much that I had to think about). But with breastfeeding I felt like there was so much more to think about and do while we had a one year old running around – I just couldn’t handle it. So I had to throw in the towel, again, but this time I was more forgiving of myself. This time, I didn’t feel so bad, and I even wondered if my IGT was more of a gift than a curse.
Eighteen months after Maggie made her way into the world, Abby was born. This time I knew the sitch well and after some serious soul searching I decided that I would not put any type of pressure on myself to breastfeed. Yes, I did let Abby try it out quite a few times for bonding and just to see if anything had changed, but within a few hours it was clear she would be a formula baby – and I didn’t feel bad about that at all.
While this experience has been a HUGE lesson for me about motherhood, and control, and while I have learned a lot about myself, especially how to forgive the most important person – me – what I still struggle with is worrying what other people might think when they see me mixing up the formula and feeding my baby with a bottle. Almost four years later, I have really cut down on just how much I care about what other people think about it to “almost never”, but sometimes, on those day when my emotions are high and something else in my world is out of wack, I do worry. Or sometimes, when one of my little cherubs is having a meltdown I worry it was because I fed them formula (it’s not… they are just being jerks – ya… I said that). And if I really feel like throwing a pity party, I make up stories about their future and how being formula fed will make them less intelligent than their peers and total sociopaths (OMG! Snap out of it, Laura! Your crazy is showing!). And of course when I really think about it, I know that absolutely NONE of that is true!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if seeing other people breastfeed makes you feel like a failure, you’re not alone. I see you and I hear you and I feel you, and I’m here to tell you that you are doing what you can and that is awesome! Just keep doing what you can every. single. day. Take the time you need to work through your #momguilt, but work through it… don’t get stuck because that’s when it will beat the crap out of you and really make you feel like a failure. And finally, just remember that NOTHING can make you feel like a failure unless you let it… You are a good mom, my friend. You’ve got this…. You’ve got this.