We’ve all heard of the benefits of breastfeeding #breastisbest! We’ve also probably heard a number of horror stories about bleeding nipples and bathroom feedings. It takes sacrifice, practice and patience but what you get out of it is so worth it.
When I was pregnant for the first time, I didn’t need any convincing to breastfeed. I was so curious about experiencing this miracle for myself (and I didn’t want to spend a fortune on formula). I researched more on breastfeeding than anything else while I was pregnant and I was probably more worried about successfully breastfeeding than I was about labor and delivery.
At first, breastfeeding came easily. Baby latched on well. Except that ONE time. Which led to a cracked nipple. Which turned into mastitis. Oh and what are those white patches inside his mouth? Greaaaat… he’s got thrush.
And then engorgement happened and while I was happy to see the breasts I’ve always dreamed of, I couldn’t put my arms down at my sides because of the milk backed up into my armpits. Which led to a clogged milk duct. Which turned into mastitis.. again.
And that was only 1 month in…
But not once did I think – “maybe this isn’t for me.” Because it wasn’t about me. It was about my baby.
And I was going to give him the best damn breast milk a body could make, even if it meant wearing cabbage leaves in my bra.
But, actually, it was about me.
Because for the 9 months that I carried him, the people in my life took good care of me. I felt like the most important person in the world to them.
They called to see how I was doing, carried bags for me and opened doors for me.
They painted rooms and cooked me food and bought me gifts.
They put their hands on my belly and while I thought I wouldn’t enjoy that, I really did. Because it made them so excited to witness this miracle growing inside of me.
And in those final hours before he was born, they comforted me and encouraged me and cried with me.
And then it was over…
They placed him in my arms and in that one instant it all became about him.
My needs faded into the background and his came first. Everyone crowded around to get a glimpse of his tiny face and fought over who got to hold him next. This was the way it was now, and would be for a very long time. For a few seconds I felt jealous. But then… he cried. He was hungry…
Suddenly I became the most important person in the world again – to him. And it didn’t matter whether or not I was important to anyone else as long as I was important to him.
Breastfeeding my second child came easier.
But she cried. She cried so… damn… much.
She didn’t like when anyone held her except me but she also didn’t like NOT being held.
She refused to take a bottle.
She refused to take a pacifier.
She was constantly gassy and it took an elaborate series of moves just to get her to burp.
The only thing that could soothe her was a nursing session…
In the gloomy hours of the night, as I sat lonely in the nursery with my breast shoved into her mouth to keep her quiet while everyone else was asleep, I felt a deep darkness set in. I cried because it’s so much easier to cry in the dark when no one is watching. I was so tired. And I was so mad. I hated that I was the only one able to soothe her. It felt like a curse. It became a regular occurrence during our 3 am feeding sessions. She would suck and I would cry. I wanted to sleep. I hated breastfeeding. I hated that it was all on me to do this. I hated feeling like I was on a leash, a servant to my baby’s cries for comfort.
But that was just the postpartum depression talking…
My doctor offered to put me on medication – “but you can’t breastfeed while you’re on it,” he said.
WOO-HOO – a way out!
But as much as I hated breastfeeding, the thought of stopping – like really, actually stopping, not just threatening to stop – opened me up to a flood of emotions. I cried again, but not because I was mad, this time it was out of sadness and regret. I was sorry for this little girl who just wanted to eat and her mother hated feeding her. She would be deprived of the benefits of breast milk because of me. I felt like I had failed her.
So I exhaled after what seemed like an incredibly long breath in. And then I felt inspired and encouraged to do right by her.
“No, thank you, doctor. I WANT to breastfeed my baby”
It was the breastfeeding that led me into the darkness but also the breastfeeding that saved me.
My youngest daughter also gave me a fair share of trouble when it came to breastfeeding.
At the time of her birth, we lived in a small town in Saskatchewan and the one public health nurse there had been the public health nurse for over 20 years. She had watched all the town’s babies be born, she helped their mothers feed them, she vaccinated them and gave them flu shots. She watched the efforts of her hard work grow up into strong and healthy adults.
She was, by far, the BEST nurse I ever had the honour of knowing and she taught me more about breastfeeding than I ever learned from the countless nurses and midwives I had in years before.
So we got through the tough stuff, thanks to her.
And it was only with my third baby did I truly come to ENJOY breastfeeding.
Being an already busy mom of two, I longed for those moments when I could just sit down for a few minutes to feed the baby.
I studied her face, her eye color and the way her hair was growing in.
She never bit or scratched me.
She loved to make eye contact.
She didn’t talk or demand that I pay attention to her.
She just drank and was happy and content.
It was a tiny peaceful moment… our moment… my moment.
Now that I am done breastfeeding my babies – I miss those moments… the peaceful ones, the painful ones and the dark ones.
To them it was merely sustenance, but to me it was so much more.