It’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and I am on the verge of the one year anniversary of breastfeeding my youngest child. One year is the big goal in breastfeeding. Maybe I am just sleep-deprived right now, but I honestly can’t remember if one year is the magic number because there is some health milestone or if it’s because after one year they can move on to milk instead of formula.
I was all prepared to write about how hard my breastfeeding relationship with my two children has been. It took us a long while, when they were newborns, to get to that comfortable place where nursing was routine and ok. I could write a lot about what we went through and how even the second time, when I thought I was doubly well-prepared, it was hard in a new way. I did a lot of work to breastfeed: lactation consultants, nurses, books, classes, a few different nursing pillows, appointments, recovering from mastitis, internet research, youtube videos, more books, conversations with everyone, pumping, triple feeding, dietary supplements, ENT visits. Many people told me it wasn’t supposed to be this hard; they told me it was ok to quit. I didn’t listen. I made it work. I told myself at the end of the day that I could do this for one more day and tried not to think about the toll it was taking on me any more than that.
So, I’m a success story, huzzah! But, you know what else I did? I did not go back to work, I did not leave the house (for fun) for probably three months, I had my mom spend her vacation helping me feed the baby his extra bottles while I pumped, I didn’t really sleep, I watched all the seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and then I watched Angel, and then I watched Bones from my nursing spot, I yelled at my husband, I cried. Maybe most of that (Buffy aside) sounds like hard work, but really to me that is a list of privilege. I didn’t go back to work because I didn’t have to. My mom helped out because she could, because she is alive and healthy and has summers off of work. My husband did all the grocery shopping and made trips to the specialty nursing store because he had the time and energy and because we live near a specialty nursing store. I bought $35 worth of some fancy blessed thistle pills because I had the money for them. I didn’t give up because, for whatever reason, my mental health allowed me to go without sleep and get over mastitis without crumbling.
I expected to come out the other side of this struggle with an attitude of, “Hey, if I can do it, you can do it.” And I was going to write about that today. But as it turns out, I went through it all and landed on the idea that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be for everyone. It’s hard and life is hard and being a mom is hard and there are lots of ways to be a mom. We don’t all have to do things the same way. I support the moms I see breastfeeding, I super-duper support breastfeeding education (without it, I don’t know what I would have done), I will nurse in public and yell someone down if they don’t like it. But I stopped giving sad eyes to the ladies buying formula at the store. I don’t judge them like I did before I had kids. I didn’t know, back then, how difficult things could be with a new baby.
Last August, I was holed up in my bedroom with my new baby while good friends chased my two-year-old through the house and kept him out of my hair. Last August, I was leaving messages for the lactation consultant, trying to talk louder than the baby was crying, asking her what on earth was wrong with him. Last August, I was shivering in pain with mastitis at 11pm, trying to convince myself that I could hold on until the doctor’s office opened in the morning so we could avoid taking my one-week-old with me to the emergency room. Last August, I was reading kellymom in my spare moments, searching for things like “won’t stop crying” and “overactive letdown” and trying to figure out what to eat or not eat to help regulate my milk supply. It wasn’t just as hard as it had been with my first, it was also the complete opposite of all my old nursing problems.
But tonight, I cuddled and nursed my giant one-year-old baby/kid to sleep and I realized I have almost forgotten how rough those first few weeks were. And I am so glad they are over. Happy Breastfeeding Week!