On Motherhood and Hard, Hard Stuff

I am participating in Mothering’s Blog About Breastfeeding event, in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7th. See all of the posts, and join with your own by clicking here.

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!


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7 responses to “On Motherhood and Hard, Hard Stuff

  1. lstromberg

    Some of us simply couldn’t breastfeed for long. All the oatmeal, fenugreek and mother’s milk tea in the world was not going to change the fact that one ounce of milk COMBINED (not per boob) was all that would come out. And I’d stare down anyone giving me sad eyes at the store as strongly as you’d stare down someone while breastfeeding in public. You just don’t know anyone’s story but your own, you know?

    • Exactly. Everyone arrives at motherhood in their own way and maybe we get all knotted up over feeding because it’s the first thing you gotta do once the baby arrives. I never really pumped much, either. I am staring at that machine right now and wishing someone would light it on fire so I don’t have to deal with it anymore. Solidarity, sister!

  2. Christa

    You’re a boss.

    An unfortunate truth about parenting is that everyone cares about it so much – because it is, in fact, important – that everyone tends to judge people who make different decisions. When we research and argue and finally extract our parenting choices from the morass of advice and info-stuffing, it’s hard NOT to feel like our choices are best. And then after we apply those choices to our children, the people we care most about in the world – well, those choices damn well better have been right.

    It’s nice to hear someone (really, anyone) acknowledging that there can be more than one right choice.

    As a single mom at age 24, breastfeeding my son was one of the few things that WASN’T hard for us. I mean, except pumping in the handicapped stall at work. And being constantly damp. But whatever. I liked it, he liked it, we were good.

    Then at about six months, I just wasn’t producing enough milk anymore. He was constantly hungry. The Internet’s helpful suggestion that I bring my baby’s picture to work with me in order to stimulate lactation did nothing. My bosses were impatient with the amount of time I spent attempting to pump. We were all miserable.

    My stepmom told me, “Stick a bottle in the kid’s mouth and get on with your life.” I did. I cried a little bit before and after, but I did.

    And . . . it was fine.

  3. You used “morass” in a sentence, so I think you should win a prize.

    Also, pumping in a bathroom has got to be worthy of a grown-up girl scout badge.

  4. melaniebecwar

    I was/am the first of my friends and family to make it “this long” nursing. I had someone respond to the fact that I still nurse my daughter at 18 months with “I thought she was past that…” the other day. Breastfeeding sure is a unique and personal experience. No matter how long or in what circumstances. You are right that we don’t all have to do things the same way. Congrats on hitting the one year milestone!

  5. I love love love paragraph 4 which basically had the same conclusions I came to after having a baby. I think a lot of moms realize it’s pointless to judge since everyone’s situation can be vastly different. We need to let those moms who couldn’t keep going know we still have their backs!

  6. Pingback: Look What Arrived! |

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