Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How Breastfeeding Was for Me

I feel like I could possibly get a lot of flack for this, but it's been weighing on  my mind for like, oh, almost 4 years? 

I'll start by saying that this is my experience, and I know there are others who will have had different experiences.  I know that. But here it goes anyway.

It's no secret that I nursed my son for over 3.5 years, before he finally weaned himself, most likely just because I was pregnant.  Our nursing relationship had been a success from the get-go, he never had to take a bottle and never had a drop of formula.  By all means, it was a successful nursing relationship.

But here's what it wasn't: easy.  At least, not always.

One of the biggest things I run into are people who find out about my nursing relationship with my son, and they immediately assume that everything went perfectly for me.  They assume it was easy.  If they had a terrible nursing experience and they have guilt about it, they always feel like they need to "explain" themselves to me.  The fact is, they don't.  I don't have expectations of others or place value on them as parents based on how they fed their kids.  I just don't. 

Now that I'm pregnant, I'm running into a lot of the same breastfeeding dialogue I remember from when I was pregnant with Aias, except this time, I'm interpreting it differently. I see a lot of this:

"I'm going to try to breastfeed."

"I hope I can nurse."

"I'll nurse if I'm able to."

Fair enough.  That was me as well.  I said all those things, probably verbatim.

And people who advocate for breastfeeding will say things like "Don't TRY, just plan on DOING it" or "It's easy, and it's natural, and you can totally do it!" 

The truth is, you will likely have no physical reasons why you can't nurse.  If you have an easy vaginal birth, your kid doesn't have some sort of issue with tongue tie, if you are like most people and don't have some sort of medical issue that interferes with breastfeeding. And frankly, this is most people. 

But even if you have everything going perfectly for you, it won't necessarily be easy. I say this not to discourage you, but to assure you how incredibly normal that is.  And to tell you that you should not feel ashamed about it or let it drive you to quit because you believe you are somehow incompetent.

Why else do I say this? Because on all these forums and blogs, pro-breastfeeding advocates try really hard to convince you that breastfeeding is super easy.  Like they are marketing a product, they want you to buy it, so they say all the things you want to hear. They say things like "It shouldn't hurt if you are doing it right" and "breastfeeding is what's natural so you are meant to do it."

Then guess what happens? One of two things:

1. Everything goes well and it's super easy, and you become one of those people who says how easy it is, and whose mind is boggled when it isn't easy for other people.


2. It isn't easy, there are hangups, or you just feel downright unnatural, and you are suddenly convinced it's all a big fail or something is wrong with you.

Here's how the first 8 weeks of nursing were for me, and remember, I successfully nursed for 3.5 years, no bottles, no formula.

- Day one:  Baby nursed like 5 minutes after being born.  Not for very long, and it felt awkward and weird. Had the doula squeeze colostrum out for me to prove it was there. Still not entirely convinced.

- Day two: We went home.  I had a My Brest Friend nursing pillow.  I kept doing exactly what the midwives, doula, lactation consultant, and nurses said, and I felt like a fraud. It didn't feel natural. It felt absurd. I felt like I was doing it wrong for sure.

- Day three: Milk came in and was squirting everywhere.  I felt like a goof.  Thought for sure the baby was starving. Feeding the baby with my slippery engorged boobs was like rubbing together two bars of soap.  Was most definitely latching him wrong.

- Day four: Huge chunk of something falls off  my right nipple. WTF?  Unbearable to let the baby nurse on that boob, so I didn't for like two weeks. Was convinced I had ruined my milk supply.

- Day five: Still felt like a tremendous goof every time I pulled my kid on to latch. Why are babies so small? They can't do anything! How can it feel so absurd to do this!

- Day six: Convinced baby is starving. The baby eats non-freaking-stop.  Surely because it's starving?  Why am I nursing this baby feeling like an awkward clown for like 16 hours a day. 

- Day seven: Midwives (once again) confirm that baby is not starving despite weight loss that is supposedly normal after birth.  Still haven't used right nipple, hoping the weird part that falls off grows back like a lizard tail.

- Day eight:  Start buying supplements because I'm convinced I'll have a terrible supply because pretty much everyone on the Internet seems to.  Start religiously reading Kellymom.com, even though I read every article on it like 10x before the baby was born.

- Day nine: Still feel like a fool.  I now smell like maple syrup from fenugreek.

- Day ten: Boobs are killing me.  Discovered gel pads.Discovered cloth breast pads and that if I nurse on one side, I need to push on the other boob to prevent leaking and a sort of "snapping" feeling.

- Day eleven: Mystery fever but boobs don't hurt.  Midwife comes over, it's probably mastitis.

- Day fourteen: Baby hasn't starved yet but I still feel like a clown, completely unlike the majestic photos of nursing I've been exposed to on the Internet.

- Day fifteen: Baby goes on all night nursing bender, for literally 6 hours, I watch half a season of Glee while in an exhausted stuper

- Day sixteen:  I'm back down to my pre-baby weight, but I'm fairly sure I'm consuming 5,000+ calories a day.  That's no exaggeration. 

- Day twenty:  Apparently all babies do is eat.

- Day twenty-four: Why do my nipples still feel sort of raw? I love gel pads. I love lanolin.

- Day thirty:  I can nurse on my right side without wanting to kill myself.

- Day thirty-two:  I still feel like a fool, but now I can use the peanut cushion and I'm sort of getting a rhythm. Baby still hasn't starved.

- Day thirty-five:  Starting to feel slightly normal. SLIGHTLY.

- Day forty: Boobs barely feel raw anymore. Googled "side-lying" and tried it.  Clearly impossible.  I'm not talented enough to do advanced things like this.

- Day forty-five: Finally in the swing of things, but still feel goofy.

- Day seventy (ok, I went further than 8 weeks): I finally feel like I've got this thing down. I can even nurse in public!  Can side-lie like a pro and therefore can finally sleep.

Thanks Peaceful Parenting, this image is very accurate.

Websites and women who really want you to nurse will sometimes tell you it's easy, because they want you to do it.  Because no one wants to discourage you, they may tell you how amazing and beautiful and easy it is, because they don't want to scare you away.  I think that's kind on one hand, but totally un-helpful and condescending on the other hand. Because honestly, you aren't stupid.  You will figure out pretty quickly how nursing goes for you, and if it's easy and comes naturally, that's freaking amazing. But if you've been told 1,000 times how easy it is, and then you find that it isn't so easy, or if you feel incredibly awkward like I did, you may second guess yourself.  You may think there's no hope or that you just don't have it in you.

But guess what? You probably do have it in you.  It's just not that easy for everyone.

Let me also point out that while I was on mat leave, my partner took 3  months off work to stay home with us. He did 100% of the cleaning, 100% of the shopping, 100% of the cooking, 100% of everything that did not involve feeding our newborn.  In other words, I had pretty much a perfect situation and I spent basically 3 months with only one responsibility, to figure this nursing thing out, and even then I felt like a clown most of the time.

By the time my kid was 3 months old, it felt like I had been nursing my whole life.  I could not for a single second believe that I had somehow succeeded at this, because I went so long in the beginning feeling like a huge awkward goof. 

One thing I never do now is tell people how easy nursing is in the beginning.  If I'm in a group and someone asks about it, most of the other pro-nursing people around me will say how easy it was for them, and I will explain that it was a HUGE challenge for me, and I will get glares from those other moms as if to say "Don't ruin breastfeeding for her! You aren't representing it well at all!," but I'll continue to be honest about it, not because I want to be Debbie Downer, but because I think that women are smart.  They don't need to be told something is perfect and wonderful and easy in order to be motivated to do it, or in order to decide they want to give it a try.

Women don't need to be lied to or protected from the truth in order to have success with something that well, to be honest, is a lot of freaking work.  Have more faith in women than that.

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