V. >> I don’t know about you, but when I got pregnant, I felt ENORMOUS pressure to breastfeed. Basically, if you consider anything else than plugging your child onto your boob, you’re made out to feel like a mommy pariah… Although I felt a certain amount of discomfort imagining myself breastfeeding, I really, really, really wanted breastfeeding to work for my daughter and I.
Why did I feel uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding? I guess because of societal issues that many women my age and a bit older might have felt when being exposed to breastfeeding. I’d just never really been exposed to it personally throughout my life. My mom didn’t breastfeed my sister and I, and I didn’t really know anyone in my close circle of friends and family that breastfed until I was 25 years old.
The first time a friend breastfed in front of me, I felt 1-a bit uncomfortable because I didn’t know if I should look at my friend (is it like looking into the sun?!) 2- a sense of admiration because I thought it was the most natural and awesome thing for a mom to breastfeed a child. So yeah, I felt conflicted! I hoped that, once I started breastfeeding, my hang-ups would dissolve, and I could be like one of those moms that I greatly admired.
Since I knew jacksh*t about how to breastfeed, I did as much as I could while I was pregnant in order to get as much info and knowledge as I could (for all of you who are wondering how I had so much time on my hands to read all of the gazillion books and watch all of the dvd’s – I was on preventative maternity leave for 4 months. I had nothing better to do!).
The day my daughter was born, not 20 minutes went by before my doula encouraged me to put my daughter to my breast. I felt so elated when she latched on! I thought, this is an awesome start! But then she mentioned that my nipples were really short which could be problematic – and that she hoped that by pulling repeatedly on them, it would become increasingly easier for my baby to breastfeed. And she also mentioned that the clicking noise that my daughter was making would make it harder for her to get some milk, and that I would have to reposition her to encourage her to stop doing that.
We went over a few techniques, and she left. I started breastfeeding my daughter with mucho confidence and pride. In fact, when the nurse came in to see how I was doing, she didn’t believe I was a first-time mommy with the way that I confidently “installed” my little one. Yay me!
And then I went home…
My daughter started to get jaundiced. Fairly severely jaundiced. And so the nurse that visited us encouraged me to breastfeed as much as possible in order to help “rinse” the jaundice out. Baby got increasingly fussy and grumpy and mommy got increasingly exhausted and stressed out. And for the next three days, I would try to latch her on, and she would fuss for well over an hour before actually succeeding at breastfeeding.
I tried my best at staying calm and being patient. I tried different positions. I tried to guide her to my breast, and I tried to let her find it on her own. I listened to her scream in frustration and I looked at her cry her first tears.
Did I mention that I had the most stubborn three-day old on this planet?
One day, after only 5 days of breastfeeding, I looked at a bottle of expressed milk that I was trying to feed to her like a cup (which is a total mess). I looked at my crying daughter who had milk splashed all over herself. I got up, put a nipple on the bottle and popped that bottle into her mouth. And she went at it as though she hadn’t drank for DAYS. I sighed in total relief.
And then the guilt hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew that breastfeeding would be increasingly difficult if I used bottles in the first 4 weeks… But I felt no other choice. I was too tired to pick up the phone and call my doula, or my nurse, or anyone else to come help me. After all, I knew what I had to do. But at that point, it just wasn’t worth it. Part of me felt as though it would be selfish to insist on having my daughter continue to try desperately to latch on to my breasts.
At that point, my nipples torn up and bloody, my energy bottomed out, and my daughter holding onto her bottle like it was the holy grail, I made a decision to stop trying to breastfeed. Pumping my breast milk seemed to be a great alternative. And so a big part of me felt relieved and proud of my decision. But there was this small part of me that felt gut-wrenching guilt and regret. That part of me felt like a total failure.
When I went to a specialty store to buy my own breast pump (instead of paying a fortune in rental fees), still feeling a bit like a failure for stopping, I got the biggest sanctimommy from – go figure – the store owner. When I told her I needed a machine good enough for exclusive pumping, she immediately started on me. I don’t know why she felt like it was her place to intrude on my personal decisions, but she started telling me that I should give breastfeeding another try. That pumping could potentially stop working after a few months. That there were other options for me than pumping. I looked at her, thanked her for caring, and stated that I had already consulted my doula and my nurse, and this was my decision. And I thought to myself “seriously dude I’m about to spend 350$ in your store. Could you STFU and just sell me the damn thing??”.
Through all of this, I learned that although it’s great that, as a society, we’re trying to put breastfeeding back in its right place, the pressure we put on women is completely unfair. We shouldn’t feel bad for not breastfeeding, or even worst, be made to feel bad for choosing another option. Pumping was the best decision I could have made for myself at the time. I still have no regrets. So for all you well-meaning women who care a lot about your friends and family members – or strangers – breastfeeding, always remember – there might be more to their breastfeeding story that you might imagine – and maybe trying too hard to encourage them to continue breastfeeding could do more harm than good.