I was so excited to get this post from my bud at New Mom on the Blog, because it pretty much sums up how I felt about breastfeeding even though I didn't take chemistry (I don't like science unless you're adding mentos to coke or making my hair shiny). No matter. This post is brilliant and I hope you like it as much as I do.
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When I was in high school, I was, for all intents and purposes (read: if you don't count gym class) a straight-A student. I've mentioned that on my blog before and I will keep mentioning until one of you people send me a freaking medal.
My sophomore year, one of the classes I did exceptionally well in was Chemistry. I had a great teacher and somehow ended up really enjoying the class. When time came to register for the next year's classes, I boldly signed up for ADVANCED COLLEGE-LEVEL CHEMISTRY knowing that I would surely excel given my track record.
Flash forward to the first semester of ADVANCED COLLEGE-LEVEL CHEMISTRY where I am crying as I attempt to complete my impossibly hard homework. And that was the second week of classes.
It was hard. I had never felt so un-masterful at something in my life.
Several tearful conversations with my parents and one phone call to a guidance counselor later, I was turning in a slip asking my Chemistry teacher to allow me to drop the class. I felt like an absolutely total failure and it was one of the few things in my life that I had ever really given up on.
Now, flash forward about 10 years. It's 2:00 am. I have a tiny baby who is screaming to be fed, but who seems to slip off every time I get him to latch onto my breast. I'm asking my husband to bring me the nipple shield "just one more time" to see if it helps at all. I'm screaming at him when his exhausted hands fumble it so that it lands on the floor and he has to go wash it for the 12th time that day. The helpful words of a lactation consultant – Don't get too dependent on the nipple shield or it might affect your supply – are ringing in my ears. And suddenly, I am that same girl failing ADVANCED COLLEGE-LEVEL CHEMISTRY except that this time it is with the life of another human and I'm ready to just crumple into a ball of tears. I'm failing. Again.
I start out with this story so that I can explain to any reader out there who is considering breast feeding or who is currently struggling with breast feeding – it. is. freaking. HARD.
Anyone who tells you differently? Is either a wizard, a genius, or - most likely, LYING OUT OF THEIR ASS.
All of that said? There are lots of things in life that are hard and are still totally worth doing. Shoot, at this point, you already have survived child birth – and most women describe that as the hardest thing they've ever done. Breast feeding should be cake, no?
The answer is NO. It isn't. It's ADVANCED COLLEGE-LEVEL CHEMISTRY.
Before I was pregnant, I was a completely clean slate when it came to feeding options for babies.
I was breast fed, but my mother was also a working mother (and this was before the days of lactation rooms and two-phase expression technology electric pumps) so when she wasn't at home, we got formula.
Pretty much up until my friends started having kids, I thought feeding with a combination of formula and breast milk was normal. In fact, I once made the mistake of innocently and naively making a statement like that once.
It was then that I was quickly initiated into the hottest debate this side of motherhood.
Let it be known that I am not one for any kind of polarized debate unless I'm watching it unfold on an episode of Real Housewives and table flipping is involved.
And because of this, even before my child was a blip on an ultrasound screen, I found myself feeling intimidated into making certain choices and slowly internalizing this guilty feeling that if I didn't succeed in breast feeding my child – I was a big. fat. FAILURE.
When I, myself, became pregnant I quickly adopted a motto I hold throughout my life – I'll try anything once. After all, breast feeding seemed like a reasonable, cost-effective, and nurturing choice. So, why not? My cousin suggested a great book, I signed up for classes, and talked to lots of different friends, health professionals, and fellow mothers all to learn how to breastfeed.
In my contact with this brief education, I saw an overwhelming theme: judgment.
It became clear that people who were passionately pro-breastfeeding were...well, passionate. And? A little nutty. (Calm down, I said "a little.") It also became clear that a lot of those same people were ready to call me a failure the minute I didn't succeed in something that is supposed to be "the most natural and nurturing thing a mother can do" but what I also came to find was the scariest and hardest thing I would embark upon in. my. life. And that feeling of judgment and failure brought back even more painful memories of ADVANCED COLLEGE-LEVEL CHEMISTRY.
Those feelings didn't exactly make me want to succeed.
It made me want to quit before I even started.
Yes, breast milk is the perfect food source that is engineered by your body for exactly your baby. It is in an incredible bonding experience. The health benefits are innumerous and the science behind it is so freaking cool it will blow your damn mind. The research supports women who choose to breast feed their children.
So, why do some of those same women feel the need to demonize any mother who even sniffs in the direction of a can of formula?
Unfortunately, I can't answer that question.
I can tell you that breast feeding is so freaking awesome for you and for your baby.
I can also tell you that it's really hard.
I can tell you that there are lots of "fun" things that can happen to you while breast feeding - thrush, engorgement, mastitis, etc.
I can also tell you that while I wore bras with underwire, cut down to 1-2 pumping sessions very quickly once I went back to work, and never had a single supply issue - I also never was affected by any of the above.
I can tell you that some women are fanatical about breast feeding and will whip out a boob in protest of any person, place, or thing that doesn't fully support her right to public nudity.
I can also tell you that you don't have to be one of those women.
I can tell you that in your contact with books, nurses, and lactation consultants that you will learn about 8 different ways to hold, latch, and nurse.
I can also tell you that none of those people or books told me that my son was "tongue tied" and that's why he had a little trouble learning how to latch.
AND, I can tell you that eventually we worked it out without intervention.
I can tell you my favorite metaphor about breast feeding: that it's like a nurse walking into a room, handing you a syringe, and telling you to give yourself an injection without teaching you how to do it.
I can also tell you that, eventually, you'll learn how to give yourself the injection.
I can tell you that for me, breast feeding was like ADVANCED COLLEGE-LEVEL CHEMISTRY and that at the beginning, I wanted to quit every single day.
I can also tell you that after 12 successful months of breast feeding, I am so so so glad I didn't.
I can tell you that if you choose to breast feed, you are going to be so happy you did. You are going to have a happy, loved baby and you're going to enjoy every minute of it.
I can also tell you that if you try it and it doesn't work, if you decide it isn't for you, or if something else happens where you aren't able to continue with breast feeding, you need to pour yourself a gigantic glass of wine, and pat yourself on the back for trying. Also? You are going to have a happy, loved baby and you're going to enjoy every minute of it.
And if you do choose to "give up" to drop ADVANCED COLLEGE-LEVEL CHEMISTRY? That's okay. You are not – I repeat – NOT a failure.
My only wish is that more moms would stop being all judgy-wudgy of each other and the things that we do. I wish that these mothers will instead begin offering the acceptance needed to be successful in breast feeding in parenting. Mothers who feel supported in their choices are more likely to stick with those choices. And that goes for breast feeding or daycare or vaccinations or prospective colleges.
Mothers who are able to get the education about breast feeding that they need will be more successful in trying it.
Mothers who feel judged by any doubts, questions, or choices they make? Will want to give up before they even start.
So, the next time a mother-to-be innocently discusses the scary topic of breast feeding with you – maybe come from a place of acceptance and support. Give her balanced, helpful, and good information about how great/not great breast feeding was for you, but make sure she knows that whatever she chooses is the right choice.
I may only be one year into this whole motherhood thing, but I can tell you this – that's all I've ever wanted to hear.