I have had three breastfeeding journeys, and they have all been as different as you can imagine. As I looked down at my baby just a few days ago while he nursed on the eve of his first birthday, I was struck by memory and had so much that I knew needed to be penned or it would be lost in the shuffle of the overflowing thing my brain is.
Joshua has nursed beautifully this whole first year. I prayed about this my whole pregnancy. I don’t mean I prayed like, “God it would sure be nice if he would breastfeed okay.” I prayed like, on my face while pleading with the Lord that he would nurse beautifully because my first two experiences traumatized me in some ways.
With Lauren, I went back to work so I had to pump and store for while she was at Nana’s house. She still latched and ate pretty well with me, but before too long, the bottle was her preference. When she was eight months old, she bit me. It wasn’t a nibble. She broke skin and there was blood and I thought I was going to throw up because it hurt so bad, and then die. Death was surely coming. I saw the lactation consultant, and she advised me not to nurse on that side while using lanolin to help it heal. I could only express with very little suction for short periods of time so that it didn’t tear back open. I was so engorged that I thought I would surely die this time. What came next? Mastitis. It was like having the flu everywhere. Antibiotics helped, and eventually the bite healed. Right after, I felt her start to bite the other side, and I threw in the towel on direct nursing. I seriously could not go through having to recover from a bite again. I pumped and bottle fed while supplementing with a little formula until she was a year old.
Ethan was different. He latched beautifully for the first three or four months with no resistance, and then as if some switch flipped, he refused to nurse. I don’t mean he turned away from it. I mean he would scream until he was about out of breath and would only calm and drink expressed milk in a bottle. The lactation consultant and I were basically best friends by baby number two, and she said she had never seen a child who nursed with such ease become so resistant. Friends, that was a personality preview for Ethan. If he makes up his mind, that’s it. Well, he made up his mind to not nurse. This was right before we moved across the country so I became permanently attached to my pump. I pumped 10-12 times a day to keep up with the huge demand he had. I never thought any part of my babies aging would make me happy, but I was so glad to put real milk in a cup and my pump in storage on his first birthday.
Joshua has nursed beautifully and still is just passed the one year mark. I hoped and prayed to make it to his first birthday while knowing he would be okay if we didn’t. There were a few months right at the beginning where he’d take a bottle at night, but that was short lived. He only wants to nurse which creates its own challenges for a very tired momma, but I know what it means to get up 2-3 times a night to pump downstairs. Getting to snuggle him is much better. We are working on a cup, but he’s still not a fan.
So why did I want to share the specifics of each journey? Why was it important to show the contrast in experiences? I think there’s someone out there who needs to hear what I will say next:
No matter how my children were fed, I was a momma who deeply loved them and cherished them, and at the heart of each journey one thing was true- my success or struggle did not define me as their momma.
So much of the time there’s pressure to rise up the the expectations of others, and it is a damning feeling if you don’t. I felt it the first time when we started supplementing. It’s failure, but not just at the actual breastfeeding; it says you’re a failure at being a mom. It wrecks an already tender heart that is adjusting to so much change while trying to do the best you can for everyone regardless of the cost. I went through some postpartum depression when Lauren was about seven months old. It was so hard to see that for what it was. It was another blow that said there was something wrong with me and I didn’t measure up.
That’s not what was true. There is no fault or blame in any of it, and I can see that now looking back; I couldn’t see it when I was in it.
If you are in a glider somewhere reading this, and your baby won’t latch and your anxiety is through the roof and you are looking at your baby through swollen eyes because you are crying more than you are sleeping, my encouragement to you is that you aren’t alone. Go get help. Talk to a friend. Meet with a lactation consultant. Then do what’s best for your situation to get your baby fed. That’s what counts. It’s actually a measure of what a great mom you are that you are in that seat giving it your all because you are trying to do what you think is best for your child.
You have to know that you have to do what’s best for everyone. You can’t be a wife or mom to older kids or good to yourself if you are putting pressure on yourself to make your journey like someone else’s version of ideal. Find the ideal that works for your family.
I was so excited in some ways to be done with breastfeeding the first two times, but now I’m content to keep going as long as Joshua keeps doing well with it. Even though this last experience has been the easiest in some ways, I’m thankful for the first two because I know my success as a momma isn’t tied to how breastfeeding has gone this time either.
I hope we can all see the truth in that for ourselves. I hope if you’re struggling you won’t stay silent. I hope that we can encourage each other to do what’s best for our families and not cling to expectations that can’t always be met.
There are lots of things about being a parent that don’t go the way we expect, and I really think we would all do a lot better at those times if we could let these things go and enjoy our situations for what they are. Open your hands and let it go.