When my daughter was born in 2004, I was all prepared to breastfeed. I had the bags, I had the pump. I wasn't psyched about it, but I wanted to do anything I could to ensure she had the best in life. I knew that was breastfeeding. So I asked my doctor for the absolute smallest "good" window. My doctor looked at me like I was nuts, stammered around for a while, then said six weeks. I don't know if he pulled that number out of the air or out of a medical book. I've never heard anyone ask that question before: Probably because it's so loaded.
I breastfed for seven weeks, but I was weaning in the last two, which meant mixing in formula. My daughter gained a pound a week each week I was breastfeeding, a huge and healthy baby, so I can't say I couldn't produce milk or it wasn't working. The truth was that I hated it.
HATED IT. More than the poop, more than the spit-up, more than anything. I hated it.
I was probably doing it wrong, for one thing. I had the nursing consultant and everything, but it took my daughter forty minutes on each breast to eat, and she ate every two and a half hours all day and all night. I know I didn't have the latch right, because my breasts blistered and bled, and the let-down burned so much I had to count to 30 as the tears popped out of my eyes.
But that wasn't why I quit. It was my boobs. My boobs. I wanted them back.
I know, you guys are going to hate this. So many of you have written such amazing posts and essays about the joys of breastfeeding and the right of women to breastfeed wherever they want. And my girls, I so totally support you. I thought it was amazing when Catherine breastfed on stage at BlogHer. I am so jealous of women who can get past my body issues and just enjoy breastfeeding for the bonding and feeding experience that it is.
I don't know exactly what my problem was. Part of it was my association between breasts and sex. Maybe it would've been better to be exposed to more images of breastfeeding women when I was growing up. I just don't remember being surrounded by it that much. It was the '70s, and bottle feeding was the rage. Women didn't breastfeed in public, at least not that I remember growing up in small-town Iowa. When I was breastfeeding my daughter, it just seemed so strange to have her attached to a part of me I associated solely with sex. I couldn't get past it, even though I know intellectually that it's the most natural thing in the world.
I also have to wonder if my past eating disorder and subsequent hypersensitivity to people seeing my body was part of it. The thought of disrobing in public is still horrifying to me, and whether or not you're discreet, it's hard to avoid showing stomach or boob or whatever if even for just a moment.
Finally, I just wanted my body back. Pregnancy was hard for me mentally because of the past eating disorder. I hated having to gain weight. I wanted to be able to make my own decisions about my body again. I wanted to eat what I wanted without worrying about whether it would give my daughter stomach problems. I wanted to take cough medicine without calling the doctor. I wanted to drink a glass of wine without raising eyebrows.
My daughter was on formula, which I bought at Costco in huge cannisters with joy, from seven weeks until one year, when she switched to cow milk. I felt a huge sense of relief switching to formula even though it meant washing all those bottles all the time. It was totally the right choice for me and for my wacked-out body image.
I completely support my breastfeeding friends. I see the breastfeeding choice the same as any other choice about a woman's body: her choice to use her body the way she sees fit. I felt the judgment when I declared I was so done with breastfeeding, but it was my body, and I wasn't comfortable with it. I don't apologize for making the best choices I can for my body and my mental health. Motherhood is an endless series of decisions about what's best for your kids and what's best for you and your mental health, and this is just the first many women make.
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