Long before I got pregnant — or even planned on getting pregnant — I knew I was going to breastfeed my kids. The how, the why and even whether I would be able to never occurred to me. In hindsight, those things probably don’t occur to many women. Outside of the scope of mommyhood, I saw the “Breast is Best” campaign and had no reason to give it a second thought. Of course, breast is best. What could be more natural?
We all know the benefits of breastfeeding our kids because of that pervasive message. It’s shouted from the rooftops, often to the detriment of those women who formula feed. Breastfeeding is, and should always be, a personal choice. It worked for our family, and I’m sincerely grateful we were able to figure it out.
Coming into this, I didn’t even consider doing any research or taking classes on breastfeeding. I admit: I looked at moms who still nursed their walking and talking toddlers with a wary eye and “not me” crossed my mind on more than one occasion. Fast forward to today, and I’m still breastfeeding every time she demands: “Boobies.”
Just because we “mastered” breastfeeding, doesn’t mean it has always been a cakewalk.
In all honesty, I was ready to quit the very first night in. Mere hours after giving birth, barely able to move from my hospital bed, my legs weak and numb from too much anesthetic, I sobbed to the less-than-sympathetic nurse that I wanted to give her a bottle. I felt like I was completely incapable of feeding my daughter, who was sobbing herself. The nurse (probably rightly) wouldn’t let me. It set the tone for our experience: late nights and painful latches had me in constant tears and totally stressed out. I had support in friends, family, a public health nurse, counselors and a Facebook group of new moms — but I still felt alone. I spent so many late nights feeding her for 45 minutes to an hour at a time, while my partner slept peacefully beside me. Finally, we somehow hit our stride, and this bone of contention became a source of pride.
I had promised myself we would quit at 14 months. It felt like a natural stopping point — but there are so many reasons why we let the date come and go without giving it up: Weaning is hard, she still doesn’t eat much and gets most of her nutrients from nursing and she uses me as a pacifier to calm herself and get to sleep. Classic mom thinking: I don’t want to put her through traumatic experiences if we can avoid it.
The constant demand is draining me.
I’m an affectionate person in my own way, but even before kids I wasn’t big on touching and being touched. I just prefer personal space. I guess if you want to put a BuzzFeed or Tumblr label on it, I’m an introvert. As much as I love the cuddle-and-hug time with her, I find I get touched-out quickly and often — which is tough when she wants to sit and nurse for half an hour while she watches Sesame Street or we read a book. She has to play with one nipple while she’s latched on the other. She stands up or turns around, jams her fingers in my mouth, pulls my hair and walks on my stomach — the usual toddler stuff. When you have reached your limit, however, it stops feeling like affection and ramps the anxiety machine up a couple more notches.
Breastfeeding is supposed to be a beautiful time for a mother and child, and though I don’t want to diminish my feelings in any way, it fills me with sadness that I won’t be able to look back on this with great fondness. Perhaps the lens of time will color these memories with rose, and I’ll forget how hard it all was. They do say, if it weren’t for the benefit of fading memories, we’d never have more children.
In any situation where there’s dissonance between your own experience and what society dictates, it’s important to remind ourselves that our experience is valid. It’s totally OK to hate breastfeeding, to crave personal space when it comes to your children and to forgive yourself those inevitable guilty feelings for wanting something for you and you alone. Moms may be superheroes, but we’re still human. If we didn’t feel torn in two, we wouldn’t be normal.