Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Naturally, I had worried about so much that was out of my control during my pregnancy and delivery. I had spent 8 months reading various types of birthing and baby books while planning and preparing for my “perfect” natural delivery, which obviously never happened. Since then, I have agreed to remove the word “perfect” from my vocabulary. Now I realize that my baby was supposed to be here early in order to teach me all that he has about him and myself. We must accept that no two birthing experiences are ever alike.
We need to stop comparing ourselves to one another and simply embrace the individualized journey of motherhood.
The failed birth plan was only the start of the adversity I would endure. I never imagined that such a “natural” skill would be the most difficult one that I would ever attempt to master. I thought nursing a baby would be as easy as it appeared to be for every other mother I had witnessed doing it. The expression, “emotional roller coaster” now has true meaning for me.
For six consecutive days, I set my alarm clock to wake me every 2-3 hours so I could pump and drag myself down the hall to deliver my colostrum and breast milk to my baby in the NICU, all while recovering from my surgery during those cold, dark December days. We finally came home and I continued to pump every 2-3 hours for almost 3 months until my baby was able to latch. That pump followed me everywhere. It was my buddy, my sidekick, and I hated it. The routine consisted of trying to get my baby to latch for approximately a half hour, then pumping and bottle feeding him for at least 45 minutes, then washing all the accessories and pumping parts, and finally, my personal favorite, cuddling and staring at my beautiful baby until I had to repeat that dreaded cycle.
Every week, I wanted to give up.
I felt exhaustion like I had never felt it before. I would cry while pumping and forcing food down my throat because although I had no appetite, I knew I needed to eat in order to recharge and make milk for my baby. I was certainly not prepared to deal with the emotional and physical pain pumping and failed attempts to nurse left me with. I sat from a distance with plastic flanges suctioned to my breasts as tears rolled down my face while I watched my husband bottle feed my baby. It was torture. I wanted to be attached to my baby, not to a machine. I kept telling myself, “I’ll try for just one more week, then if he can’t latch, that’s it.'' I told myself that for almost 3 months. I had 2 different electric pumps, a manual pump, nipple shields, gel pads, organic balms, homemade grapefruit seed extract sprays, and anything that could have helped me get through this difficult time. I feared that I had a low supply or that something was seriously wrong because he wasn’t sleeping for 8-12 consecutive hours like other babies I heard about. Then the irrational thoughts began to take over my mind. I had thought I would never leave my house once he could latch because how would I ever nurse in public? How would I ever live a normal life again? What had I gotten myself into?
But every time we had a “good” nursing session, I felt so relieved and couldn’t stop trying to get that feeling again. Hearing him gulp my breast milk down and look so satisfied melted my heart. That feeling was my real motivation to continue trying. The two lactation consultants I worked with kept reassuring me that I could do it, that I wouldn’t have to supplement, and that all the pain would pass. One of my most difficult days was when I woke up with a 104 degree fever. I felt so weak and could not even sit up straight to hold and nurse my baby. I was just glad I had enough expressed breast milk to last the next few days of feedings. I tried sleeping the fever off, but once my mother heard of my condition, she suggested I go to the emergency room right away. I was hospitalized for mastitis and it hit me a million times harder than the flu did. The worst part of it all was being away from my newborn baby and not being able to hold him or take care of him. About a week after that real-life horror show, mastitis came back again to haunt me.
I thought that I wasn’t going to make it. It seemed that those tough times would never end.
After 5 months had passed, my baby started eating solids. This was an exciting time for us because I had read and heard that he would start “sleeping through the night now” due to eating real foods. This, in our case, was completely false. However, I did begin to notice that some days he was less interested in nursing and would even refuse the breast. I went from hoping he would sleep more and need me less, to feeling hurt and rejected when he would choose other foods or activities over me. This was an important reminder that my baby grows so fast and these precious moments we share quickly become memories.
Months went by and yet again I was eagerly waiting for my baby to nurse less often and sleep longer hours. At 8 months old, he was still nursing every 2-4 hours, even throughout the night. Then it hit me. How could I want anything to change after all the progress we had made? My once premature, tiny baby had quadrupled his birth weight before his 9th month of life. It took me so long to realize that my baby is unique and cannot be compared to any text book baby. I began to understand that there was a reason behind everything my baby did. I learned that he would proceed to change and grow constantly, and even if I had just gotten comfortable, I would have to quickly adapt to the next stage in order to meet his needs. My baby needed to be held and cuddled constantly. His mother and father needed to feel the security of holding him on our chests all hours of the day and night, skin to skin, just as much as he did. Our constant attachment worked for us and I have no regrets of this style of parenting my husband and I have chosen. I will forever respond to my baby’s needs and pick him up to cuddle and kiss him every single time, regardless of how many times I’ve been told that I’ll “spoil him” or “he’ll get used to it”.
My baby will rest assured knowing that I will always be there for him, no matter what.
Now it is the start of a new year, 2020. My baby is 13 months old and is still attached to his mamma! Some days, we are home and he nurses at least five times in a 12 hour period. Other days, we are constantly running around town and he only nurses to wake up or to fall asleep. I had set a goal of breastfeeding my baby for one year. I thought we would suddenly end this wonderful adventure after his first birthday and never look back. Now I realize that breastfeeding is much more than I had ever anticipated it to be, and I can’t imagine living my life without nursing my baby. Looking back, I finally understand that these hardships are temporary and pass in the blink of an eye. The struggles of the past are actually lessons to be learned which allow me to reflect on and appreciate the joys of the present even more. The incredible facts about breastfeeding, breast milk and my own body will always continue to amaze me. The combination of it all is truly magical, and I look forward to expanding my knowledge and advancing my education on a topic that has been so important to me and my family.
My husband notably deserves praise and recognition for being there and literally holding me up every step of the way with his own two hands, for pushing me every time I cried and wanted to quit, for still managing to get up and go to work all day then come home and take care of me, our baby and our dogs too. I thank him for being the one who was awake and by my side all through the night to give our baby his bottle of breast milk while I pumped and stored more until that one day came where I would never have to pump again. I thank him for washing the bottles and billions of pumping accessories, for keeping our house in order, for cutting my dinner up into bite-sized pieces and feeding me while I nursed our baby. I thank him for never letting me keep formula in the kitchen “just in case”. I thank him for helping me to trust my own body to communicate with our baby and provide all that he would need. I thank my husband for being such an extraordinary breastfeeding partner and allowing me to put everything else on hold so I could focus on nursing our baby.
“Tell your story. Not for fame or praise. But to ease the pain of others.” Yvette Mystakas - She is sacred
I am extremely appreciative to continue to nurse my baby whether it be in the comfort of our own home, at the beach, at a park, in a store or at a restaurant. I’ll feed or comfort my baby by nursing him any time, any place, as long as we are both willing and able. Nonetheless, there are still instances in which I hesitate and worry about judgement from a society that doesn’t always support a breastfeeding mother and child. I’m taking steps every day to help normalize breastfeeding.
As long as our children are safe from harm and are loved, we need to support one another as we make the best decisions for our own families. We need to be kind to ourselves and accept who we are becoming during such a special transformation into motherhood. Each and every mother must first do whatever is necessary in order to keep her mental health stable and stay strong in order to properly care for and protect her child.
I am forever thankful for this new identity my son has gifted to me and look forward to sharing this humbling and enlightening journey as a peaceful breastfeeding mother.