Breastfeeding: Where was the Magic

ADDENDUM: (July 13, 2016) I'm 3 months postpartum with baby 3.0...breastfeeding going great. Geeze it's such a different journey with each child! #hangintheremom #youredoinggreat

This topic has been extremely challenging for me to write about. One side of me is a totally pro-breastfeeding, “breast is best” banner-waving physician. Yet, on the other more personal side, the experience I had as a breastfeeding mother is kinda dark. Let me explain…

I remember the first couple days after my first son was born thinking,
 “Where’s the (insert favorite f word) magic, the warm feelings, the awesomeness of breastfeeding? I’m exhausted. My body hurts like I have never experienced before. And now I have this new baby screaming at me, trying to suck what feels like the life out of me.”

Needless to say, breastfeeding was not magical for me. Some women really feel an emotional connection to their babies but I can’t say I was one of them.

For me, it was all about providing nutrition. I made it my mission. I was Momma Moo. I was up every 90 minutes trying to get my newborn to latch “naturally” but I would finally give up and get the nipple shield out. (By the way, he didn’t latch until he was about 10 weeks old without the stupid shield.)

I went for help several times. The lactation nurses were kind. They tried to help with latching, positioning, etc, etc. But the more advice they gave, the more anxiety laden I became. "I'm a freakin' physician, I know all the right answers! What is wrong with me"

Next, I pumped and pumped and pumped and pumped. All the information says pump more. Need more milk, pump more. Pump, pump, pump, pump. Needless to say, my pump and I were connected too much.

Then, I criticized my husband for even mentioning using a bottle to feed our ravenously starving child (who I later figured out, ate more than most 6 month olds at only a few weeks old) so that I could sleep 2-3 hours at a time.

We were all miserable and slammed into the rock bottom of this pit.

I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders and that I was trapped. I'm a healthcare professional. A family medicine doctor. I was supposed to breastfeed. I was to be the example. However, I felt defeated, inadequate, a failure. I was broken-hearted and depressed.

I went back to work at 4.5 weeks postpartum and my supply started to dry up at around 3 months. The less milk I pumped, the more panicked and guilt stricken I became. Now, I was totally overlooking the fact that I was working 80+ hours a week, barely getting home to see my family at night, trying to survive without caffeine and unable to stop for pump breaks of even 5 minutes because people’s actual lives depended on my care.  

But I knew it was time to stop when my husband said, "I want my wife back, not this crazy lady.”

It wasn’t until later after stopping and dealing with all the emotions, when talking to other mothers that I realized that I wasn’t alone in these feelings.

But why is breastfeeding so emotionally charged? Why do we beat ourselves up? Why do we feel defeated? Where does this pressure come from?

I think I have figured out a few things about this emotional roller coaster of breastfeeding:

  • Everyone has a story. Good or Bad. Everyone has an experience, all their own to share. This is what each of us refers back to. I have friends on both sides of the spectrum.  One says, “Breastfeeding was so awesome. I love it.” (you can just see the hearts floating around their heads) While another claims, “It was awful. Never, ever, ever again.”
  • We compare ourselves to each other. Even me, Super-Dr. Mom, compared myself to Super Stay-at-Home Mom who could feed every hour, never had to pump and spend every moment with her babies.
  • It’s YOUR baby. We all want the very best for our child. I knew all the stats on breastmilk. How it is the best with all the antibodies and good stuff, decrease risk of later developing breast cancer, maternal weight loss, etc. But no one ever talks about what happens when you just can’t give your child the best and you have to settle for “just good enough.”
  • Your body is not your own. Breastfeeding, I believe, is one of the most selfless sacrifices you can make. As a very independent, “I am woman hear me roar” working mom, it was extremely difficult for me to say no to other responsibilities so that I stop to pump. I was going to have to let someone down. Breastfeeding made me realize I can’t do it all even if I tried my very best. No longer could I work 18 hours straight. I was dictated by boobs that were about to explode, unexpected let-downs and fretting over if I had brought home enough milk for tomorrow’s bottles. I no longer controlled my schedule and that realization SUCKED.

Now, not everyone may feel like this. I’m by no means downplaying others’ experiences. Believe me, I pray for the very absolute best experience for each of my friends before they deliver their babies. But this blog is one more for mothers who had problems, like me, with breastfeeding.

If you and your baby had no problems, you likely will not understand this one. If you never attempted breastfeeding, you will have little insight into some of these emotions. Lactation consultants, you may be thoroughly pissed with me on this one but someone needs to say these things.

I give you permission:

  • To take a break
  • To skip a pumping session
  • To do what you feel is right
  • To ignore medical advice when it sounds crazy
  • To make your own decision
  • To stop

I will support your choice. I felt like I could do ZERO of the previous list at one time or another, I just want to tell you…YOU WILL BE OK. Your child will be ok. They just need nutrition.  You are doing great! You can do it! One feeding is better than no feedings. Two days is better than just one day. But don’t become so absorbed with it that you go stupid crazy.

Remember, we can’t push everyone into the same mold. Yes, all women are (mostly) outfitted with the same lactation equipment but everyone’s journey is different…

  • Breast reduction or breast surgery
  • History of rape, abuse, molestation, traumatic event
  • Difficult labor process
  • Unplanned delivery method
  • Emotions surrounding
  • Family pressure
  • Job requirements and responsibilities

So, the happy ending to this, my baby turned out great, happy, healthy and not emotional scarred (thank you Jesus). And I went on to breast feed baby boy 2.0 as well. When my second son started to reject breastfeeding and showed a preference to the bottle, I was so-so ok with it. Actually, I was more than ok with it, I felt liberated. WE DID IT! We made it 5 months! We celebrated those facts and moved forward.

So, to all those moms out there needing encouragement, just remember this…all anyone ever ask of you is to love yourself the best you can so that you can love your baby. Find the healthiest path for you to do this and embrace it.