Jackie’s StoryJackie from Hoboken, New Jersey on July 18, 2012
Breastfeeding. Sounds amazing, right? When you become pregnant you hear about it constantly. Breast is best! Unequivocal, mother baby bonding, beautiful, natural, healthy, the only sane, non-selfish choice. When you’re pregnant it’s not just your body that changes, your inbox and mailbox become flooded with information about breastfeeding. Strangers don’t only give you unsolicited tummy rubs on the subway, they also give you tons of unsolicited advice, you’re going to breastfeed, right? Your childbirth class teacher will preach it, your doctor will recommend it, they even have a lactation coach come to your hospital room. It’s not really a choice as much as an expectation. If you love your baby you will do this. If you don’t do it La Leche League will show up at your house with pitchforks and torches.
I was in! Breast is best! Of course I will breast feed my child, I’m going to be the best mom I can be. My daughter was born and the first few days were ok. Then the mastitis started. Mastitis is an infection that causes large, hot, painful red welts on your breasts. It comes complete with fever, chills, and vomiting. I was put on antibiotics and kept nursing. The first 5 weeks I got mastitis 6 times, complete with 6 fevers, countless welts, 4 trips to the doctors, all while caring and continually feeding my newborn. To put a little salt in that wound I also got thrush in both nipples. I googled thrush and it is described as feeling like hot shards of glass inside your nipples. This is accurate. Clothes were unbearable to wear, showering was impossible. The spray of water hitting your skin was too much to take. My nipples were bleeding so much my daughter’s diapers were pink. Holding your baby against you for a hug is completely out of the question. But you do have to keep feeding them 8 to 10 times a day. It was by far the worst pain of my life.
But I couldn’t quit. The breastfeeding brainwashing had worked and I couldn’t give up. I know there are some people reading this who are sure I must have been doing something wrong - I wasn’t fully draining the breast, I was switching sides too soon, blah blah blah. Listen, it was torture and I did everything to try to fix it. I had the lactation coach on speed dial and went to the doctor 4 times. I fed one side exclusively, I pumped after every feeding, I stayed on antibiotics…so if you still have doubts, save them and accept that breastfeeding is not for everyone!
Of course, I couldn’t accept it. We went on that way for a while, then switched to exclusive pumping. I’d planned on nursing for 2 years and only made it 3 months. I was disappointed and also completely embarrassed when in public. Not one to normally care about judge-y people’s judgments, it was interesting that I cared so much. I think it was shame.
When out with your newborn and you meet another mom, two questions are always asked. Does your baby sleep through the night? And you’re breastfeeding, right? Yes, my baby sleeps through the night. The other mom’s expression changes to a cross between jealousy and curiosity with a glimmer of desperate hope mixed in. They want to know everything that has been done to accomplish this. Then the second question. No, breastfeeding didn’t work for us. A whole new expression – disgust and disbelief. You can see them trying to erase the advice you just gave them on swaddling. They make awkward excuses and move on to find a mother/baby combo that shares their “philosophy.”
I found myself trying to hide it. I’d mix bottles before we left and hope people would assume it was pumped milk. I would even lie if I was talking to a mom I didn’t really think I’d see again. Of course I was breastfeeding, breast is best! The older she got the questions started to phase out and life went on as normal. Then I got pregnant again.
I told myself this time things will be different. I will do it! Breast is best! I’m prepared this time, I started my antibiotics right after giving birth, no mastitis for this girl. This will be so much easier. But I was so deluded and wrong. It was misery. I dreaded feeding him. My entire body would tense up, as I would brace myself for the pain. I tried to distract myself with TV, but really I would focus on the beads of sweat forming on the back of my neck. I’d rather give birth to him all over again than do this anymore. I’m a wreck. I’m too sore to hug him or his big sister. I spend all my time feeding him and engaging in an aggressive regimen of soaking and applying compresses to my battered breasts. It’s only been 3 weeks and I can’t take it.
Failure! Failure! Failure! I can’t do it, I quit, I hate it. I’m riddled with guilt, what kind of mother am I? What kind of woman am I? How can I not give him the best? Shame! Failure! I tell my husband I quit and I cry inconsolably for the rest of the night.
The next morning things are brighter immediately. I’m so relieved to give him a bottle that I know it was the right choice. Even better is that when feeding him with the bottle I’m actually looking at him, we are connecting more already. The dark clouds are lifting and I’m finally able to focus and meet this little boy. My husband tells me he is so glad I quit; he said the baby doesn’t need breast milk, he needs a happy momma.
Then it clicked for me. I had been ridiculous. They need me, the real me, the happy me, that smiles and laughs and sings and does the 1000 other things that only a mom can do. Failure? Ha! I see no failure here! I made this person! Heck, I made two of them! I am amazing! I am Woman! I am Mother!
The coffee shop on my block has a constant stream of strollers out the front door. We go there often. Now I find it comical when I take out the formula to mix my little guy a bottle and the conversations around me halt and linger in the air. One would think that instead of mixing Similac Advanced Organic Complete Nutrition formula with purified Nursery Water I was mixing him a Jack and Coke. I’m too busy with my kids to be bothered by ridiculous judgments and anyone judging us in this moment is ridiculous. He and I assume our position, he grabs my pinky tightly with one little fist and gets my thumb with the other, he looks up at me and every couple of sips he stops, his eyes light up and a dimple appears on either side of his bottle. I know I’m doing it right! I beam down at him, we are happy, we are healthy and we are completely in love.