Nursing was especially difficult for me… My first child, P, would eat every two hours, if not sooner, for that first three months. Which, coupled with my insistence on not giving him nipple confusion, meant I didn’t get any sleep. I began to resent him. I felt like a slave.
My husband convinced me to continue pumping after my milk came in so that we would have a stash and, eventually, so he could feed the baby too. I was so sure that I was supposed to be everything P needed that letting my husband help me felt like giving up on what was supposed to be a beautiful relationship. Even with the sleep deprivation rendering me useless and belligerent, we were able to scrape by that first three months. Then my menstrual cycle showed up, and with it the last of my milk. I was literally pumping all day to get just three ounces.
At six months P bit me while I was trying to nurse him on a plane, and I nearly threw him onto my husband’s lap and said, “That’s it, I am done.” I went exclusively to pumping and supplemented with formula. To this day, nearly three years later, I still feel angry and betrayed by my body.
While pregnant with my second child, R, I prepared myself for difficulty breastfeeding — the same experience I had with P. I adjusted my nursing expectations from nursing for a year to making sure he had colostrum and then three ounces a day. This time I lasted a week before I decided to start pumping exclusively.
I meticulously calculated how much milk I pumped and how much he was eating — trying to figure out if I would have enough to reach my goal by the time my menstrual cycle came and dried me up. I pumped at least eight times a day for at least 15 minutes, if not 20. I pumped in the middle of the night to get better results, cutting into precious sleep. I pumped hands-free while driving, during meals, and basically anytime I was guaranteed time when my children were contained. My menstrual cycle showed up when R turned two months, and my milk supply actually went up. I kept expecting it to go away any second, but even if it did at that time I had a nine months’ supply of frozen breast milk. I hit my goal, and R was only 11 weeks old.
It was maddening that my body was able to give my second son what he needed and not my first. I wish I had known in the beginning that I wasn’t built for nursing; that I should have been pumping all along. I ended up pumping enough milk to feed twins. Once I had a year’s supply of milk I planned on donating all my extra supply. I intended to pump as long as I could for as many as I could. I didn’t want another mother to feel the way I felt when my body gave out on me with P.
Fast forward to the present. It’s been seven months since I stopped pumping. I fed another little one who was unable to drink formula for nine months. The experience of donating my milk has healed all the residual betrayal I felt towards my body for its failure with P.
I really want all new moms to know that for some breastfeeding comes naturally. For others it is the most difficult, frustrating, and demoralizing experience in their lives. That coupled with sleep deprivation, postpartum depression, and life in general, and you can find yourself in an awful place emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Adjust your expectations, know that you are NOT alone, and surround yourself with the love of your family, friends and fellow parents. Whether or not you are able to nurse your baby does not define you as a woman or parent. I say this to women who nurse, who supplement, and who fed their baby formula from day one: You do the absolute best for your baby, and that is what truly matters.
Every one of us has a struggle with one or more aspect of this both challenging and rewarding journey. Talk about it, I guarantee you will find someone who has had a similar experience. When that happens it is like a weight off your heart.
It takes a village to raise a child, and that village is there for parents too.