**The following post is not an attack on those who have chosen, for whatever reason, whether by necessity or choice, not to breastfeed. Certainly we moms are hard enough on ourselves without having someone criticize what we feed our children.**
Like most women, I had grandiose ideas of motherhood. I watched my friends have babies and admired the ethereal transformation that took place when they tended to their infant children and toddlers. Most notably, this happened when they attached a hungry child to their breast seemingly without difficulty, while one hand supported the baby and the other reached for a glass of wine. It was an incredible thing to witness, this moment of ultimate multitasking. When I found out I was pregnant, and the idea that I might actually have a baby one day became a real possibility, I was already on board. If this was breastfeeding, sign me up.
Sure, I was a little concerned about cracked and bleeding nipples, and the likely reality that my already monstrous-sized boobs would go up a size or two. But by the time I was eight months pregnant with Little Rock Star, these concerns paled when I considered how fortunate I was that I could have a baby, much less breastfeed one. After all, everyone else survived it. And not only were they successful, they encouraged me to try it as well.
So we signed up for breastfeeding classes and patted ourselves on the back for being proactive parents and giving our son the very best food possible. I pictured myself like my ethereal mom-friends, having that special bond with my baby at the same time I enjoyed a glass of wine.
However, there was a question that everyone wanted to know, even down to the paperwork on breastfeeding I completed for the hospital when I gave birth. Why was everyone asking me if I had a support group for breastfeeding? I didn’t see any entourage following my mom-friends around while they breastfed their babies. Why the heck would I need one?
I shrugged my shoulders and concluded that I did have a support group, if that’s what my breastfeeding friends were. They were supporting me to breastfeed, too. So there you go. I guess?
Then I had a baby to feed. Only then did I understand to the fullest extent what that actually meant.
Because breastfeeding is not for wimps.
Now, I have been through hardships, both emotional and physical, in my relatively modest lifetime. I have had two C-sections, a miscarriage, and have experienced the death of one of my children. I also ran 5ks and endured grueling exercise programs to get in shape.
So let me assure you, breastfeeding is hard.
It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.
And I just wish someone would have prepared me. Yes, I took the classes. Yes, I talked to friends and relatives who successfully breastfed their children. But no one sat me down and said, “Look, what you’re about to do? It’s like, the hardest thing you will ever do. You will cry. You will feel like you’re running a marathon every day for weeks, on the littlest amount of sleep you’ve ever had in your life. And your nipples will crack and bleed. And you’re going to feel like giving up. In the middle of the night, one of the many bottles of formula they throw at you at the hospital is going to look mighty tempting. But you’ll get through it.”
Yes, I got through it, even in spite of having to give my son formula at the hospital to help him gain weight because my milk hadn’t come in yet. I got through having to trick him back to breastfeeding with my husband’s help, with him hovering over us holding a syringe of expressed breast milk that he would squirt into my son’s mouth when he tried to latch. I got through having to wake up every hour and a half to feed him – which meant spending 20 minutes waking a sleepy infant who wanted to stay asleep as much as I did, then another 15 minutes trying to get him to latch while he screamed in frustration, then at least another 15 minutes trying to get us both to stay awake while he ate, only to repeat the process again several times before the dawn.
I got through leaky boobs, a painful letdown (which, for those of you who don’t know, feels like some invisibly strong and painful gravity is pulling at your boobs), and a mild bout with mastitis (read=aching pain). I got through an overactive supply, which made my boobs go up not one, not two, but three whole sizes to the point I felt like Jessica Rabbit nursing a baby. And I got through the guilt of watching my poor baby cough and choke on his food because once my milk came in, my boobs were set to “garden hose.”
I also got through bleeding and cracked nipples, which, as it turned out, had the easiest remedy of all. I just slapped some coconut oil on those bad boys (well, not exactly slapped, but you know what I mean), and the next day I was ready to face whatever challenge this breastfeeding job would bring. And it is definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, a job.
And that support group everyone was asking about? That was actually every single woman I knew who breastfed their children. They became my go-to people for advice on how to handle these formidable challenges, in addition to the breastfeeding consultants whom I asked for help. Together with about 20 other people, me and Little Rock Star were a champion breastfeeding team.
But I still felt like I was missing something. Breastfeeding was not enjoyable for me like it was for other more ethereal-looking moms. I didn’t feel that special bond that I thought I was supposed to feel. It was more like a sense of satisfaction one receives for completing a task, not hearts and flowers and warm fuzzies.
And there was still the issue of breastfeeding in public, which I was having trouble doing. Little Rock Star wants to eat like the true performer he is – not from behind a curtain. He literally threw off every cover I tried to use, and I tried them all – from Babies ‘R Us to Etsy homemade models to nursing scarves. He would cry and wiggle and flail his arms around until I finally realized I had to go au naturel.
But the challenge of breastfeeding became, not the act of breastfeeding itself, but how I felt about breastfeeding – and my failure at becoming the perfect ethereal mom I had always hoped to be.
The idea of nursing a baby in public gave me such great anxiety, I packed bottles of breastmilk when I wasn’t sure I could find a private place for me to feed my little guy. After all, he refused to eat under a tent or a cover, and who could blame him? I wouldn’t want to eat like that either.
But what if someone saw me? What if I became some sort of public spectacle, with my Jessica Rabbit boobs and my little acrobatic breastfeeder? How could I reconcile all this with my crippling social anxiety?
Despite my legal right to breastfeed practically anywhere I want to, the thought of being that ultimate multitasking mom with a baby at her breast and a wineglass in her hand seemed like a dream.
Then last week, when we were at the park, Little Rock Star was hungry.
And I didn’t have a bottle.
I quickly surveyed my surroundings. Several feet away, in a small theater pavilion, a few teenage boys were skateboarding on the concrete stage. Across the clearing, a birthday party was taking place at a shelter. Next to the shelter came the cheerful cries of children at the playground.
And there we were, right in the middle of the park, taking shade at a picnic table under a tree.
I could have retreated to the car, where I could try to (uncomfortably) feed my child. Or we could have taken a walk to find some private wooded area where I could sit on the ground like our ancestors and feed him there. But the more he cried out of hunger, the more desperate I became.
And so instead, I sat down at the picnic table and lovingly calmed him before I discreetly fed him – in public, surrounded by several other people. No cover, no scarf, no acrobatics. Just a mom feeding her baby in the most natural way.
And wouldn’t you know it, no one gawked at me, or tried to take a picture, or told me I couldn’t breastfeed in public. No one even cared. Maybe they didn’t even notice.
No one knew they were witnessing the most beautiful thing – that at that moment, a transformation was taking place. I became the perfect ethereal mom I always wanted to be – confident and calm, knowing I was giving my child the very best food there is. And maybe that’s all it takes to become “that” mom – giving your child what they need, when they need it – whether it’s taking a moment to calm them down, kissing a scraped knee, breastfeeding in a park, or waking up in the middle of the night to give them a bottle of formula. All of it is part of the selfless, unconditional love that comes from being a mom.
The only thing missing was that glass of wine. But when I looked into my son’s beautiful blue eyes, I knew I wasn’t missing anything at all.