When my baby was born 6 weeks ago, I thought I was fully prepared. I had read books, taken classes, meditated, washed all the baby stuff, organized, decorated, etc. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong. After my birth went completely differently than I expected, I thought nothing could surprise me, but then I tried to breastfeed. Ohhh, breastfeeding. It’s one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever been through as a woman and it feels like no one really talks about it. I know I can’t be the only one who’s ever struggled with it. I know that for a fact now that I’ve started asking other moms about it…but, for the most part, it seems as if most women are struggling in silence. Why is that? Is our society so weirded out over boobs that we can’t talk about the experiences we have when we try to use them for nature’s intended purpose? The general attitude seems to be this: We have these boobs on our bodies and, no matter what size they are, they feel like the wrong size. For our entire lives we are told that these boobs have a very important purpose and that is to make a nutritious elixir for our offspring. We are also told that if we do things right and we lay our babies on our chest right after they are born, they will latch onto these boobs and these boobs will feed them. Well, what if that’s not what happens? What if one or more of those stars don’t align and things don’t work like they are supposed to?
I’ll tell you what happens, because it happened to me. I can’t make enough milk to feed my baby properly. And that was and continues to be so-o hard for me. For the first few weeks, I flat-out couldn’t accept it, so I just tried harder to make it work. I went to multiple lactation consultants. I fed my baby formula every two hours through a device called a supplemental nursing system, because I wasn’t ready to give into bottle feeding. I rented more than one hospital-grade pump and pumped after every feeding, took supplements and drank lactation tea. I even broke down in my doctor’s office, begging him to check and see if I had any retained placenta that was preventing me from making milk. I read books, did online research, talked to numerous women who had experience breastfeeding, ate oatmeal every morning, suffered through drinking a Guinness. But, nothing worked. I was still making droplets of milk and nothing more.
I felt like a failure of a mother. My lack of lactation (see what I did there?) left me filled with guilt and shame and embarrassment. As I nursed, I would look down at my baby and her perfect latch and think about how she deserved better. I would think about how my body had already failed her once by almost killing her as she tried to exit it, and now it was failing her again by not producing enough food to keep her alive. I thought about how Matt would’ve been better off having a baby with some other woman who could produce more milk.
I knew that this mindset wasn’t good for me or the baby, so in an attempt to make myself feel better I started a list in my phone titled, “Things I CAN offer my baby even though I can’t make her enough milk.” I added things to the list as I thought of them. As the list grew, my confidence as a mother grew a little bit, too.
I still haven’t fully accepted that my boobs don’t work like they’re supposed to. I still have days that I feel like Matt and Lennon deserve better. I still have days where my tears fall onto Lennon’s tiny body as she nurses. But, I continue to nurse her anyway. Then afterwards, I feed her with a bottle so she can grow big and strong. And then she looks up at me and gives me a look that seems to say, “I don’t care how much milk I’m getting, I’m happy to be here with you,” and I grow stronger as well.
If you are a nursing mother or a mother who’s trying to be a nursing mother or a mother who can’t nurse but wishes she could, I see you and I think you’re doing a great job. In fact, if you’ve ever done anything that made you feel like a failure of a mother, I see you and think you’re amazing because you care enough to feel like a failure, even though you aren’t. I encourage you to make a list like I did so you can see all of the wonderful things you are giving to your child. Below is my list (it’s a work in progress), and I’d love to see yours, too.
Things I CAN offer my baby even though I can’t make her enough milk:
- Unconditional love
- A tiny bit of breast milk, which is better than none
- Round-the-clock care
- Songs with personalized lyrics
- Lots of smiles
- A rocking motion when she’s fussy
- A warm chest to cry against
- A warm shoulder to spit up on
- A warm bath followed by a foot massage
- A safe place to sleep
- Book-reading sessions with many different voices
- Clean clothes
- Written accounts of how much she means to me that she can read when she’s older
- A mom who hears her cries, studies them to try to figure out what they’re about and genuinely wants to make it all better
- My attention (all of it)
- My time (all of it)
- The best bottles money can buy
- Attention to detail so she never misses a feeding or has to sit too long in a dirty diaper
- My hand to shade her eyes from the sun