Welcome to Mommy Mondays, my designated day to talk about parenting. Even the hard stuff. Especially the hard stuff. Today we're treading not-so-lightly on a topic that pushes everyone's buttons.
It has taken me a long time to broach this subject because, no matter how irrational it is, there is a certain amount of shame in my breastfeeding story.
When I was pregnant with Pigtail, I didn't give much more than a cursory thought to breastfeeding. I took the class offered on the topic at the hospital, and I armed myself with useful information about how the body worked and how to troubleshoot this natural act. I even geared up for the inevitable physical pain that several of my girlfriends warned me about.
My mom breastfed, my sister breastfed, my sister-in-law breastfed. None of us talked about it much. It was a given in my mind. I bought all the necessary accoutrements. I frankly didn't understand the hullabaloo that surrounds the subject.
Then I birthed Pigtail and within hours after the delivery suffered through some medical complications that were very unexpected. It took a toll on my body that I didn't understand weren't "normal" nor did I know they would stay with me for weeks and weeks afterwards. Through all this I did everything I was supposed to regarding breastfeeding. When it didn't go perfectly, I saw a lactation consultant in the hospital and then twice more at the pediatrician.
By this third appointment, when Pigtail was about two weeks old, I was cracked and bleeding and exhausted and was advised to supplement with formula or with pumped breast milk for a few days because my newborn baby wasn't gaining as much weight as she should have been.
My physical struggles with breastfeeding were, from what I can tell, very normal. Many people tell you that you have to "make it through the first two weeks" before momma and baby find a rhythm and comfort level. I could, in theory, grin and bear that part of feeding my baby again.
A far worse part of those first few weeks was what was going on with me mentally. It's difficult for me to put into words, but this is the best way I can explain it: When a woman breastfeeds, some sort of chemical or hormone is released that can cause a sense of euphoria. Some women swear they've never felt any such thing, other women credit this for the sense of peace of contentment they feel when they feed their baby the way God intended. In my case, a hormone was being released, but it was the absolute wrong one. No matter what my state of mind when I sat down, within minutes after my beautiful daughter latched on I would sink into a deep and unfathomable sadness. Tears would spill down my face. I did not feel this way any other time of the day.
Once I made the connection between the breastfeeding and my complete emotional breakdowns, a vicious cycle emerged where I would dread feeding my child, would clinch my fists through the entire feeding, then dread the next feeding. I convinced myself that this was a storm I could weather, that "everyone" goes through something similar and that I just needed to tough it out.
I lived this way mentally, physically, and spiritually for five and a half weeks. Finally, between the pediatrician, the lactation consultant, and my own quarter-functioning brain, I gave myself permission to give up the fight. At the six week mark, I packed up my pump and purchased a tub of Similac while not looking the cashier in the eye.
Outwardly I was embarrassed that Pigtail was now a formula baby, but inwardly I was so relieved. Motherhood became an entirely different task without this black cloud hanging over my head and heart every minute of the day. I didn't even realize how much this aspect of mommy-dom had overwhelmed me until it was no longer an issue.
When baby boy arrives this Fall, I am going to give breastfeeding another go. Instinctually, I think it's going to be better this time. But if it's not, and if things head down a similar path, then I am going to be much easier on myself. I will not spend the first month and a half of this childs life crying over his eating, I will not berate myself every time I succomb to a bottle, and I will clutch him to my chest instead of feeling repelled by the thought. In fact, I can't wait.
**picture of me holding Pigtail on the day I brought her home from the hospital.