Every pregnancy book I forced myself to read told me that I absolutely had to breastfeed. It was a non-negotiable. It was the only way to feed your baby.
I was convinced that I’d form an instant bond with the baby. The baby would look lovingly into my eyes as she lapped her nourishment from my engorged breasts. I would release endorphins during the process. I would begin to feel that loving connection with my daughter—only felt through breastfeeding.
It was the very life source for baby. The baby that is breastfed is healthier, gets fewer medical problems, wouldn’t develop allergies and would avoid other maladies. And on and on and on. I learned this through thick, door-stop like books and classes. Ah yes, there were classes. One of these three-hour classes came replete with videos on how to properly position the baby to latch on and how to squeeze your nipple into the baby’s mouth. I learned about breast massage and nipple stimulation and hot showers. I was prepared. I took notes. I watched my videos online. I even watched one on manual expressing. I nearly puked.
My first signal something was awry with this entire breastfeeding propaganda was when the lactation consultant told me I couldn’t think to go back to work until my milk supply was established. At least six weeks. I told her that was not possible. I was going back after two. Come hell or high water, I was going to be back in the office. But commitment to the process and to feeding your baby what she needs is most important, the consultant told me. But, I have to go back to work. It’s not a question. Period. She pressed on: I can’t imagine you not taking time for this. You’re her mother.
I felt like a failure. With my rotund belly ready to pop, I felt like I was already going to scar the kid for life. If there was a written test on breastfeeding, I would have passed with flying colors. If there was a driving portion, I would have failed…miserably.
First, I’ve never had a deeper understanding or appreciation of my breasts as feeding mechanisms. I’ve grown up thinking of them as sex objects and not as nourishment. So, it was quite a leap of faith to convince myself that I would commit to breastfeeding. But, I did. Really, I did. I was committed.
I had bought boxes and boxes of nursing pads for my leaking breasts. I bought freezer bags so I could store my extra milk. I had the most expensive pump on the market to establish supply and to pump effectively and efficiently at work. I had nipple creams and nursing tops—in all colors. I was all set.
But then came real life. Three weeks early and after a traumatic birthing story, tootsie roll and I were having technical difficulties—severe technical difficulties. Four different lactation nurses/consultants tried to help. We dutifully and eagerly tried every position and every hold technique and every bonding ritual known to man (and women). Nothing was working. If toots would get a proper latch, there just wasn’t much milk. She’d scream. Meanwhile, I waited and waited to get engorged.
Tootsie wasn’t having any part of my breasts so I took to the pump to at least give her that “golden nourishment” from a bottle. I would “power” pump and pump and pump every two hours for at least two weeks. I took enough Fenugreek pills to smell like an IHOP a mile away. I drank gallons of fennel tea. I shoveled spoonfuls of oatmeal day after day. I even took prescription medication to make me produce milk.
I was only making four to five ounces of breast milk a day. That was it. Baby easily ate 20 ounces a day. It was never going to work. I was even waking up at three and four o'clock in the morning to pump because that’s when your body allegedly makes some chemicals to stimulate milk production. Did you know that? Bullshit. Not my body.
I went back to work early. I dragged that heavy pump with me every day. I would pump every two hours. I made the time. It was more effort than it was worth. By the time I strapped those puppies into the pump and pumped for about 30 minutes, I maybe had half an ounce of milk. By the end of the day, I had filled one little two ounce container that would last the tootsie roll all of a few gulps. I had container upon container sitting on my counter top ready, sterilized, waiting for that supply to just “come in.” I never opened the freezer bags. I laughed every time I looked at the nursing pads. The only thing leaking was my eyes.
I would cry and cry and cry about failing at breastfeeding. Between the pumpings at work, I would scour all the websites and blogs and chats looking to find people like me. Anyone? Someone similar? What was wrong with me? What did I do wrong?
The final straw was when my precious little one no longer wanted to drink the pumped milk. She’d taste it and reject it. I would wind up dumping the milk after all the effort. That was the final nail on the coffin. That was it. I would not do this to myself. She was thriving on formula while I suffered and beat myself up over this. I was getting depressed. There was nothing wrong with her. She was a happy, bubbly, plump munchkin who happily inhaled sweet potatoes and peas and rice cereal at three months.
Four months after birth, I finally put that pump away. I dried up in a day.
I wish someone would have told me that breastfeeding won’t work for everyone. I wish someone would have said that it’s okay not to breastfeed.
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(photo: NatUlrich / Shutterstock)