World Breastfeeding Week: Sometimes Breastfeeding Sucks

"A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence." Grantly Dick-Read

I looked forward to the birth of my first son with great anticipation. I read books, watched videos, talked to everyone. I was a little nervous about childbirth, nervous about being a good mom. I worried about how much I would love him and if we would bond. There was a lot to worry about. But I never worried about breastfeeding. The delivery was much better than I anticipated. Our new baby was so beautiful. We fell in love with him immediately.

Then it came time to feed him. I thought this would be no big deal. You whip out your boob, stick the baby on and bam, out comes milk, right? If I had any trouble my mom, a Labor and Delivery nurse who was studying to be a lactation consultant was right there. 

After hours of unsuccessful attempts they sent in the lactation consultant. Still no luck. Turns out a mom with inverted nipples and a tongue tied baby are a bad combination. She got me a pump and suggested I pump and spoon feed so as not to confuse my baby with a different type of nipple until I could get him to breastfeed. She recommended having his tongue clipped before we left the hospital. 

Then came the pediatrician on call. She refused to clip the baby's tongue because she didn't believe that could prevent him from breastfeeding. She also refused to discharge me because my baby still hadn't breastfed. I tried again. And again. Finally, the lactation consultant convinced the doctor to let me go home with a pump and the promise that I would come back and follow up. 

What followed were three months of ecstasy and misery. My baby was perfect: sweet and good nurtured and adorable! I loved every part about being a mom. Every part except breastfeeding. It hurt so much! I cried and cried. I pumped and pumped, hoping that would help alleviate the pain. I pumped until my milk turned pink with blood.   

Finally, after three months we started to figure things out. Feedings went relatively smoothly and we all relaxed. I could hold my little one and gaze at his precious little face the way I had imagined. Breastfeeding was never comfortable, but at least it was endurable.

When I found out I was pregnant with my second son I felt much less worry. I knew what to expect. When my midwife asked be about my fears and concerns I told her, "I'm not nervous about the birth. That part is easy compared to breastfeeding. I am terrified to breastfeed again. I have nightmares about it." 

I tried to prepare. I read up on the literature. I bought booby tubes, nipple cream, teas and supplements, gel pads, special bras and pillows. I was ready and this time I was going to knock this breastfeeding business out of the park.  My midwife and my friends assured me that the second baby would be much easier than the first. 

It was never easy. I believed it was important. Isn't the essential, visible act of mothering being able to feed your own child? 

I couldn't do it. 

This baby was tongue tied too and I begged the pediatrician to clip his tongue. He did so reluctantly, but it didn't help. We went home from the hospital pumping. 

The WIC classes and the lactation consultants didn't help. All the products I bought made things better but none could take away the intense pain of breastfeeding. I was cracked and bleeding and sore. 

Again I turned to pumping. Every two or three hours I repeated the ritual: pump, cry, clean. With grim and obsessive determination I pulled out my pump. How I hated that pump! I dreaded the sound of the suction pulling on my breasts, still tender and raw from the last session. I cried as the milk dripped slowly into the bottles. 

The last straw was the medication I was prescribed to help heal my nipples. The lactation consultant said she hurt just looking at them. I had an allergic reaction to the medicated cream. I couldn't do it any more. 

There were many tears, many prayers, many conversations with those I trust. There was no flash of insight, no grand moment when I came to myself. I slowly came to realize that I was trying too hard to conform to an idea of motherhood that was unrealistic for me. My ideal was getting in the way of creating a meaningful bond with my baby. If I continued what I was doing and feeling I was afraid I would end up resenting him. This tiny, innocent person God had sent to me to love and teach and rear and yes, to feed. 

So I gave up. 

I gave up worrying about if his future academic success would be affected by formula. I gave up worrying what my breastfeeding activist friends would think of me. I gave up feeling like less of a mother. 

I found peace in knowing that I was doing the best I could and that was all my baby wanted. He just wanted to be safe and warm and fed. 

I could do that. 

We all can do that. 

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