Breastfeeding or not was never a question for me. I am an all natural mama. We eat organic, collecting fresh eggs from our backyard chickens each morning. We use natural soaps and stay away from toys made from chemicals. After attending a birthing class at our hospital, I decided to give birth naturally because, as the doula told us, women have been doing it without drugs since the dawn of time, it’s what our bodies were made to do.
After the pain, I felt the euphoria of birth. I couldn’t believe I was holding my baby girl, Camilla, who I grew for nine months in my belly, in my arms and we would start our life together. With help from my mom and our doula, our baby girl was placed at my breast and she began to nurse. I had never felt anything more natural or amazing — feeding my baby with my own body. Feeling the bond between us at that moment as she sucked the colostrum from my breast. It was magical, really.
Between being taken in and out of the room for testing and after birth procedures, we nursed. I loved looking at her face while she nursed, her tiny eye lids closed, her mouth turned down leaving little dents in her chin. My husband loves when he sees those little dents in my own chin, he calls it my “grumpy chin.” I promised myself I would always remember her tiny, perfect features as she nursed; her long eyelashes, her little hand pressed against my chest, the content look on her face.
We saw the hospital lactation consultants twice before leaving the hospital. After our first meeting, I suddenly realized breastfeeding was not as natural as I’d thought. It is a skill you learn with your baby; how to latch properly, the best position for you and baby. I also learned we weren’t doing as well as I’d thought.
“I’m concerned about your cracked nipples,” the lactation consultant said.
She gave me a breast shield to protect the cracking and we were sent home.
The next two weeks were a blur of nursing, cleaning poop, and not sleeping.
When we went in for our daughter’s two week check up the doctor was concern. She hadn’t yet gained back her birth weight and the doctor informed us she was expected to do so by two weeks after her birth.
“How many times a day do you feed her?” she asked.
“All the time,” I replied.
It seemed like whenever she wasn’t sleeping, she was nursing. When I informed the doctor she nurses for a long time each time she nursed, this raised more concerns for the doctor. She wanted me to schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant to make sure I could continue breastfeeding.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Continue breastfeeding?” The question hadn’t been raised before. Of course I would continue breastfeeding. There was no other option for me.
After the doctor planted the thought in my head, I started to notice how frustrated my daughter would get each time she nursed. She would suck and suck and never seemed satisfied. The pain was also growing worse. My nipples were cracked and bleeding. She would even spit up blood sometimes.
When the lactation consultant arrived she was one of the most jovial, baby obsessed people I’d ever met. She took Camilla’s weight before and after we nursed, she helped with her latch, she encouraged me that we would find a way for her to continue to breastfeed. I was prescribed a nipple cream as they had been suckled in to infection. Continuing nursing and praying that Camilla gain weight by our next doctor’s appointment, or I would have to give up.
I didn’t last that long, I wish I could tell you that I tried and tried until I was forced to give up, but I forced myself to give up.
I became frustrated because my daughter was frustrated. She was hungry and could not be satisfied. I became scared to hold her, fearing she would smell the milk on me and want to eat. The pain in my breasts was endless and became far worse when she fed. Each time she cried the dread shot through me, then the guilt that I did not want to be around my own baby.
The day after I met with the lactation consultant, my mom came back in to town. She was holding Camilla who began to cry. She told me the baby was hungry. I let out a long sigh and reluctantly unfastened my nursing bra.
“You know, you don’t have to do this,” she told me.
“Yes I do,” I said before beginning to cry.
She told me only I know what’s best for my baby and for me. That breastfeeding is supposed to be a bond between me and Camilla and if breastfeeding is getting in the way of us bonding maybe it isn’t for us. She told me she knew how hard I tried and that if I decided to stop trying Camilla would be okay, we would both be okay.
With her words, I felt a sense of relief. I needed my own mom to tell me that I would be okay.
I felt the biggest pangs of guilt feeding her the last bottle of my breast milk, but the biggest sense of relief. Our first full day of bottle feeding only, she was like a different baby. She was happy and content. Perhaps I was like a different mama, calm and open.
For the month I was breastfeeding, I felt free and open about breastfeeding in public. I was all for #normalizebreastfeeding. Now that I was bottle feeding, I was embarrassed. Suddenly everyone began asking if I was breastfeeding. From the parents of friends from high school to my bikini waxer. The question hurt worse than the wax. When Camilla would get fussy out to brunch with friends, they’d say “she wants the boob!” and I’d laugh politely. Sometimes I would interject with the story I’d rehearsed, “she wasn’t gaining enough weight so we had to stop. It was a struggle for both of us we really tried but it just wasn’t working. She was frustrated, I was frustrated. Once we tried the bottle it was like a different baby. She’s such a happy baby now!”
Looking back, I wish I had tried harder. I wish someone told me how hard breastfeeding is, that it doesn’t come naturally to ever baby. I wish we could have those calm, quiet moments of pure connection, I’m sure we would have had the hang of it by now. We stopped for a reason and our connection is just as strong now, if not stronger than it was then. Baby wearing was our way bond and keep her close and I held her often, skin to skin. Our feeding time is still special — I hold her close and look in her eyes as they flutter sweetly off to sleep.