During those first two weeks my midwives came back time and time again to help me out, encourage me and cheer me on. I got support from my mom and my aunt, who together had breastfeed five children. And then suddenly, we got it. We worked it out together and I wasn't in pain and I didn't tense up every time she came near me.
And then? Well then its supposed to be magical. Its supposed to be emotional, its supposed to be so fantastic to feed your baby with something your body made, just for her! I was waiting for the sparkle. Waiting for the amazing, soul-fulfilling experience I had seen on all the pictures and advertisements and posters and little brochures and heard from so many other mothers. I waited. We were past the hard part, we climbed the steep learning curve, I waited for the magic to set in.
- Soaking through everything. Nursing pads, bra, T-shirt and baby carrier - as many layers as you wanted, I was alarmed to find that it didn't matter.
- Dealing with engorgement and blocked ducts.
- Spending lots of time trying to gently or sometimes not very gently massage away the hot hard lumps I had never had to deal with before.
- Never getting the milky smell off me. I don't like the smell and it didn't seem to matter how often I showered, it followed me everywhere, all the time.
- Sleeping on a towel in the vague hopes that could save me from needing to change the sheet in the morning. Often it didn't.
- Doing an awful lot of damp (umm, sopping wet) milky laundry.
- Changing my bra and shirt multiple times a day
- Wrestling with a different body. Dealing with the post-pregnancy changes and trying to learn to live with them and accept my "new look".
- Wrestling with the fact that only I could feed her. I couldn't just take a break and pass this wriggling, pink, bottomless pit of hunger on to someone else and escape the whole thing for a while.
- Trying to make peace with being on call, anywhere and any time, to feed her when she wanted it regardless of if I felt like sharing my body with her right then or not.
- Learning how to nurse in public.
- Missing regular meals because of cluster feeding. Missing large family dinners because of cluster feeding. Eating most of my food, cold, with one hand and picking up the bits I accident my dropped on the baby later.
It never got magical. There was no sparkle. It was not even once very soul-fulfilling. Only belly-filling.
This child was exploiting my body whenever she wanted. It was my job to respond to her, every time, whether I wanted to or not. That sounds harsh, but its the truth. Babies cannot understand that other people might have a different point of view than they do. That's not a skill that children get until about 5-6 years old. Its not their fault - its just the way brain development works. But what it means is that a baby is naturally a very selfish little being who has only his or her own interests in mind. This is great for them! Being born a tiny dictator is how they survive. But for me? Having someone, even someone I desperately loved, use my body without any regard to my own feelings on the matter was tough. Not magical, not sparkly. Just tough.
You know the next part, right? The guilt. I have been told that this is supposed to be awesome! Why isn't it? What am I missing? What part am I doing wrong? Why don't I enjoy this super special breastfeeding relationship like I see in the pictures? Is there something wrong with me perhaps? Why, sometimes, do I just not want to feed to her all the time? The mothers in the posters, sitting in their perfect living rooms with their perfect hair and their perfect smiles seem to know something I don't. They had found the magic.
One day it just occurred to me: I don't have to love this. There are so many overwhelmingly positive benefits for both her and me to be breastfeeding, and I knew without any doubt that breastfeeding was the right choice for us, but I don't have to particularly enjoy this whole thing. The truth is Im not missing anything, I'm not doing it wrong or not trying hard enough and its okay if sometimes i just really, really dont want to feed her just this very second. Its okay to just want a break. Its okay to think "sometimes i just wish somebody else could do this". there's nothing wrong with me. There's probably a lot wrong with the image all those posters were promoting though.
I'm going public with this admission. I don't love breastfeeding. I never loved breastfeeding. Its not hard anymore, and by the third baby I've gotten familiar with the amounts of laundry and the body changes and the blocked ducts, and I don't really mind it anymore, but it never sparkled. It was never magical. Instead, it has always been a bit damp. I dont love it And that's just fine.
You don't have to love it either. Maybe it won't sparkle magically for you. Or maybe it does, and maybe it will. Its all fine.
I'm pretty sure there's still something wrong with all those posters though.
- Kyla, Doula at Sisterhood Wellness Collective