Saturday, April 13, 2013

Things No One Ever Says About Breastfeeding

When I was pregnant with Jathan, I had this whole plan which included a natural, hypnobirth and exclusive breastfeeding afterwards. Yes, I was just getting into my hippy dippy crunchy mama phase! However, my natural, hypnobirth went out the window when I was induced at 33 weeks for preeclampsia.

His birth and the days after were perhaps the worst experience I've ever had. Not only was I in extreme physical pain and stressed to the max, I was also emotionally distraught over the fact that suddenly my birth experience  had been pretty much the exact opposite of everything I'd hoped and planned for. I think it was because of that that I clung to breastfeeding. All my other plans had fallen apart but I could still do this and, by God, I would. Over the next few days I would pump milk for my boy sometimes struggling to even sit upright because of my blood-pressure induced headaches. Jackie or my mom would transport the milk from the Ronald McDonald house where we were staying to the NICU.

Jathan in the NICU having been bottle-fed some expressed milk.

Eventually I was able to get out of bed, ride the bus in 100 degree heat to the hospital, and attempt to nurse. I had no clue what I was doing but thanks to several nurses (who described themselves as very "hands on," ha ha) Jathan finally latched and took in some milk. I was still advised to nurse him then feed him a bottle of expressed milk to ensure he was taking in enough. So I would feed him, feed him again, then pump. Around the clock. For months. Guess how much that sucked? Yep, a lot.

Then one day I had a WIC appointment and shared my frustrations with the nutritionist. I was desperate to get him off the bottle and actually nursing exclusively for my sanity's sake. The nutritionist said something to me that no one else had said, something so simple but so empowering. She said, "If you don't want to give him a bottle, don't give him a bottle." That was the last day he ever had one. I determined to nurse him and will always remember that first night that I didn't pump but instead sat in the dark with a baby at my breast just the way I'd envisioned.

It took so much work and so much stubbornness on my part but it paid off!

That's what so few people say about breastfeeding, especially those who truly try to advocate breastfeeding, that sometimes (often? almost always?) it's hard and the absolute only way to get through it is to be stubborn enough to.

Even though my next births were not as traumatic and I have since gone on to successfully exclusively breastfeed two other children (plus the twins right now) even through pregnancies, it hasn't necessarily gotten easier. I have struggled even recently. My mother helped me when I was first nursing the twins. She would help me get them both latched on in when I was attempting to tandem nurse in the hospital. Brooklyn had a terrible latch and I would wince and say, "Ow, ow, ow!" causing my mom to wince as well! "I would NEVER do this," she said. (Side note: If you want to see a hilarious picture of me tandem nursing in the hospital let me know; I wasn't brave enough to post it here. Lol.) There are always times when I want to quit, when I consider how easy it would be to fill a bottle with formula and forget it. I get tired sore nipples and wince at the very idea of a child latching on. I get plain tired of being touched constantly, of having to take this screaming little thing into my arms and love it when really it's driving me up the wall. I get tired of trying to nurse a baby who is always conveniently hungry at exactly the same time I want to sit down and eat. Sometimes I get resentful of my husband sleeping beside me as I sit up night after night. And whenever anyone mentions that their kid has been sleeping through the night since they were 4 days old, I always ask if they receive formula or breastmilk all the while wondering, "Is it me? Am I just torturing myself?"

The answer is always no, it's not me, and I'm not just torturing myself. What I am doing has purpose and meaning. I recognize the fact that this is the way God designed babies to be fed. He designed this perfect food especially for our babies. It is so complex that, to this day, we are still discovering new properties of breastmilk. Feeding our babies breastmilk provides them and us with a myriad of benefits. It simply produces healthier people--it's gives it's recipients health advantages that last a lifetime and the act of nursing reduces rates of breastfeeding and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression for mothers. Research has shown that the lives of 900 babies could be saved along with BILLIONS of dollars every year if mothers would just breastfeed their children for six months. Also consider the benefit to our planet when people choose to feed their babies something that needs no manufacturing or packaging and leaves no waste behind!

When I struggle in motherhood and specifically with breastfeeding, I often pour my heart out to God. I tell Him all the reasons I should get my way and give Him all the validations I've come up with for going against what I know to be good and right. He never seems to reply to my prayers in the way I'd like Him to. Instead of changing my circumstances, He always seems to want to change me. The word that He has given me time and again comes from Philippians 2:3-4. It says, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."

And so I continue doing my best to make wise decisions. To work hard for my family going above and beyond what I think I should have to do, what I want to do. To relinquish my right to please myself and choose instead to serve others. So far this has included nursing my children giving them the best start in life! Morally, I feel that I cannot refuse them that, and I truly believe all mothers should at least give their best try at breastfeeding to their children as well.

Don't get me wrong, my advocacy for breastfeeding does not stop at the health or environmental benefits. As hard as it is at times, there truly is nothing like having a little child curled lovingly into your body looking up at you with big eyes until those eyes become heavy with milk drunkenness  Oh how wonderful to feel their little body sink limply into your arms, satisfied while at the same time your body is coursing with feel-good hormones. But don't think for a second that something is wrong with you if you don't think it's all sunshine and rainbows, if there are times when you want to quit, if you break down and cry.

Talk to the Lord about it. Talk to someone who's been there. And don't forget to talk to those who will be there. Let's get past this idea that breastfeeding is a love it or hate it relationship, that you have to either be a breastfeeding Nazi or some formula feeding failure. As mothers we need the freedom to not have to love every single aspect of what we do. Not only do you not have to be perfect, you don't have to pretend like it either!

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