Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Two Best Things

The two best things that ever happened to me, as a breastfeeding mom, sucked. 

No, I'm not talking about my kids (I have three, anyways) - it's not literal, just an unintended pun I decided to commit to.

One of the things that sucked was being shamed for nursing in public.  But I wouldn't change that it happened.  It's what motivated me start this blog and my Facebook page.  A positive difference is being made because of that one moment.  

The other - the first thing - I would change in a heartbeat if I had a TARDIS

The worst of the first was experienced by my younger sister.  But it was hard to watch.  

I was childless when my first nephew was born.  M always did like to do things before me.  She flew on an airplane long before I got to, shaved her legs younger than when I was first allowed, same thing with makeup.  Dated an Australian before I ever - well, no, I never dated an Australian.  I just had a crush on her boyfriend before she started dating him.  But I digress.

I knew from a friend - the only one I had with children, and a La Leche League leader - that breast is best. 
I thought that surely the one thing a baby comes out knowing is how to eat.  But no.  There are instincts, but babies have to learn to latch on.  

The learning curve is even steeper for moms.  They have to learn how to read early hunger cues, how to position the baby, how to help him latch, how to problem solve.  Learning to breastfeed takes time, effort, and a lot of support.      

I remember M's support in the hospital.  How they grasped her boob and roughly plopped it into her crying newborn's mouth.  In pain and exhausted, she grew anxious at the strangers' hands on her breasts, the unsatisfied cries of her baby.  When a nurse cup fed her new little boy formula, she did not object.  

Little did we know that his stomach was only the size of a marble, easily filled by the colostrum in her breasts. He spent that night in the nursery so my sister could rest, being bottle fed formula by well-meaning nurses.

Spigoo, "Romain et Clémence" May 12, 2011, via Flikr, Creative Commons Attribution
It was the beginning of the end of her breastfeeding relationship.  Armed with a free formula sample, we left the hospital, all of us in shock that they were letting us take this little person with us - just her, her husband, and me.

The baby's latch just wasn't right.  M's nipples were so sore she couldn't take it.  By now her milk had come in and her breasts were engorged, causing even more pain.  The formula provided by the hospital was just too convenient.  Baby J took to the bottle quickly.  No struggle to latch, no work to bring down the milk.  Just pop the silicone nipple in and the "milk" flowed freely.

She tried awhile longer.  She's very conservative, and when she was out she would go to her car to nurse.  But even there, she felt too exposed.  She pumped for awhile.  But despite her best efforts, despite thinking she was prepared, with nursing nightgowns and the short breastfeeding class offered at the hospital - her breastfeeding relationship was doomed to fail.  It was sabotaged from the very beginning.  The staff at the hospital certainly didn't mean to sabotage her, but they did.

Watching it was so sad.  I felt helpless.  At the time I didn't even know that anything had hurt her chances of breastfeeding successfully.  I put that all together later, when I learned more.

But I knew from that moment in the hospital when she was struggling, overwhelmed by the anxiety of her vulnerability and her baby's hungry tears, that breastfeeding could be hard.

It prepared me for the obstacles I've faced as a breastfeeding mom.  It brought out my stubborn streak.  

It was one of the most important things I've ever learned in my life.

Were you prepared for the challenges breastfeeding can present?  
Did you get the support you needed to meet your breastfeeding goals?  


  1. I struggled a lot with my first 2 because they spent some time in the NICU and I was told repeatedly that breastfeeding was just too much work for their struggling little bodies. They were 7 lbs. and 6lbs! So in hindsight, yeah I think they were full of it. Thankfully I had 2 more kiddos and my commitment to breastfeeding them was stronger than ever. They weaned at 12 months and 18 months.

    1. My impression is that in NICUs - where babies *especially* need human milk - it can be particularly difficult to breastfeed. I'm sorry you & your babies had to go through time in the NICU, & that you didn't get the support you needed to nurse them. I can't imagine - that must be such a difficult experience.
      Congrats on nursing your other two children! Way to go, mama