When my son was born, his health issues prevented us from breastfeeding.
The doctors recommended that I pump so that they could fill his feeding tube with breast milk, so that’s what I did. Every three hours, like clockwork, I locked myself away in a pumping room that was available in the NICU, and I pumped until I got tired of sitting there. I so desperately wanted to be beside my son instead of in that tiny room all by myself, but I kept it up because this was the only way I could help him. I had no control over anything else he was experiencing, but I could make sure he was fed breast milk. This I could control.
When my daughter was born, I was all about the breastfeeding. She took to my breast right away. It felt so natural. I attended the breastfeeding class they held in the maternity ward adamant that this was going to go well. I smiled, with just the slightest amount of smugness, as the nurse used me as the example.
I had no idea what was to come.
The moment my milk came in, chaos ensued.
The pain… oh the pain! From the dry, cracked, and bleeding nipples to the blocked milk ducts, to the shoulder pain that required physio because of the constant hunching over a baby, I was always in pain.
I never ever got a break. Ever. If I had to do anything out of the house, she had to come with me, or else I had to time it to be back by next feed because this was the one place no one else could step in. No one to take a midnight shift so that I could get a little extra sleep, no one to take over an early morning hunger cry so that I could cuddle a little longer with the toddler who was missing his mummy.
I am not a graceful person at all, and breastfeeding was no exception. I admired my mummy friends who made nursing their babes look so elegant and so peaceful. That was not me. I rarely left a nursing session without a little sweat on my brow.
The nursing cover I received as a gift did make it easier, as I found it very difficult to nurse without exposing the entire top half of my body. Though I never once had anyone make me feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding my baby, I felt the need to go off and find somewhere quiet to feed her. This was partly due to my own self-consciousness, but also because my baby was very easily distracted and any noise would have her popping her little head out of the nursing cover to see what was up.
I didn’t love it, and it made me feel incredibly guilty. I could breastfeed. I didn’t have to pump and tube feed. This is what I wanted, so why didn’t I love it?
The answer, I think, was that I couldn’t control it. She dictated when I fed her, where I fed her and how long I fed her. I had no say in the matter, and I found that difficult.
I realized over time that this ideal breastfeeding relationship I had in my mind wasn’t real. As soon as I let go of the image of what it should be and accepted it for what it was, it grew on me. I never really fell madly and deeply in love with nursing, but I grew to appreciate the quiet moments when it was just the two of us.
Instead of focusing on what I was missing while I was hiding away, I reminded myself how lucky I was that I was able to experience it at all. I inhaled her smell and stroked her soft little head. I counted my blessings when she woke at night and I could just lay her down beside me and feed her with my eyes closed. I relished in the good parts of it and accepted the parts that I didn’t enjoy.
When I was at the height of my breastfeeding frustration, a friend told me that I would miss it when it was gone, and I thought her crazy. Here I am, over three years out, and I miss it. I miss that thing that I didn’t love so much.