By Dana Obleman
A package arrived at my door when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child. I tore it open excitedly and was shocked to find a huge tin of formula inside.
I was pissed.
Some random chemical company had somehow gotten wind that I was having a baby, and they had the nerve to suggest I wasn’t going to breastfeed? That I was going to give my baby some synthetic potion instead of breast milk? No sir, not this girl. My baby was going to have the best of everything.
The formula went straight into the trash.
Truth was, I was looking forward to breastfeeding. On the list of ten things that define motherhood, it’s, like, numbers one through seven. My baby and I were going to sit together in the early morning hours, draped in fluffy baby blankets in an old fashioned rocking chair, and I would sing softly to him while he drew the life-giving nourishment that my body produced for his growth and development.
Only, turns out, nope. It wasn’t like that. It was hard, it hurt like hell, it took forever, it was constant. He fussed, he squirmed, he cried….
It. Was. Not. Working.
If it had been anything else, I wouldn’t have felt so cheated. I could have dealt with him rejecting cuddles, backing away from kisses, crying when I tickled him, but not wanting to nurse… that was rejecting me. And I didn’t like that feeling at all.
So, naturally, I did what any normal, well-adjusted mother would do, and I pushed that feeling down into a deep, dark place where I would never have to acknowledge it.
Sweet! Problem solved. Only it wasn’t.
The instant I was done feeding him, I would start to dread the next time, which inevitably came about an hour or two after the last failed attempt. Every day, every night, was just an ongoing cycle of trying to nurse, failing, feelings of guilt and inadequacy, foreboding about the next go ’round, hating myself.
I felt horrible.
I felt like a bad, bad mother.
How could I, who had worked so hard to get pregnant in the first place, who had given up every delicious vice, taken my folic acid like it was a religious rite, exercised furiously and read every single book on pregnancy and babies in the English language, how could I hate this most basic element of being a mom?
It didn’t help that I couldn’t pump more than a drop at a time. It didn’t help that my son was tiny and not gaining weight very well. It didn’t help that he was a poor sleeper, so I always thought he was hungry and was feeding him constantly, mistaking fatigue for hunger.
None of these things helped the situation. But, truthfully, I just didn’t like it.
Might I have enjoyed it if none of these issues had arisen?
I hit a breaking point and finally expressed my displeasure to my husband. He wanted me to keep trying, of course. And he wasn’t alone. Everywhere I looked, someone was telling me, “You HAVE to do this! You can’t stop! You can’t give him formula!” It was nurse or die, according to the experts.
After four months of this soul-wrenching endeavor, I was sitting on the couch, making the 100th attempt of the day and I started to cry. I tried to maneuver so my big, fat, sorrowful tears wouldn’t splash on my son’s face. The lactation consultants don’t teach you that technique.
That was when it hit me.
“This can’t be good for either of us. How can it be ‘good’ for my son to have me sitting here crying on him? How can it be good for us to endure this process we both so clearly despise?”
A few days later and when my midwife asked how things were going, I broke down crying.
I was so ashamed of myself. I was exhausted, I was beaten, and I was unbelievably sad.
She sat down in front of me, took my hands, looked me in the eyes, and said the most beautiful four words I could have imagined.
“It’s OK to stop.”
To this day, that woman has no idea how close I came to kissing her right on the mouth. I cried all the harder, and she said, “Do you need me to call your husband and tell him you need to stop?”
Again, I was so relieved and so grateful.
I didn’t need her permission, obviously, but after all of the finger pointing and lactation propaganda, it was so nice to hear someone say that I didn’t have to do this if I didn’t want to.
I went home, sat my husband down, told him how much this was hurting my relationship with my baby, how sad it was making me, and that I was going to stop.
“I think that’s the best move here,” he said. “This can’t be good for either of you.”
I started formula the next day and immediately felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I felt happier then I’d felt in months.
My baby seemed happier too, whether from the steady, unlimited supply of nourishment he was getting, or from the positive energy flowing off of his smiling, relieved mother, I guess we’ll never know.
It wasn’t in the cards for me to be the iconic depiction of the nurturing, natural mother. I was more comfortable with the image of the smiling, bottle-wielding mommy than the sobbing, broken woman with the underfed, miserable child.
I can say, honestly, even proudly, that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I had two more children after my son. With both of them, I tried nursing again, thinking maybe those old feelings wouldn’t be there. I made it to 4 weeks with my 2nd son and then my daughter. They are 14, 12, and 10 now. None of them sprouted flippers or gills, they’re not asthmatic, or allergic to their own saliva.
None of the horrible consequences I was warned of ever materialized. That’s not to say that the research is flawed, or that my experience is typical of the oppressed, frightened mothers who are being beaten down by the “breastapo.”
This is my personal breastfeeding experience. Nothing more.
So I’ll grab my coat and as I’m slipping out the door, I’ll just poke my head back in and quickly add…
Women shouldn’t breastfeed if they don’t want to.
This post was originally published in December, 2016.
Images from iStock
Dana Obleman launched her successful private practice in 2003, and since then has helped over 60,000 parents solve their children’s sleep problems. She is the creator of “The Sleep Sense Program,” www.sleepsense.net, a best-selling “do-it-yourself” guide for sleep-deprived parents, which has
sold almost 100,000 copies in more than 30 countries.. Since writing the Sleep Program, she has authored an additional four books on parenting challenges. She also has over 120 Certified Sleep Sense Consultants helping families get a better night sleep around the globe. Today, Dana lives in Sarasota, Florida with her husband and 3 children, where she continues her life’s work to educate and empower families with healthy sleep habits. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.
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