As a new mother, many of the decisions I had confidently and unequivocally thought I made while pregnant were turned on their heads by LIFE.
Life happened, as it so often does, in such a way that unexpectedly altered the course of my existence, and my mothering journey, forever.
In my previous post, Milk & Cookies, I briefly touched on the fact that one of those self-assured decisions I made during pregnancy was to breastfeed. I wrote that as a self-proclaimed, "post-partum, hormonally-imbalanced, sleep-deprived, and geographically-isolated newborn mother," nursing my two kids was very challenging for me, especially the first time around. What I didn't go into in that post was why.
When my baby girl was born, nursing didn't come as naturally as the naive and enthusiastic pregnant version of me had hoped. After a couple weeks, I was in over my head, completely at the mercy of the most demanding, albeit precious, task master.
My daughter's unrelenting need for mother's milk, and my unrelenting sense of duty to provide it for her, left me feeling (and looking) like the walking dead. Although no one but she was expecting me to keep it up, it was my fervent, almost maniacal, penchant for following through with my intention, coupled with my need to maintain control of as much as possible at the time, that kept me from quitting early, despite my many notions to chuck it all and buy a big tub of baby formula.
Riding the waves of latch problems, breast engorgement, nipple soreness, plugged ducts, and monotonous pumping, I vowed to stick with it, despite the extreme discomfort. Fighting in the trenches, I was winning and losing battles left and right; but committed to the war effort as a whole. My breast pump became both my nemesis and my salvation. I was not going to shirk giving my baby this gift of my abundant milk supply, even though no one would blame me if I did. No one, that is, but me.
I can see how this may sound like a dramatization of the facts, or simply a case of a really negative attitude on my part; especially to those whose nursing journeys were enjoyable or even just moderately challenging. But I assure you it is not, at least not from where I was existing back then.
Living in a very rural coastal area, just feet from the ocean but miles from any conveniences, none of our close neighbors were home during the day nor did any of our family members live nearby to help or relieve us. My husband, who worked all day, five days a week, and an hour drive away, helped me as much as he could. Yet I ended up fending for myself and my baby most days, isolated and alone.
This rough situation was made a thousand times harder by the unexpected and unthinkable tragedy that had occurred just a few months earlier. I was six months pregnant when I got the phone call that my mom had been in a car accident. A couple frantic calls later, the officer on the scene informed me that she had not survived the crash, having been killed instantly on impact.
Being the first in the family to hear the news, I was saddled with the responsibility of breaking the news to her three other children, her mother, her sister, her entire world.
How was I possibly going to do this amidst my own shock and disbelief? After telling my younger sister and older brother, they agreed to disperse the news to the others. Still, those were the two worst phone calls I have ever had to make.
The remaining three months of my pregnancy were somewhat surreal. I grieved, but not much. I consoled others in the face of their overwhelming grief. I spoke at her funeral... composed, resolved, and shedding little to no tears. I was mostly numb. I was so afraid that if I really let myself feel the depth of my sadness, my baby's well being would be compromised; and I just couldn't take that risk. So, I didn't feel it. I wouldn't. I couldn't.
When my daughter was born, I was elated. A sense of happiness and purpose I had never experienced enveloped me. Then quickly, as the days went by and the nursing challenges, exhaustion, and hormonal shifts set it, all bets were off. Finally.
I started to cry. A LOT. And loudly. I got angry. I yelled. I screamed. I couldn't understand why my mom, who was so excited to finally become a grandma, wasn't going to get to be one after all. My grief, juxtaposed with my joy, together created the most imbalanced reality I have ever lived. Grieving the loss of the woman that nurtured me my first months of life, while I nurtured my own daughter through hers, left me jumbled.
I found it difficult to fully embrace and enjoy my new role amidst the sorrow. I was a motherless daughter living in a world I didn't recognize - one with my daughter but without my mother. Their lives never intersected on this Earth, and they never would. This truth was difficult to accept, and the pain of it made that first year both a blur and one I will never forget.
That's the why of it. It isn't pretty. It isn't sunny. But it's a big part of what makes me, me, today. It shaped me in ways I don't think I would have been otherwise. My mother's death continues to challenge me to this day. When it comes to not living in fear of suddenly losing those I love, or not being afraid of taking risks for fear of something bad happening… I am still a work in progress.
Although not always successful at it, I strive to let go and surrender to what comes - no matter what comes - and to live with joy, hope, positivity and fortitude. I think motherhood is the ultimate teacher of these things; so I guess I am in the right classroom.
*POSTSCRIPT: The circumstances surrounding my breastfeeding challenges were unique to me, and as you read above, I have many specific and varied reasons why it proved extremely difficult for me. I got through it hope and perseverance; but mostly by just plain, day-to-day surviving.
However, this description of my personal experience does not in any way reflect my opinion about breastfeeding as a choice. It is important to make this clear because it was such a significant thing for me to accomplish; one of which I am still very proud. Also because, truthfully, I would do it again, hands down, no question, if I had to do it all over again.
Even as hard as it was the first time around with my daughter, I was committed to giving my son the same benefits of my breast milk, no matter the challenges I would possibly face. I am happy to share that it did go much smoother with my son, although I had to contend with a toddler while doing it!
So if asked, my advice to any prospective mom that is considering breastfeeding is to DO IT. Just try it, be patient with it, persist with it, find the joy in it if it is in the cards for you to be a nursing mother. And be sure to enlist the help of as many people as you can to assist you in any way necessary to help you accomplish your breastfeeding goals.
I believe it is worth it, and that it will be something you will be happy you did. Even with all my issues, I am SO glad I did it!
For more information and support on breastfeeding, please visit bestforbabes.org.