There’s an ugly side of breastfeeding. It’s the side that’s not often talked about, because it’s one that offers no empathy towards the mother – but more often than not- judgement. I’m not talking about the physical difficulties that can occur – latching issues, pain, clogged milk ducts and leaking. I’m not even talking about the long, sleepless nights of waking every hour to nurse your baby or to pump a reserve. I’m talking about the feelings that arise, deep in the core of your being – feelings that I’m sure every breastfeeding mother has had at some point during her breastfeeding journey, whether she wants to admit it or not. They are feelings of loneliness and feelings of envy. And no one ever talks about these feelings for fear of being seen as bitter and selfish. Well, I’m going to talk about them today.
Breastfeeding is awesome. Let me preface by saying that. Really. You will probably never meet a bigger breastfeeding advocate than me. But like so many women, I didn’t start out feeling that way. It definitely wasn’t easy for me in the beginning of either one of my breastfeeding journeys with both my son and my daughter.
My son had serious latching issues for the first 6 weeks, and my daughter had horrible reflux that would result in her screaming every time I had to nurse her for months. On top of all of the normal pains, soreness, cuts and clogged ducts, I was ready to throw in the towel so many times during those first few months with each one of them. But with a lot of support and many tears shed, I persevered through each hurdle and was able to nurse my son until he self-weaned at 13 months; and I am currently still nursing my daughter at 21 months.
Like many breastfeeding journeys, those initial hurdles tend to work themselves out and you are able to develop a nice, comfortable routine that becomes somewhat second nature to both you and your child.
After a while, breastfeeding became… easy. It became natural. I stopped counting time between each session and began nursing on-demand. It was so freeing to do things organically. I nursed my children when they were hungry. I nursed them when they were tired. I nursed them when they were cranky. I nursed them back to sleep throughout the night. Nursing became less of a task on my to-do list and more of a way of life.
It was as natural to pick my children up and offer them my breast as it was to offer them a hug.
But everything comes with a price. While I fully believed in the benefits, the bonding, and the overall beauty of breastfeeding, there were always feelings of loneliness and envy brewing in the pit of my stomach. From day one, I was the only one who could ever feed our children. Our son would rarely take a bottle and our daughter never would. So, it was all on me. Every feeding. Every day. Every night.
My husband helped with every other aspect of taking care of a baby – more so than most fathers I know. And he was an amazing breastfeeding supporter. But, man, there were days I just wanted to go to a movie and lunch with my friends without having to nurse while trying to get ready and rush home for a feeding. There were nights I craved a glass or two of wine and dreamed of sleeping through the cries of my teething babe and saying to my husband, “You take this one, hon.” But I couldn’t.
I watched as my non-breastfeeding mama friends posted pictures on Facebook of their weekend getaways with their husbands. It seemed so convenient to me that they could drop their babies off at their parents’ houses with formula and just take some time to themselves because they “needed it.” I needed it too. But I couldn’t leave my babies, because they needed me.
I knew these feelings of envy and loneliness were selfish. But I also knew that they were real. They ARE real. And so many mamas have them, but are afraid to express them. THIS is the ugly side of breastfeeding. And it’s ok to get caught up in it sometimes. It doesn’t make you a bad mother. It doesn’t make you unworthy of the gift and blessing to be able to breastfeed while others who wish to can’t. It just makes you human. And that’s ok. You NEED to know that it’s ok to feel this way.
My daughter is 21 months old. She eats like a body-building man during the day, but still clings to her comfort nursing at night like it’s her lifeline. I’m ready for her to be done. I’ve been ready for a while. And I know that it’s probably keeping her from actually sleeping through the night. But I also want her to be able to make the decision to stop on her own.
A few months ago, everyone in our house came down with the most horrible stomach virus we’ve ever experienced. It hit my son and my husband first, and then my daughter. A few days after she got better, I thought I was in the clear, but then it hit me too. I could barely move. It felt as though every ounce of fluid in my body had been depleted. I couldn’t keep anything down. My husband kept the kids downstairs that night as I laid in bed. I heard my daughter cry for me. He tried for hours to get her to sleep. But she needed me. She needed her comfort. I dragged my body downstairs, and much to my husband’s disapprovement, I took her in my arms, nursed my sweet baby, and within minutes, she was sound asleep.
I realized right then and there that it was all so much bigger than my selfish feelings in moments of weakness. It was all so much more important than weekend getaways and glasses of wine. I was her world, in that moment. Nothing else would suffice for her. She needed her mama – she needed my breast.
I often think about all of the moments like that over the last few years of breastfeeding my children. Moments I nursed them through illnesses. Moments I nursed them through teething. Moments I nursed them through night terrors. Moments I nursed them through emotional outbursts. I was the only one they wanted. The only one they needed. How incredibly lucky am I to have two little people rely on me for all of the physical and emotional support they crave?
I am important. I am needed. I am loved. I am not alone, after all.
I think the ugly side of breastfeeding and all of the feelings it brings needs to be discussed. There are so many ups and downs in a single breastfeeding journey. Women need to know that it’s ok to have feelings and emotions that aren’t derived from the best of places. They need to know that there will be good days and bad days, and that it’s not all puppies and rainbows all the time. They need to know that it’s ok to feel jealous, envious, lonely, sad, hurt and depressed.
Because only when you’ve reached your lowest point, can you rise above it and see the bigger picture. I did that night, months ago. I had nothing left in my sick, weak body to give, and yet I found it in me to offer myself to my daughter anyway. I never felt more connected to her, more loved by her and more grateful to be able to breastfeed in my life as I did in that moment.
Looking for Un-Nursing Wear?
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For more inspirational breastfeeding stories, check out MOMMY MOMENTS.
Photo credit: Marley Layne’s Closet