(Before you read this, my bottle wielding friends, and decide to get all comment crazy, please know this; if baby needs to eat, and you offer her something other than your milk in an attempt to care for you both in the best way possible, you have my highest regards. You are her hero.)
Dear Nursing Mom,
You spent nine months dreaming of what it would be like to be your baby’s entire world. You had visions of rushing to her side at the slightest hint of waking. You imagined sweeping her up in your arms and smiling contently as you spent precious moments together, ones that are unique only to nursing moms. You played it out in your head time and again, each daydream more serene and lovely than the next. You saw images in the doctor’s office magazines of mothers peacefully nursing their new born babies. It was perfection. And, if you were lucky, perhaps you got to experience some of those moments of bliss during your baby’s first couple days.
But then it happened.
And, Oh. My. Daisies. I had NO IDEA it was going to be this painful! Pain that causes you to look your girlfriends in the eye when they come by to snuggle your new gift and wonder how hard you could smack them and still be friends. Why has no one warned you about this? Really. No. One. Ever. During these days and nights you harbor serious doubts about your qualifications for being her mom. You struggle to help the new love of your life latch on correctly. You aren’t sure she’s getting enough. You wince when she starts to cry and feel guilty for doing so. You’re breasts are huge and uneven and painful and though the pump that you bought promises relief, you just can’t bring yourself to let anyone or anything else suck any part of you. Your nipples are cracked and bleeding and you have no idea how you are going to gain the strength to feed her again in an hour…59 minutes. You put the lactation consultant’s number on speed dial, but you don’t ever use it because she’ll think you’re foolish or incompetent or a bad mother. You think you’re a bad mother. You want to do unspeakable things to your husband as he comes to you, grinning from ear to ear, still mesmerized by the joy of his newborn wonder, and says words like, “Honey, I think the baby’s hungry.” You feel alone. You want to quit.
To the nursing mom who is just trying to make it through the first weeks, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I wanted to quit too. You’re a good mom. It does get better.
After three or four weeks, you start to feel like the pieces of you that were scattered about during delivery are beginning to reassemble. You think you might just have this feeding thing down. You give yourself a little pat on the back and breathe a sigh of relief at making it though this test of motherhood. You are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but exhaustion is setting in and oh, what you wouldn’t give for men to have better functioning mammary glands. You’ve tried to pump, but you can’t get enough to supply even one feeding. You resolve to be with this little one for the next year through thick and thin. You question any plans to go to the store or the pediatrician or to church. You make a mental note to practice feeding her discretely while you’re at home, but you’re so, so tired. You forget. Your first few outings are consumed with contending with a blanket that will not stay in place. You avoid looking at passers by, and compose a script in your head, complete with shaking fists, defending your right to feed your baby anywhere, because you know some people still don’t get it. You attempt to navigate those places that don’t have a spot for you to sit, or the restaurant booth that is too small to accommodate both you and baby. You end up feeding her in the car more often than you would like.
To the nursing mom who is attempting to balance this big world with her whole world, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I was uncertain too. You’re a good mom. It does get better.
In time, you become confident feeding her whenever and wherever she needs, but you wake one morning to more discomfort. You can barely lift your arm, and after a stint on google, you diagnose yourself with a plugged milk duct. Really? Of all the things. You’re defeated and concerned and defeated some more. Things are supposed to get easier. You heat and massage and repeat and feed her through it because you know that’s the only way past this and you’re not about to give up now. You do the same when it turns into mastitis and again when you battle thrush together. But in the midst of all the nonsense, in the midst of all the pain, you treasure those moments that were promised when you first contemplated giving this breastfeeding thing a go. The moments when you’re alone at night, in the quiet, and it doesn’t hurt. The moments when you’re not exhausted and you really have time to sit and stare at her with the clear head of healing and she is just simply gorgeous. The moments when she eats and then catches sight of you and recognizes you as more than just her source of food. The moments when she looks again, and smiles and then goes back to eating, and then looks up at you and smiles again. The moments when you are proud of her for being your daughter and proud of you for being her mom. The moments when you know, in the depths of your soul, you’ll come through this together. She is so worth it. You are too.
To the nursing mom who is just beginning to see the fruits of your labor, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I rejoice with you. You’re a good mom. And believe it or not, it gets even better.