Before I was ever pregnant, I declared to my husband that I would not be breastfeeding. It just seemed a little too weird.
Fast forward, and by the time I was holding a baby in my arms, I was adamant that we would be exclusively breastfeeding.
Researching breastfeeding during pregnancy helped me understand the benefits to both baby and mom that came with this feeding option. I was book studied on the subject with zero experience and committed to the cause.
My firstborn was immediately placed on my chest after delivery. We started the skin-to-skin contact that supposedly would kick off our breastfeeding endeavor together. She didn’t really take to nursing during that time, so the nurses assured me we could keep trying later.
Finally settled in our recovery room after being awake for nearly 48 hours, I drifted off to sleep. About two hours later my husband woke me, holding the baby. “She’s hungry,” he said. My response back was, “But I just had a baby. I’m exhausted! I need to sleep.” “Well, she’s hungry…” he repeated.
There was my wake-up call: This was going to be harder than the books said.
I thought we would never ever make it out of the first week at home with our famished newborn. Days and nights meant nothing to this child. She needed to eat around the clock and also preferred to comfort nurse in my arms instead of nap in her bassinet.
One night around 2 a.m., I sat in my living room fully immersed in the depths of sleep deprivation, sobbing uncontrollably while my baby nursed. My mom sat on one side of me wiping my tears with a tissue. My husband sat on the other side feeding me cheese to keep my calories up. To this day, that scene is the purest picture of true love to me.
Another thing I was not prepared for was the incredible pain that accompanied breastfeeding. The books had said that if it hurt to nurse then I must be doing something wrong — great. Next came the clogged milk ducts, engorgement, and the constant looming threat of mastitis.
I hated breastfeeding.
This wasn’t beautiful or fun or relaxing or enjoyable. I could not figure out why any woman would put herself through this misery. I texted a cousin and told her it was too painful, I was too tired, and I was thinking of quitting. She encouraged me to keep trying, that the pain would go away, and that it would become easier as my baby grew. It was exactly the message of hope I needed to keep going.
She was right. The pain did go away. We got into a feeding rhythm so that my body and my baby both knew exactly when it was time to feed her. I was able to start pumping so my husband could partake in feedings too. My baby and I bonded. I was growing her with my own body. It was beautiful and fun and relaxing and enjoyable — finally.
I loved breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding was not always convenient. I was so nervous about the need to feed her in public. By far the most obscure place I have nursed is in a firetruck (another story for another day). With my second child, the need to feed my hungry baby trumped any self-consciousness.
Some people in our lives were judgmental. “You’re still breastfeeding? When are you going to stop? Don’t be one of those moms who breastfeeds their toddler! Why don’t you just exclusively pump?” Feeling like I owed anyone an explanation for my personal choices disappeared with my second child.
I did take on the majority of nighttime feedings myself. My husband worked outside the home and I wanted him to be well-rested. I also disliked pumping. With my firstborn, my goal was to get her — and myself — back to sleep as quickly as possible. With my second baby, I sat in the quiet darkness well after he was done eating, thinking I was the absolute luckiest to be holding a sleeping baby in the middle of the night. I understood how fleeting this time actually was with my second child.
Breastfeeding is simultaneously the hardest and sweetest thing I have ever done in my life. It is all consuming all the time physically, mentally, and emotionally. There were times I absolutely despised it and wanted to stop. There were other times I cherished it and knew I’d miss it. I breastfed my firstborn for 10 months, and my second for 13 months. I was filled with a mix of relief and sadness each time our breastfeeding journeys were over.
Thank you to my beautiful babies for enduring with me. We’ve slept, laughed, cried, and cooed through feedings. We both learned the art of nursing together. We conquered the first of many trials we will face together. I am proud of us.