Breastfeeding. The single largest and most interesting topic to EVERYONE after you have a baby. I'm not joking — even people that you've never met, have never breastfed, or breastfed for 2 weeks all want to know: "How's breastfeeding going?"
I've surprised myself more than anyone. I'm an organic eating, holistic health, all-natural birthing labor, no Ibuprofen kind of woman. I always assumed I wouldn't like breastfeeding, but that I'd do it. I can rattle off the benefits of breastfeeding, but I never considered the mental and emotional cost for some women until I had my first child.
After a 32 hour labor, and 8.5 hours of pushing, I birthed our amazing daughter, Finley Charlotte Mauler. I never got the adrenaline rush that I'd heard mom's get after delivering their children. I think I pushed myself far past that point. After she came out of my body — hand on head — I collapsed, bled out 2 cups, got a Pitocin shot in the thigh to prevent hemorrhaging, and sobbed uncontrollably. When I got to bed my husband lay next to me holding our little baby against his chest, her eyes wide taking in the world..
The midwife confirmed I had 4 tears — one on each side of my urethra, and two second-degree tears further down. After getting stitched up, an attempted shower, and eating some food, the lactation consultant came in.
The LAST thing I wanted to do was consult with a woman I didn't know about my boobs — and the art and science of squeezing stuff out of them, or learn to have a small human suck on them.
The experience was weird — the consultant grabbing my boobs, positioning me and baby. Finley screamed the entire time. I think it had something to do with the big cone head she had and the bruise it left. We both weren't having it.
I found myself back at home 6 hours after giving birth utterly exhausted and in more pain than I'd ever been. I was more concerned with her being fed than I was with her eating breastmilk. I wasn't producing anything that I could tell, and she wasn't latching well.
The next day at a followup home visit, I had another breastfeeding consultation where I was introduced to nipple guards (OW!), manual expression (even more OW!) and more latching practice. The rest of the day and the next, we practiced latching, nipple guards and pumping. Call me a wuss, or someone who gives up too easily, but after a hard pregnancy and exhausting birth, I didn't have much else left to give. I pumped and supplemented with organic formula, and decided my mental health needed to come first. And no, I don't think it was a selfish choice, but I have felt ranges of guilt, like I gave up too quickly, shame, and the biggest feeling of all — relief.
I was pumping about 8-10 ounces a day, and felt great about that going forward. More stress hit as our apartment lease got terminated and needed to find a new place to live. Postpartum hormones raged. I sobbed most days — many times. My husband went back to work after a week, and left alone with a new little one alone was beyond overwhelming. She also didn't want to sleep anywhere but on my chest.
My supply tanked and despite pumping 5-6 times a day, I only get 1/2-2 ounces total. This comes with a mix of crazy emotions too. (And yes, I've tried lactation bars and consultants, oatmeal, quinoa, brewers yeast — the list goes on.)
Through this experience I've talked with other women and found a common thread: the pressure and judgment put on mothers on how they feed their babies has a slew of women shouldering a heavy weight of shame — leading to a lot of defensiveness as they try to "justify" their choices.
There's women who feel shamed for breastfeeding in public. For breastfeeding too long or too short of a time. There's other women who feel guilt for being exclusive pumpers. There's a group that feel bad they only pump or breastfeed some and supplement with formula. And there's the final camp of those that 100% formula feed.
After only 4 weeks of this, here's what I have to say: Let's not talk about breastfeeding. Let's not shame, judge, or put pressure on each other for making choices we feel are best or work best for our families. Let's not assume. Let's not feel guilty or self-conscious or carry the loads of shame and mixed emotion, and let's not put that on others.
Maybe then more of us can come out of hiding and hang out with our kids at a park — and we can ask each other how each of us are doing, dream about future travel plans, help one another physically heal, talk through fears and adjusting to having new identities as moms. Isn't red wine, a good book, or funny story more fun to talk about than lactation anyways?