I want to share my experience with breast feeding, not to embark on a debate about breast vs bottle, but rather to use this as an example of how preconceived ideas about what we should and should not be doing can influence our decisions and dramatically impact our sense of self-worth.
When my milk-came in – it came in. In bucket loads. No number of cabbage leaves were going to sooth the pain of going from a modest B-cup to a DD overnight. Despite the horrendous pain, I was quite chuffed with my body’s seemingly awesome ability to produce this “liquid gold” (as I commonly heard it referred to).
What I hadn’t considered was how ridiculously hard breast-feeding actually is! I had visions of myself, all glamorous and heavenly, casually throwing some pretty little wrap over my shoulder and graciously holding my child to my heart as I ever so discreetly provided them with the essence of life. In reality I was a clumsy mess. Uncoordinated, fully exposed, milk flying everywhere, all the while dealing with a wide-mouthed infant in my arms, searching frantically for something to attach to.
Add to that the further complications of having a newborn who was mildly lactose intolerant, had reflux, severe colic, and a misaligned jaw, and you’re not really looking at a receipe for success.
I visited a lactation consultant every week for 12 weeks trying to make the breast feeding work. At first I had too much milk (making it very hard for my son to drink without gulping in more air which contributed to worse colic). Then as the attachment issues persisted my milk reduced, which lead to me taking supplements to increase it. I was also hooked up to an expressing machine – an electric double pumper, making me look like something on a dairy farm, after every feed to try and increase my flow of milk and also to ‘top’ my son up. When my son started to ‘reject’ my breast entirely (and by reject I mean screaming hysterically, eyes bulging, back like a rod, rearing away from me any time it was offered to him) I even tried fake nipples and a feeding tube taped to my boob! All the while my son wasn’t gaining weight, and I was exhausted. Any breast feeding mother will recall how it feels like your newborn is constantly attached to your breast, feeding every 2 hours. Add to that the in between expressing and I was a mere shadow of my former self.
et, I persisted, because that’s what I thought I had to do. If I didn’t, or I couldn’t, I must be failing as a mother right?
The feelings I felt over these first three months were like nothing I’d ever felt before. I’m sure that the sleep deprivation did nothing to help the situation either! Rejection, failure, inadequacy – these are just words, but they are the closest I have to describing how I felt.
In hindsight I realise that the pressure I put on myself was disproportionate to the necessity of providing breast milk over formula. But at the time, it was all consuming. I had myself pegged as a failed mother right out of the gates. Social pressures, preconceived ideas of what a ‘perfect’ mother is, high expectations of oneself, wanting nothing but the best for your child…all of these things contributed to these feelings of failure, and this attack on my own self-worth. What I failed to consider was that by pushing myself to the brink of physical exhaustion I was sealing my own defeat – with or without milk - I had no fuel left in the tank for all the other important things in my life and my baby’s.