by Jessica Martin-Weber
Editor’s Note 05.17.16
This baby is now 17 years old, in her last year as a child. It’s hard to believe and yet totally wonderful at the same time. She has grown to become a dancer with the kindest heart you’ll ever meet. Even with our rocky breastfeeding relationship, she has flourished and become an extraordinary young woman who speaks on sexual assault, body positivity, and more recently, depression. Read more about what she’s doing here (http://tinyurl.com/zt2m8tn).
My first breastfeeding journey…
I was breastfed and knew that my mom really enjoyed breastfeeding us and she talked about it a little bit, encouraging me to breastfeed my children. A friend of mine had her daughter just 4 months before I had Earth Baby and she BFed so I was able to see someone doing it though she always covered and I didn’t get to see the mechanics of it. I was given a book during my pregnancy by the family I had nannied for called “How To Raise A Healthy Child In spite of Your Doctor” by Dr. Mendalsson which really talked about the importance of breastfeeding and someone gave me “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” which I intensely disliked at the time. I knew I would breastfeed and I figured I would love it, everyone I talked to made it sound so amazing and so easy.
We had a little bit of a rough start thanks to a traumatic 3rd stage of labor and a partially retained placenta and then a scary nursery nurse that told me I was starving my baby and they HAD to give her formula. Thankfully, that one ounce didn’t do anything to sabotage our BFing relationship. I had some nipple discomfort about a week into breastfeeding but Earth Baby had a great latch and was an amazing eater. Nothing phased her. I could breastfeed any time, anywhere always covered in public though unless around other women in my own house, in fact, NIP was easier than being on my own. I liked the distraction.
Breastfeeding was pretty easy. But I didn’t love it. I was surprised to discover that I hated it. No really, I HATED IT. I would try to make myself love it, I’d stroke her cheek, gaze into her eyes, sing her songs and… be so glad when she was finally off my b@@b. It was uncomfortable, I felt trapped and I freaked out that maybe I had a baby before I was ready. Which sucked because, well, now that she was here, what could I do? I couldn’t send her back. There was no return policy and I couldn’t give her away. .
Sometimes putting her to the breast would cause me anxiety and I would have to concentrate on breathing just to get through a session. I was painfully aware of my breasts, they were so much bigger than I was used to and being 100 pounds with D+ cups made me feel conspicuous and not in a good way. Issues that I thought I had laid to rest regarding my body, sexual abuse and belonging to someone suddenly reared their heads and even though I had a baby that slept through the night from 2 weeks on, I couldn’t sleep. For months and months I would have panic attacks, I felt like my breasts were suffocating me and, in an odd new way, defining me. I couldn’t have sex, I couldn’t be physically intimate with my husband because I was touched out and drained from pushing myself to be intimate by giving of myself to another so much. The weight that her entire sustenance came from me would be overwhelming and I would finger the can of formula in the cabinet wistfully. I never did give her formula.
When she was 6 weeks old our pediatrician encouraged me to pump and let The Piano Man give her a bottle so Earth Baby would be comfortable taking a bottle in case something should happen to me. Funny, I didn’t think then how morbid that sounds but rather jumped at the chance to have a break. We set up a routine that included me going into the bedroom and pumping while The Piano Man gave her a bottle of my milk from the day before. I would read a book, browse though a magazine, stare out the window, anything really, I was just glad for a few minutes to myself not breastfeeding even if it was hooked up to a machine. Were it not for those times I’m not sure I would have made it as long as I did BFing her.
It took weeks and weeks for me to admit I didn’t like breastfeeding. I whispered it to my mom on the phone, long after she’d gone home after staying with us and the new baby. She couldn’t believe it, was surprised but very supportive. I could tell she was sad, felt sorry for me that I didn’t love it like she did and that she felt like I was missing out on something amazing. It helped to know that she wanted me to have that as a mother and that my own mom was praying for me. She never suggested that I would quit just apologized that I didn’t like it and encouraged me that maybe it would grow on me. It didn’t. It just grew less agonizing.
I felt so guilty that I didn’t love it. That I’d rather change a diaper than to nurse my baby. I didn’t feel bonded to my baby through nursing, in fact, I felt like nursing made it harder to bond. Maybe I was selfish. Maybe I was just too young. Maybe I just had a whole lot of issues to deal with. Whatever it was, nursing was not the Utopian experience I had dreamed it would be but I didn’t have a good reason for the struggle. It was all in my head and I knew it but that didn’t make it any easier.
Adding to my struggle was the rape of someone close to me shortly after Earth Baby was born. I felt helpless, grieving for this person, thrown even deeper into my own past and fearful for my daughter even as I wrestled with feeding her from my breast. Now I wonder if sometimes those intense feelings were magnified because my love for her consumed me in a painful way when I was breastfeeding and I was just too confused to recognize it.
When Earth Baby was 4 months we tried to introduce solids. Bad idea. She hated it and suddenly nursed more. We put her on a schedule. In my attempt to feel like I wasn’t lost in my baby and my body still belonged to me, I felt like I had to do something. If she cried before it was time for her to eat, we gave her a pacifier and comforted her. We never just let her cry, I would nurse her if she couldn’t be comforted. But we also watched the clock and fed her even if she was asleep and had to be awakened to fit the schedule. Somehow I thought this helped, that it gave me back control over my body. It never occurred to me that instead of meeting my baby’s needs or dealing with my issues I was now enslaved not to my baby but had enslaved myself and my baby to the clock. I thought I was in control, I didn’t realize I was being controlled.
At our doctor’s advice, we didn’t try solids again until she was 6 months and she did better that time, not great but better and it got more fun every day. It was also around that time that I started to realize that I could nurse and not have to fight anxiety and though I didn’t love it I also didn’t hate it. Nursing was ok. I also began to see that I was ok. I was more than the sum of my parts.
I had planned to nurse to 12 months. Seeing as I couldn’t really read breastfeeding literature without crying, feeling guilty, hating myself and going into depression to analyze why I didn’t love BFing and bonding with my baby that way, I had stopped trying to read breastfeeding materials. So I was uneducated and unprepared when challenges arose. We made it through most challenges pretty well until 10 months. Earth Baby had started biting me while nursing. I had been told to bop her on the cheek when she bit me. This was hard for me to do but I did it a few times, very lightly. She still bit so I increased the strength of my flick on her cheek. She would pull off and look confused, sometimes cry. I hated doing this, it felt so wrong but I didn’t know what to do to make her stop. Finally, one day she bit me very hard and I yelped ouch very loudly and flicked her on the cheek. A big frown and tears streaming down her cheeks she refused the breast when I offered it to her again. In fact, she never did nurse again. It took me a long time to realize that I had traumatized her which led to a nursing strike. I was told she weaned herself.
I became engorged and developed mastitis. A little goal oriented, I pumped, decreasing gradually until she was completely off breastmilk at a year. I actually threw out the frozen breastmilk I had the day after her birthday because I thought she no longer needed it. I still can’t believe I did that.
I regret a lot about my nursing relationship with Earth Baby. I tried to educate myself but struggled so much emotionally that it was just the medical and science side of things that kept me going. Earth Baby showed me a lot of grace, even as a baby. She loved and bonded with me even though I struggled with physical affection at the time and she was and still is very healthy. The truth is, though I do have regrets in Earth Baby’s and my breastfeeding story, I’m also really proud. It isn’t what I want, it wasn’t even what I wanted then but it is still good and she taught me so, so much and shaped me as a mother and a woman, setting me down a truly healing path. Though I couldn’t say this at the time, now, 11 years later, I am so glad I breastfed my first daughter and I’d do it again (better) in a heartbeat.