This past March, as I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with Sugarbaby, I had noticed a few women commenting online that they hated breastfeeding or at least didn’t love it. Not that they were stopping or refused to do it but that they didn’t have any of the warm fuzzy feelings they’d heard others talk about and they were looking forward to experiencing themselves. Often with their confession came the question: “does this make me a bad mom?”
My heart ached with them.
I watched as some people responded making suggestions as to how they could maybe enjoy the experience more, or how it may take some time to get to that place, some sharing how much they love breastfeeding and are sorry the poster didn’t, and sometimes a few responding that they could relate. These women would respond that they were really struggling or felt broken, or questioned that maybe they didn’t love their child enough and that there was something wrong with them.
And again my heart ached with them.
I was 35 weeks pregnant that week, preparing for a new nursling. Expecting baby #6, I was fairly confident that everything would be fine with breastfeeding. Not overly so, as I know each breastfeeding experience is different but there was no doubt in my mind that I’d be breastfeeding and that if there were any challenges we’d be able to work through them with our incredible support system. Still, there was this tiny part of me that wasn’t really looking forward to it. Maybe even dreading it a little. Which is almost heresy coming from the person that started The Leaky Boob.
Feeling for those women struggling I posted this status update on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page:
Swing by the wall, you’re needed here. I don’t *love* breastfeeding. Nope, I don’t. It doesn’t give me warm, fuzzy feelings. I don’t look forward to sitting down with my nursling. I don’t particularly care for the sensation. But I breastfeed and I actively advocate and educate about breastfeeding. Why? Because I believe it’s the biologically normal way to feed a human infant. I don’t see myself as a martyr, just doing what I need to do to care for my children. I also don’t think this makes me a bad mom any more than the fact that sometimes I really hate making dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch. Or changing diapers and doing laundry. What about you? Anyone else not “love” breastfeeding? What’s your breastfeeding confession?
Responses started pouring in and in less than an hour there were close to 200 comments. The first 20 or so comments (I didn’t count, it could be a dozen or 50) are either people sharing they can relate, thanking me for such an honest confession because they felt less alone or freakish, sharing that it’s a love/hate relationship for them, the random “don’t like seeing people breastfeeding in public” (what’s that doing there?), the super excited ones that LOVE it and can’t relate, and the true confession of wanting to go out drinking (one brave soul shared that). Most of the 200 responses were from women grateful to hear my confession, thanking me for letting them know they weren’t alone and weren’t a bad mom for having these feelings. Then came the handful of comments saying that status was terrible and would discourage moms from breastfeeding. A few said that if they had seen that post when they were first breastfeeding and things were rough it would have made them want to quit. They asserted that we shouldn’t lie but we have to be selective with our words so as not to scare someone off. A few came down hard saying they were disappointed to see a post like that on TLB and called into question if I really support breastfeeding with posts like that.
I told my #4 nursling at the time that I didn’t like breastfeeding. Apologizing that I was gritting my teeth through her nursing sessions, I stroked her cheek and told her that even though I didn’t love breastfeeding I did very much love her and so she was worth it. Too young to understand, I felt my little girl sleeping in my arms and my chest tightened as the truth of my love for her surged through me making it hard to breathe. In that moment I vowed that even if I never loved breastfeeding I would focus on how much I love my daughter while she’s at my breast and I could take pleasure in how much she enjoyed breastfeeding even if I didn’t personally enjoy it.
Today I’m breastfeeding my 6th baby as I type this. My feelings about breastfeeding have changed, the skin-crawling, teeth gritting feeling is gone and while I still can’t say that I personally love it I truly and deeply love how much my baby loves to breastfeed. As her mother, there is an expansive satisfaction in making her happy that overwhelms even my own discomfort. I don’t see myself as a martyr, just as a mother who, like most parents, has to give up some of my own personal comfort for a time for the benefit of my child. As my baby grins up at me briefly letting go of my nipple, a little dribble of milk coursing down her cheek, I feel privileged to share and be the source of this moment she enjoys so much. I will continue breastfeeding for my baby girl and I will continue being honest about my own breastfeeding journey and feelings because in the long run we all need the kind of support to be who we really are if we’re going to grow.
So sometimes breastfeeding isn’t an amazing experience, sometimes it is. We can be honest about our feelings with ourselves and with others and need to have safe places to do so. If that’s announcing loving the experience or sharing that it’s a struggle not enjoyed, it’s important to have that place. Even for me. Being brave enough to be honest enough to admit the hard stuff is where true support is found. When I first started breastfeeding and hated it deeply it wasn’t helpful to only hear how wonderful it was for everyone else. I needed to hear a balance of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I didn’t believe anyone actually enjoyed it, they just said they did because it was expected. Today, 6 nurslings later, I’ve learned that it’s complicated and that’s ok. Everyone’s experience is different and nobody should have to hide it because what we need is to be honest, supportive, and real. Some things are going to encourage you, some are going to discourage you, either way, own YOUR experience.