I have always made work a priority. I always want things to be perfect. I want my daily to-do list completed by 5pm. I often feel like someone is standing over me judging my every move. Even though work has transitioned for me from an office to my own living room it still creeps to the forefront of my priorities. My blog and the online community around it, The Badass Breastfeeder, has become bigger than I ever imagined it could be and is sometimes more than I can handle. Trying to keep up with my work demands while also trying to always put my 2-year-old son first has me teetering on a tightrope on a daily basis. I get knots the size of golf balls in my shoulders. I get stress headaches. I get stomach aches so painful I can’t even sleep.
Sometimes my son, Jack, can get lost in the middle of this. He will look up at me while playing in his oat bin and say, “No phone! All done!” If I sit down at the computer he’ll say, “Uuuuuuupp!” I can become frustrated and short-tempered.
It’s a battle between me and myself. The only person standing over me judging me is me. I shout to myself, “Screw this! I need to focus on Jack! This all needs to end!” I throw my phone in a drawer and take Jack to the beach and we stomp around in the sand and laugh. Then we come home and I nurse him to sleep while we listen to a meditation recording made by a friend for me to play while breastfeeding Jack near his naptime, which Jack likes (he asks for it by name: “tay-sun”). But all the while I’m begging for him to fall deep enough to sleep so that I can slip my boob out and get some work done.
I notice on the days where I struggle the most that Jack struggles too. He has trouble settling for a nap or is more irritable than usual. My heart aches when I snap back into reality and notice that Jack is struggling because I am struggling. It is a difficult pill to swallow knowing that Jack is so in tune with me, so dependent on me that my internal struggles are never truly internal.
The meditation recording I play while breastfeeding Jack mentions that my body sends blissful and peaceful hormones to my breastmilk when I am sleepy. It seems to me, based on personal observation, that the reverse is true, too: my body sends restless and irritable hormones to my breastmilk when I am stressed. As I work to accept this into my thinking about my relationship with Jack another layer of my being peels away and more darkness is found. Breastfeeding is the ultimate in giving. The end all be all of being everything to another human being. If I am not taking care of myself I feel like pushing Jack away. I struggle to find enough of me to give to him. Breastfeeding is an experience that involves the mind, body and spirit. When I am tapped out I find it very hard to provide for Jack.
Breastfeeding forces me to take care of myself. I force myself to sit down. I love to babywear so I can nurse on the go, but whenever I can I sit down. I try to take Jack’s cues to nurse as a signal to stop. Stop what I am doing and connect with Jack. Once he is latched on I must use my coping skills to calm myself on the inside as well so that Jack takes in peaceful and calming hormones. Jack demands to be number one. As he should. He is. He intuitively knows that I should not be looking at my phone when he is playing in the oats. “Sit down!” he says. It’s another lesson in following his lead. If I truly follow his lead he will lead me to peace. Jack knows what is best for me and our guide (spiritual leader?) is breastfeeding.
Jack has me working harder on myself than I ever expected. The work never seems to get easier. It always seems to get harder. The layers never seem to stop peeling away. There are always more. It gets darker and scarier. There are so many layers being peeled away—will I ever find light? I think so. Because inside all of the layers is my heart. And that is filled with love and light and Jack.
Abby Theuring, MSW
The Badass Breastfeeder