As the daughter of an L&D nurse and IBCLC, when I got pregnant with Zoelie, we didn’t even have a real conversation about it. Of course I would breastfeed.
But as a 20 year old single mom holding my baby for the first time, it wasn’t because I was educated on attachment parenting. I wasn’t even truly educated on the specific health benefits or the fact that there were GMO’s in formula – I didn’t even know what a GMO was. I simply grew up not knowing any different. All I ever knew was that a woman gets pregnant, has a baby, and breastfeeds. That’s the way it was. My aunt nursed my cousin until she was 3. My step-mom breastfed my little brother and sister who are 15 and 13 years younger than I. Not to mention,I was a single, broke student – breastfeeding was free. That was a no brainer.
I look back at my Aunt Dawn now and remember what little I knew of her breastfeeding journey. I never once thought it was weird, or even that unusual. I just didn’t really even think about breastfeeding in general. Then, when I had Zo, I remember the first time I put her to the breast. She nursed like a champ but I felt awkward as hell. I still had a stigma of “sexuality” attached to breastfeeding in my head, which wasn’t something I was actually prepared to deal with. It felt strange and almost like I was doing something wrong. I got through it knowing I really need to by documenting every time she nursed, every time she had a wet or messy diaper. I focused on the tasks, one at a time, because truth be told, breastfeeding was freaking me out. Not to mention, it HURT. I had bleeding nipples. Every time she latched, I would cry out in pain. My mom kept telling me it would get better. Zo would cry because she was so hungry. My milk didn’t come in until she was 7 days old. She screamed and screamed and screamed until then, and so I gave her one of those premade formula bottles from the hospital gift bag. I felt guilty, but it she stopped crying and we both hated life a little less.
I was pretty clueless and pretty lonely. I did have one new friend who was pregnant close to the same time as me, she had a natural birth (I didn’t but sorely wanted to and was also dealing with the guilt from that). Her baby was born a couple months before mine was and she paved the way for me. She helped me to not feel so weird about being a mom, to help me actually like myself. She was a little younger than I was, and she talked to me almost like she looked up to me, but really, I looked up to her. She was proud that she was nursing her daughter. She was proud to be a mom. She helped me to believe that I could do it too, even when I dealt with insecurities, I was doing the best for Zoelie and that is what mattered. (As a side note, my sweet friend has since passed away and left her precious little girl here on Earth. K, I hope you are looking down from heaven and can see how much you inspired me. I miss you.) So I kept trying. And trying.
I joined a Teen MOPS Group, and had support from a youth leader who really encouraged me. She LOVED breastfeeding with all her heart. Her eyes lit up when she talked about it! I couldn’t find that same joy about it. I cringed every time I had no choice but to nurse in public or risk having a screaming baby who then would draw even more attention to myself. I had no problem sitting on a few papertowels on the bathroom floor of a restaurant to nurse. I was happy to provide for my baby, but I was not happy about other people watching me do it. I have a lot of body insecurities as well, and the thought of someone accidentally seeing my breast or even my stomach with my shirt pulled up makes me cringe. If I had to nurse in public, I would put a blanket entirely over my shoulder, and I wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone at all ever until I was done, almost as if I had an invisible shield by not looking. Dumb, I know. But really, I always just wanted to hide completely.
But that first formula bottle was a gateway drug. It was easy. And I still wanted to have a life – formula made that possible without any pumping preparation. (I can admit that I wasn’t mentally or emotionally ready to be a mom but God knew what I needed when He gave her to me.) Zoelie and I went on to nurse together for 5 months. I never thought I would make it that long, truthfully. I started regularly supplementing with formula when I started back in school when she was 2 months old. I tried pumping- I even had a nice Medela electric pump. My cosmetology instructor wouldn’t let me have enough time to pump, I had to go across campus to another building, eat in solitary and pump and get back to class across the street in 20 minutes. I was stressed out and she was ignorant and rude about it, and I gave up and started taking formula to the babysitter’s house too. I knew my supply was going down, the last time I ever nursed Zoelie was in Colin’s apartment when we were dating. She was crying, trying to nurse but suckling and then pulling off and crying. She was acting like she was starving but wasn’t getting enough. I figured I had nothing left and made her some formula. She ate like a little piglet and that was the end. I felt sad that our journey was over. But mostly, I was glad to not have to nurse in public ever again. Little did I know!
My story with Allister was much different. We didn’t have any issues until the end. We lasted until almost 19 months when I chose to wean her when I was 18 weeks pregnant and dry nursing and nursing aggression took over. I never got over feeling comfortable in public but the overall nursing experience was much more so one that I cherished and wanted. It was rewarding and I felt pride in that I was able to give Alli the very best I could. I was really super sad when our nursing journey was over, I really treasure that time we had. Penny’s story has also been different. We are almost 4 months in and I love it but I have a whole new set of worries when it comes to her, closely watching her to make sure her lip tie doesn’t cause milk transfer issues- we haven’t decided to get it lasered yet and it is a decision we are having trouble making. I now grow more confident in my right to breastfeed wherever I want to, every day. I purposely refuse to nurse in a restroom ever again, to help fight the discrimination breastfeeding mothers face in our country. There are a lot of la-dee-da nursing stories about how beautiful and wonderful breastfeeding is, but for me, it was something I had to grow to love. As much as breastfeeding is a survival necessity, it also is a very emotional experience, with all sorts of ups and downs. I went through every shade, from happiness, anger, embarrassment, frustration, and pure joy. It isn’t the same for everyone. Even though my first experience wasn’t straight out of a storybook, it was still worth it. I could have used more support, and a friendlier education environment. I could have used more knowledge in general and looking back, I regret that first bottle of formula, and every one after that. I can’t help but wonder how things would be different had Z & I nursed for longer and more exclusively. I wish I could turn back time. I don’t know how long Penny and I will nurse for. I would love to make it until she is totally ready to stop on her own. I want it to be all about her, even when it gets really hard for me.