I was one of those naive women who assumes that breastfeeding was going to be the only option for me and my babies. After all, my mother breastfed all three of her babies. My friends breastfed. Back in 2012 when I was pregnant with my first daughter, I didn't even bother reading up on breastfeeding during pregnancy. I just assumed that things would be fine... until once during a pap and breast exam during one of my early prenatal visits, my midwife Bernie mentioned to me, "you have flat nipples, you might have trouble breastfeeding." This was the first moment I had a red flag pop up in my mind, but I brushed it off. No one talks about breastfeeding-gone-wrong. I couldn't imagine it being THAT big of a deal.
And so baby G was born after 3 days of labor, and despite overwhelming exhaustion she was handed over to me and we were both expected to know exactly what to do. And this is when I realized how truly ignorant I had been about feeding my child. From the beginning, we struggled. The lactation specialist checked in on us, and didn't say much except to teach me how to hand express colostrum and spoon feed my baby. The first night in the hospital, baby G cried constantly. As I tried to finagle an awkward newborn baby body into a position I hoped was conducive to latching, things just did not feel right.
And my mom intuition was right. Baby G was not getting milk. We worked with a different lactation specialist. But with the combination of G not suckling properly and my anatomy, I was left with cracked, bleeding nipples. I dreaded every nursing session. I was supposed to try to breastfeed, then pump to express milk, then feed G with a bottle. This took one hour and fourty five minutes. Baby G was eating every two hours. You do the math. After a week of this, I broke down and decided that my sanity was worth more than my baby getting breastmilk.
Despite reaching this decision, I continued to be plagued with guilt. I felt inadequate. Like I didn't try hard enough. Like everyone was going to judge me, as a mom, and as a woman. I felt broken: "if only my nipples were normal!". I felt like I had to constantly explain myself to others. They'd ask, "how is breastfeeding going?" and with a frown on my face I'd say, "oh, I WISH I was breastfeeding, but we're not because..." I felt ashamed.
During my second pregnancy, I told my husband and my midwife that I wanted to try to breastfeed again. I looked a pictures online of beautiful women confidently nursing their babies and I wanted that experience, too.
Baby C was born at home and we attempted breastfeeding for the first time as we cuddled in bed together. Other than feeling awkward (since newborns have no muscle tone, they are just big bags of squish!), it appeared that she was latching on well. For a few days, things continued like this, until my milk came in and everything changed. My nipples cracked, bled, and burned. No one ever told me that breastfeeding would be painful (even despite tissue damage). In fact, every lactation consultant I'd spoken with told me if we were doing it right, it shouldn't be painful. But the fact of the matter is, breastfeeding hurts.
During night time feeding sessions, I would break down. Partly from pain, partly from exhaustion. I dreaded every single time I had to re-latch baby C. I would experience pain worse than what I felt during birth. And then I spent a half of one whole day crying. My hormones, and emotions, were completely out of control. I took out the small sample bottle of Enfamil in our cupboard, filled a bottle and fed C through tears.
I grieved the loss of a breastfeeding relationship for a few days. I started to circle the drain of shame and inadequacy once again until I decided enough. Enough already.
Breastfeeding is a two way street. It is a relationship that involves two people, and like any other relationship, if one person is not happy, it is best to bring it to an end. I realized that I don't have to be ashamed to admit that I need to be happy and healthy, too. I don't have to force myself to like breastfeeding. I don't have to push myself through pain and misery in hopes of someday things getting better, because what if they never did?
Instead, I dried up my milk. I got some sleep and let my husband help with night time feedings! I looked online for support and found many other women who experienced significant breastfeeding struggles who either found a way to resolve them or happily moved on to formula feeding their babies.
I realized that when I started giving baby C formula and feeding her from a bottle, I no longer felt resentment or dread during feedings. And I got to look into her eyes while she ate, and it was like I was seeing my sweet girl clearly for the first time.