So here’s the thing. Breastfeeding? It was kinda horrific for me.
Eleven years ago, my daughter was born three weeks early. Not premature, but tiny and without the sucking reflex. However, I knew the value of breast milk. I determined to make nursing work.
I was blessed with a mom who was also a certified lactation consultant. With her constant, support, and all the gadgets and gizmos, Ella finally latched on at two weeks—an awful two weeks. But I sighed relief and nursed her for over 14 months.
While my experience with Ella was like a bad dream, my son Caleb’s nursing story was a nightmare. He was breech, born through a scheduled C-section one week before my due date. By midnight that first night I was sobbing in my hospital room, he was screaming, and my husband stood helpless. Caleb couldn’t nurse.
But breast is best. Right?
Gizmos and gadgets and lactation consultants and my mom and the determination to breastfeed became a vicious cycle. Despite the fact he was failing to gain weight, we made it out of the hospital.
Then jaundice hit. I would try to nurse. I tried and tried and tried. And then we would syringe feed him because we didn’t want him to find out the bottle was easier. After 48 hours of heat lamps and countless toe pricks drawing for blood, he was cleared.
Over the next few weeks he would gain just enough for the doctors to be satisfied, and I would go home to sink into depression, worry, and defeat. I’d stare at my son and silently beg him to eat.
We saw a specialist. She diagnosed him with several mouth muscle weaknesses. She sent us away with exercises to help strengthen his ability to suck.
And I went home with enough hope to keep trying.
For ten weeks I attempted to get my baby to latch on and draw enough breast milk to satisfy him.
My 10-week old son was starving because I staunchly held to the mantra that breast is best—no matter what. I remember the moment I looked up at my husband from the chair with Caleb, all red-faced and screaming in my arms, and waved the white flag.
I was done. He never nursed.
I felt like a failure.
So I decided to pump and bottle feed exclusively with breast milk. Imagine. Every time he wanted to eat, I also had to pump just to keep up. Every time. Not just once a day to stock pile, but every single time he ate. Morning. Noon. and Night.
But I did it. I kept up the hellish pace so all he would get was breast milk and all my family got was a crazed version of mom.
Because breast is best. Right?
I went back to work when he was five months old, and my milk began to dry up. You know. Because I wasn’t stressed or anything.
We supplemented with formula at that point. No other choice remained. And my family sucked in their first deep breath since Caleb was born.
Friends. Breast milk is best. It is. But sometimes it doesn’t work out.
No matter what you do.
Before we begin to judge the woman with her filtered water and powdered formula, know she may have lived through her own private hell just to get her baby to eat.
Know she may be a breast cancer survivor.
Know she may have given the beautiful gift of adoption.
Know she may have a million reasons breastfeeding didn’t work out.
Know each mom has a story.
And we need to hear her story. Her pain. Her struggle.
We need to be willing to listen, to offer support, to encourage. Because this mothering? It’s hard. We will second-guess just about every decision we make. We need the sisterhood of mommas to tether us to the reality that we’re doing the best we can.
And that’s enough.