Mom-Shaming Myself – My Journey with Breastfeeding
“Did my body give up on me? How am I supposed to connect with my daughter? She’s going to miss out on all the nutrients I worked so hard to build during my pregnancy. I feel so worthless. What am I supposed to tell the million people who asked me why I stopped, even though it wasn’t my choice? I feel like a bad mother.”
Those are just some of a million thoughts that raced through my head the week I stopped lactating.
Yes. I stopped lactating. I didn’t choose to stop breastfeeding for selfish reasons, I just stopped producing enough milk to feed my newborn.
Before you ask me if I latched her on my breasts enough, and took other measures to stimulate my production...yes. I latched her enough to make my nipples bleed, pumped every two hours – even getting out of bed when I was sleeping to do so – and drank Mother’s Milk tea, ate cookies, and took supplements. Nothing happened.
Ava Luna’s pediatrician weighed her at her six week check-up and I could have dug my head in the ground as we uttered the words “string bean.” He’s a sweet man, and didn’t mean to sound insensitive, but those words pierced me like a sword. She was below the growth curve, and it was my fault. Regardless of how much I fed her – breast and bottle – she wasn’t gaining weight fast enough, and my body was to blame.
“...formula,” he said. Full sentence: “I recommend supplementing with formula,” but all I heard was the dreaded tail-end. He might as well have said, “feed her tequila,” because formula was the last thing on my mind.
I was that mom-to-be. I read every book, Pinterest graphic, and blog post, watched every YouTube video, and asked every mother I knew every question I could come up. No other mother was more excited to nurse their baby than me.
The moment she was placed on my chest upon being born, was the first time I latched her. She took to my breast like she was waiting for that moment her entire little life; sucking the colostrum my body had worked so hard to produce for her. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
My body had just created her, and now it was feeding her. I was her lifeline, literally. I felt like I had a purpose in the world. Like I was meant to nurture and grow her. I breastfed her for six weeks straight, and then on Thanksgiving weekend, I couldn’t produce more than a few drops of milk, let alone the two ounces she was drinking every few hours.
I was displaced. I didn’t understand why my body was giving up on us. Why it was betraying me. I felt like less of a mother than the mothers who breastfed their babies with no problem.
As open as I am about everything, I couldn’t open up to the world about this. Besides, I had already experienced what happens when you talk about breastfeeding troubles online – incessant questions, suggestions about things you’re already doing, and my favorite, the “breast is best, so keep trying” remarks. I wasn’t ready for the mom-shaming.
Scrolling through Instagram became self-sabotage. It seemed like there were endless photos of women nursing their babies. Women of all walks of life, with c-sections and without, enjoying it and loathing it, all providing nutritional support to their children, new and old. It wasn’t until I saw the following photo and caption that I had my breaking point. An Instagram caption-induced cry attack.
I decided to text the only person that could possibly understand me at that moment: my sister-in-law. She was six months older than me, two kids deep, and a vet in the nursing game.
I gave her a snippet of all my self-loathing, and waited for her response. When she replied, I was pleasantly surprised. She once felt the same way I did. She reminded me that she was only able to nurse my niece for a few months, but when their second child, my nephew, was born, she nursed him for over a year. She used to compare herself to the perfectly juicy mothers on Instagram too, until she realized that your body is different during each pregnancy. It’s not betraying you, it’s doing what it can.
I hope every woman who has felt or is feeling the way I did has someone like my sister-in-law that can snap them back into place, or that maybe they find solace in this post.
Am I still sad about not being able to nurse Ava? Yes, but do I realize that I’m still a fucking superhero for having grown her in my womb, pushed her out of me under no medication, and then having fed her from my body for six weeks? ABSOLUTELY.
Someone once told me that a woman’s body is the closest you can get to God in physical form. Whether you breastfeed once or until your child has a full set of baby teeth, you’re assisting in the creation and preservation of life. You are a miracle in itself.