Back in the day when I was pregnant with my daughter (my first child), there was a TV show on the TLC network called “A Baby Story.” The show followed expectant moms through their pregnancy and perfectly packaged the ideal birth story from beginning to end.
I remember watching it and knowing for sure that my own story would go the exact same way. I mean come on, theirs did, why not mine too?
Then Comes Reality
I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that my birth experience was not something that could be featured on the show. It wasn’t perfect, it didn’t go as planned, and it sure wasn’t pretty.
When my girl came out, she was purple and not breathing. I didn’t get the experience of her being thrown up into my arms to greet her upon her entrance into the world. Instead, she was whisked away by the doctors and I waited and prayed that everything would be OK.
Thankfully it was. But this whole whirlwind of an experience was not something I was prepared for. I had no frame of reference for a difficult birth story. The only thing I knew of was how it went in the best of experiences. I sure didn’t plan for a forceps birth and 50 stitches in my you know where.
I would also shortly find out that the next few weeks wouldn’t be so perfect either. I didn’t know that all babies aren’t champion breast feeders and that all mothers aren’t mass producers of breastmilk.
Serious Breastfeeding Struggles
Once we got through the birth part traumatized but somewhat OK, the next thing that happened that completely rocked my world was breastfeeding. My daughter wouldn’t latch, my milk wouldn’t drop. It was terrible. I thought for sure that this would just come naturally.
No one ever told me that some women struggled with breastfeeding. So, I thought there was something really wrong with me. On day one, I already felt like a complete failure as a mother. My body did not cooperate with childbirth, and now I couldn’t even provide the nutrients my child needed.
What kind of mother was I going to be?!
Let me provide a little context here: when my daughter was born, I was young (20) and a single mom. I was in school full time and under a ton of stress. I wanted to breastfeed, but it just wasn’t working for me. I tried to pump, and I would only get about 3 oz each time. I was spending all my time either trying to get her to latch or trying to pump the miniscule amount that would come from extended periods of time pumping.
In between all this I was also preparing bottles because she was starving. When you have a newborn, you know how much time and energy this takes up. It may as well be all you do all day long.
When she was about 3 weeks old, I took her into the doctor’s office for a follow up appointment. He took one look at me and instantly knew I was in serious distress.
He talked me down and told me to stop breastfeeding and start formula. That I was killing myself to breastfeed and putting a lot of stress on us both.
It was a huge relief to hear those words, and at the same time a total punch in the gut. I felt SO ashamed of myself and the fact that I was not going to be a breastfeeding mother.
The Pressure to Breastfeed
Through the generations there have been cultures of beliefs surrounding breastfeeding depending on that generation.
When I had my daughter, I remember my mother telling me that when she had me, breastfeeding was seriously frowned upon. If you were a breastfeeding mother back then, it meant that you were poor. It was seen as dirty. When she was in the hospital and she told the nurses she would be breastfeeding, she was looked down on.
Now in my generation, that had seriously shifted. Breastfeeding with highly encouraged. You were supposed to try your best to do it. Formula was definitely not a go to option but one for necessity only. I had no clue that this would get painfully worse when I had my son.
The Expectation to Breastfeed Has Gotten out of Hand
My son was born 11 years after my daughter. Things had changed a bit in that amount of time. The pressure to breastfeed was so intense.
I gave birth to him at a “baby friendly” hospital. At the time I had zero idea what that meant. I thought it sounded nice, so I went with it. Of course I was baby friendly, who isn’t right? I went into delivery with him hoping that what had happened with my daughter was a fluke.
It would be better this time around, right? Not so much.
He was born via emergency C-Section. My epidural worked too well, and I was numb from the shoulders down. I remember being out of surgery for a very short amount of time and the nurse throwing him up on me to breastfeed. My arms were still numb, I couldn’t even hold him, but she was adamant that it had to happen at that second.
What I didn’t know about “baby friendly” was that it would be an absolute nightmare for me.
The “Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative” was launched in 1991 by UNICEF to promote breastfeeding. You can read more about it from the World Health Organization here. Though I think it’s a well-intentioned initiative, for me, being a mother that had a very hard time breastfeeding, all I felt was a TON of pressure. Not only pressure but upturned noses when I wanted to supplement with formula or give my son a pacifier.
I was told on the first day that they don’t give pacifiers. My son wanted to CONSTANTLY suck.
They told me I should allow him to latch to me non-stop. So, I listened. Ladies, our nipples were not made for 24/7 latching.
By the time we left the hospital I was in so much pain every single time I went to nurse him. It was like knives were being stabbed into my chest every time he went to latch.
On top of that I wasn’t producing enough, so I was having to worry about also supplementing with formula. I had felt like such a failure the first time around that I was determined to make it work this time. Especially the way I had just been treated at the “baby friendly” but not so “mama friendly” hospital.
The Sheer Pain of a Cracked Nipple
Through the lactation support at the hospital that I went to after we left the hospital, I found out I had a cracked nipple. No wonder it hurt so freaking bad. I would absolutely bawl my eyes out every time I fed my son. I was told to keep pushing through. To not give up. To do what was best for him and keep breastfeeding. So, I did.
One day out of sheer desperation I went to the store to see if there was SOMETHING that would ease my pain.
While walking down the baby aisles of Target, hoping a praying for a solution, one appeared. I could have screamed and jumped up and down if I hadn’t been so exhausted when I saw it. It was like the clouds of heaven parted and the angels started to sing when I spotted a NIPPLE SHIELD.
That thing was my saving grace. The lactation lady told me I shouldn’t be using it for some reason or another. I told her to mind her own business. I was fed up with all the “advice.” I needed this shield for my own nipple sanity. It was a lifesaver!
You Do What’s Best for YOU and YOUR Baby
Here’s the thing. ALL our stories are different. Most of us wouldn’t fit on a TV show about the perfect birth. The reality is that’s NORMAL.
We’ve got to start having these conversations to know that not every mama and baby are the same. That we don’t all fit into one box of the perfect story. That what works for one mom and baby duo, may not work for another, and that’s OK!
We need to stop shaming each other for doing what is best for us, even when it looks different than what is best for you and your baby.
So many people think they know what is best. They really have no idea. The most important thing you can do is listen to what is best for YOU and YOUR own baby. You’re a mama, you’ve got those instincts for a reason, listen to them!
Looking back now, I have two big regrets:
- Putting SO much pressure on myself to breastfeed. Mama, listen to me! If you have trouble breastfeeding, that is OK! It says NOTHING about you or your ability to be an amazing mother. Even if you don’t have trouble breastfeeding but you choose formula instead, more power to ya. In another few years, breastfeeding could be seen as the worst thing in the world again. Ditch the pressure. You’ve got more important things to focus on when you’re a new mama! Oh, and BTW… BOTH my kids turned out healthy, happy, smart, and amazing in spite of the formula. Just saying’.
- Listening to all the noise rather than myself. My doctor told me what to do, the nurses, the books, the hospital, my mom, EVERYONE had an opinion. Even the medical professionals can’t agree on what’s best most of the time. If it doesn’t feel right, listen! If you want to do something different, that goes against the grain, do it. YOU know what’s best for you and your baby.
It Won’t be Perfect and That’s OK
I wish that when I had my babies, I would have read the book or watched the show about the reality of birth and breastfeeding. I missed those ones somehow.
I hope this helps you to understand that things don’t always go as planned. That many people will tell you what they think you should do. But that it always comes back to YOU and what you know to be best for your own situation and baby.
Just know that during these challenges, you continue to show up for your baby and that’s what really matters. That’s what will always matter.
Let’s put things in perspective and LET GO of the dark cloud of mom shame the follows us around. You are an amazing mama! You’ve got this!