Today’s confession: I used to judge moms who chose not to breastfeed.
Then I did it and learned it was the hardest thing I have ever done.
According to reports by the CDC for breastfeeding, “Sixty percent of mothers do not breastfeed for as long as they intend to.”
There’s lots of hearsay when it comes to pregnancy and even talk about what birth is like, but you’re left out to dry when it comes to the post-partum experience. No one warned me about the possible struggles with latching, the engorgement that almost broke my back, and the cut nipples that took months to heal.
Sure, I was told it’s hard at first and gets easier – but why isn’t anyone addressing the elephant in the room?
Breastfeeding is not only an art; it’s an Olympic sport. And do you know what Olympic athletes spend most of their time on? Their mental stamina.
To say breastfeeding fed me a nice piece of humble pie as a push present is an understatement.
Suddenly, every fear I have ever harbored (and let’s be honest, we tend to suppress many) was surfacing. Now it wasn’t only about feeding my newborn; it was a war between me and myself.
Every time he would feed too long, or I was “touched out,” it was a moment in the trenches: Thoughts of being a failure, feeling alone, not being good enough, not worthy.
Did I seriously choose this voluntarily?
Here’s why I decided to stick it out – even when I wanted to quit:
It Showed Me I Am Capable of More Than I Think
I have always considered myself to be strong-willed. I wore it like a nametag. When it came to the thought of motherhood, I thought, I got this in the bag.
And then I didn’t.
So, I followed a mantra that worked best for me: Focus on what’s in front of me.
When I kept my energy contained in what was happening that day, in that hour, at the moment, all of a sudden, I would look back and realize I got through things I didn’t think I would.
Just giving myself the space and the grace to go at my own pace allowed me to expand my level of capability far more than I ever could have imagined.
When I separated from my husband, I spent weeks trembling with fear that I had to mother alone. The mere thought of doing it without him paralyzed me. It clenched my chest and curdled my organs.
How do single moms do it?
Night feedings alone? Impossible.
After I had my pity party, I tied up my hair, slipped on my combat boots, and I went out to look for what I needed: resources to teach me how to do it.
And I did. I created a live-in nanny situation (I got creative with pay), and she happened to be a mother of three. She taught me how to be self-sufficient, and when I wanted to pout and give up, she’d feed me a home-cooked meal and then lit a fire under me to keep going. When I felt I was ready, we parted ways, and I entered a new chapter of life on my own.
It’s now over two years later, and I barely recognize the woman who thought she couldn’t do it.
I Discovered I Was My Biggest Critic
When you create awareness around how you talk to yourself, you will be shocked at what you hear.
People tend to confuse our conscience as our soul, that is to say, our true moral compass speaking to us. But in reality, it’s our mind, also known as the ego.
The mind’s primary function is to keep us alive – which means it only knows survival.
We go about our day allowing these streams of thought to come in and out, like what to get at the grocery store or how mad your mother-in-law made you at Sunday dinner. We are so used to that chatter that we don’t hear some of the other things floating in; how we speak to ourselves.
After reading The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, I realized I was a mean girl.
I was inconsiderate and selfish if I didn’t have a high enough calorie intake to breastfeed. If I didn’t fit in a pair of jeans, I’d tell myself I was fat. If I forgot to run an errand, I would tell myself I was stupid.
I took this as an opportunity to rewire the way I spoke to myself.
How I did this was every time I said something harmful or judgmental to myself, I would correct myself out loud.
“I’m not fat; these pants just aren’t my size.”
“I forgot about the errand; it’s okay. I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
“I’m doing the best I can with my diet. Tomorrow is another day.”
Believe it or not, fake it till you make it works. Over time, the corrections I was making were replacing the original ones. Eventually, my natural responses were reinforcing and supportive.
I Stopped Living in Fear
There’s a reason why parents can’t sleep at night while you’re out with your friends or bawl their eyes out when they drop you off on move-in day for college. It’s because having a child is like having your organs laid out in the street, and at any moment, someone could trample them, and boom, you’re a ghost in limbo trying to finish lessons so you can go to heaven.
Okay, okay, in less theatrical imagery, kids are an extension of us.
I think I almost combusted from fear when I let my husband take the night shift for the first time. I came back out as soon he cried.
When we give birth, our entire biological chemistry changes – we literally turn into the bionic version of our former selves.
All this goes to say that acclimating to the extension takes time. We are navigating some murky waters, which sometimes tend to be diagnosed as the hovering parent, the wound-up parent, or the overcontrolling parent.
It’s normal. The key here is, don’t live there.
When I am clenching in fear, I am limiting myself, and I am inadvertently showing my child it is okay to limit himself.
When I changed the way I spoke to myself, I indirectly released my fear of my child becoming a whole person.
I know, that hits the soul.
When babies are born, the umbilical cord is no longer necessary, so both the mother and the baby trust that they’ll breathe on their own.
The breastfeeding journey isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a journey worth taking because it leads you back to yourself.