I had my first child in 2010, followed by two more. First delivery was rough; recovery was worse. I’d been so fixated on the delivery that I really hadn’t given much thought to breastfeeding other than the fact that I wanted to do it.
The first few tries were fine, but I remember how quickly the pain came on—I felt like someone was taking razors to my nipples every time my little guy latched. I couldn’t fight back the tears for a few weeks! Fortunately, my husband was incredibly supportive and encouraging. I think someone had tipped him off about staying positive and telling me I was doing a great job (even if I wasn’t) which kept me at it until the pain subsided after a month or so, and I began to enjoy breastfeeding and time snuggling with my little one.
Moving beyond the physical experience, the emotional and logistical experience as the months went on was unbelievably frustrating. Waking up at all hours to feed is exhausting of course, and once I began pumping and my husband offered to do a feeding I found that his help wasn’t actually all that helpful, as I would have to wake up anyway due to the discomfort from my breasts being so full of milk. So much for that plan.
When I went back to work at my large government agency, which had NO LACTATION ROOM in 2010, I joined a colleague in a meeting room that required a key and for which few people had access. When an incredibly awkward colleague walked in on my colleague pumping, our use of that room came to an end. I subsequently moved to a server closet which had just enough space to put a single chair so I could pump privately. It was miserable and hot (as if pumping isn’t bad enough).
As my supply continued to dwindle having gone back to work when my son was three months, my husband finally convinced me to pump in my cubicle.
I was able to put up a blanket at the entrance to my cubicle, but I can say with complete confidence that I single handedly introduced all of my young male colleagues to the sound of a breast pump in action. The looks on their faces when I first started were unforgettable!! Particularly that one time when a male colleague showed up late for a meeting, and arrived to see me pop my head over the blanket curtain with the sound of my breast pump ongoing. I’ve never seen someone turn beet red so quickly. Fortunately I’m not particularly modest (if that isn’t already obvious) and I got a good laugh out of that situation. I was also fortunate in all of this that my boss- a father of two married to a nurse and lactation consultant- was very supportive.
Perhaps the biggest stress and disappointment to me in the breastfeeding process was my failure to meet my goals of breastfeeding for the entire first year. I tried teas, and I pumped constantly, but the reality was that at around 6 or 7 months, my supply was so pathetic that my babies seemed to lose interest in breastfeeding, and eventually the stress and inconvenience of pumping won out and I stopped breastfeeding altogether. With the first one, I assumed I’d have another, so I wasn’t too worried. I even had a similar mindset with number two, since I’d always hoped for three children . When I finally stopped at about 9 months with #3, knowing I was probably not having anymore children, it was a pretty emotional experience. I felt guilty that I couldn’t last longer.
Comments from women that "I could fix the issue" and "Anyone can breastfeed as long as they want" were unhelpful and while I’m sure they meant well, they seemed self righteous and insensitive.
All in all, I had a generally positive experience breastfeeding; once the pain subsided, I loved snuggling with my little ones, and feeling wanted and needed by them, knowing I could give them something that no one else could. But pumping is THE WORST, and the stress that falls on a mother in terms of time management, remembering breast pump pieces, cleaning the pump constantly, remembering ice packs, and planning your every hour around pumping schedules (especially when the plan isn’t working and your supply is dwindling) is exhausting.
We definitely don’t get sufficient credit for managing the logistical headaches that come with breastfeeding.