I believe that every breastfeeding story starts long before the baby is actually born.
At least for me it did. I had a beautiful image of a mother smiling down at her nursing baby. In my mind, breastfeeding was a magical moment where the baby easily latches and starts to feed while the mother closes her eyes and enjoys the endearing moment of closeness.
Once I was pregnant, I started to hear from my friends about their breastfeeding challenges. It started with my mother who shared her breastfeeding struggles and ultimately had to give it up. My cousin whose son had a problem sucking so she had to give it up, my other cousin’s wife who didn’t have enough milk and had to give it up and so on…
I started to realize it isn’t as magical and as natural as one might think.
Everyone I knew needed help breastfeeding and about half of the people didn’t succeed, even though they desperately wanted to. I guess this is where the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” comes from. They all prepared me for the very difficult task and told me to seek as much help as possible. I was anxious since I knew it may be difficult and I for one HATE having my nipples touched. This worried me very much and I came into the whole thing almost defeated.
Months passed and I gave birth to my first child. A beautiful baby girl who came into this world in a “not so beautiful way”. The birth was traumatizing due to the fact that my baby girl almost didn’t make it… Because of different complications during the birth I wasn’t able to see her for seven hours.
When they finally brought her to me, I decided to give breastfeeding a try without the help of the lactation consultant. It was MAGICAL! My daughter latched on right away and started to suck. It was so easy… too easy… I was beyond happy. All my fears disappeared - I was going to be one of those mothers who has a magical moment with her daughter and breastfeeds easily.
But the first night turned out to be a nightmare. My baby wouldn’t stop crying. I tried feeding her and she wouldn’t feed. I tried cuddling her but she was having none of it. I tried changing her diaper but that didn't help either. I didn’t sleep all night and the nurses in the nursery were unable to provide any help or insight.
The next day I knew I needed to see the lactation consultant. "Was that your baby screaming last night?” she asked. Embarrassed, I said that it was. Then she took my breast in her hand and squeezed so hard I thought it would come off and gave me the worst news possible: “your milk has dried up”. She said it happens sometimes when there is a traumatic experience, like my birth.
Then it began - a million lactation consultants, fighting with the baby, the non-stop crying (mine and hers). We tried everything and finally the only way I was able to breastfeed was to with a tiny feeding tube in the side of her mouth while she sucked on my breast. That way she received formula and would help me enhance my milk production- but that was just a temporary solution.
I was very anxious to return home - without the hospital lactation consultant checking in on me every day, I decided to hire a private lactation consultant, who came to my house and sat with me for three hours.
For the next two months I continued breastfeeding every day. Almost every feeding was a struggle - my baby throwing her head back, me - begging her to latch on again, spraying milk into her mouth and after a while, giving up and giving her a bottle. I struggled, fed and pumped…
I felt as though feedings consumed me and left me exhausted.
I haven’t given up breastfeeding altogether although I don’t know how much longer I will be able to continue. I feel torn between wanting to give my baby the "gift of health" and me, my mental health. I feel damned if I do, and damned if I don’t….
And all the while, I try to keep in mind what my cousin told me…“The most important thing is not to feel guilty…”
Easier said than done.