As I sit and chat with a friend about how my (at-the-time) 7 month old is doing, the inevitable question is asked: "So, how long are you planning to breastfeed?"
I shutter. And then take a deep breath. I wrapped my hands around my coffee mug, pause and take a sip. I smile, but it’s a forced smile. And then my answer:
"The goal is one year."
One year. I didn't think it would be hard. After all, it's just breastfeeding.
Rewind to February 2016. I was about 7 months pregnant and I asked all my friends that are also mothers how their deliveries went. Was it scary? Was it painful? Were you excited? What did you not know about? Tell me everything - not just the happy stuff, I want to know the nitty-gritty. I like to be prepared for everything. But what I missed was the warning about breastfeeding and the difficulties that come with it. Doctors encourage birthing classes, friends will tell you about their deliveries and everyone warns you about the post-partum depression signs. No one told me about breastfeeding.
Recently, I've been seeing photos of breastfeeding mothers, baby latched looking calm, almost asleep and moma looking beautiful, well-rested and confident. Picture perfect right? If you're reading this and struggled with breastfeeding, you're probably starting to feel exactly how I felt - because the more and more I talk about breastfeeding with other mothers, the more I realize that these picture-perfect photographs with the tree roots stemming from the mom to the baby is a moment that rarely happens.
I take a deep breath when I say "The goal is one year" because breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Let me elaborate:
Nursing didn't come naturally. In the beginning, it was stressful. Really stressful. You're told to time your nursing sessions.
So I timed each session and tracked away. And then I analyzed. And then questioned. "Why did he only nurse for 160 minutes that day when we were averaging 203 minutes? Is something wrong? Is the latch bad? Am I producing enough? Maybe he's allergic to something I'm eating?" and on and on and on.
"The Goal is one year..."
And then there were people in my life that didn't understand the benefits - mainly because their generation were told formula is a better option. It's healthier because it has more vitamins. And if I wanted Beck to sleep through the night, we should be doing formula. I received 'advice' of all sorts from mixing a little formula in with my milk to simply being told I can't provide everything my son needs solely by myself. It was hard. I cried a ton and I still vividly remember calling my mom and breaking down telling her the things people would say to me and listening to her reason and explain where they were coming from. And then me crying some more.
"The Goal is one year..."
I quickly learned that trying to nurse in the middle of the night while you are exhausted is a recipe for disaster. But the worst experience of a bad latch was when we were coming home from a trip in the mountains and we stopped at Twin Lakes for the view, to get Beck out of the car seat, nurse him and get some fresh air. He latched, I said ouch and then he started screaming. I looked down and there was blood all over my boob and his face. Sheer panic sets in and then of course, we still have a little over two hours left in the car and he doesn't want to try again, even on the other side. The best part, pumping it out after you have a crack that size. Miserable doesn't even begin to describe that car ride.
"The Goal is one year..."
At about 3.5 months, my son started to slow down with nursing - but my supply didn't match. I ended up with an oversupply - something I always thought was a good thing because I kept seeing my new mom friends posting their facebook "look at my freezer stockpile of breastmilk" photos. I quickly learned that it isn't that great of a thing as my son couldn't handle the let down and because there was sooo much milk, he never could get to the rich, fatty milk he needed to help soothe his belly. He would kick, scream and cry as he drowned in milk while trying to nurse. I felt like a failure. I cried with him and I never have felt so helpless. Anyone that has experienced this knows exactly what kind of cry I'm talking about and how heart-wrenching it is to listen to your baby struggle when you're told over and over that "breastfeeding is so beautiful and the most natural thing you'll ever do."
"The goal is one year..."
Because of the oversupply issue, we started to feed him with bottles instead and I began pumping. He refused to nurse once he got used of the bottles. For four months, I exclusively pumped. Every three to four hours, I pumped for 30-60 minutes. I pumped. And I pumped some more. I was miserable. People would be confused and didn't understand why I didn't just nurse him. I felt like a failure, again. I saw the #normalizebreastfeeding photos and couldn't help but feel jealous. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be able to be that mom that could nurse her child and her child be happy and peaceful. I also wanted to look like I was well-rested, happy and in love with nursing.
The goal is one year... I'm currently almost to nine months of breastfeeding without giving my son formula. We are now, finally, just getting the hang of nursing, although he will occasionally still refuse and boycott. I rarely pumped for the last two weeks and have felt like a more "normal" human. I will occasionally get "touched out" and need an hour to myself outside of the house. I still hate and yet feel envious of the #normalizebreastfeeding photos. I still get asked "How long?" "Why don't you just stop?" "Is it really that hard?" And I still stress and worry if he’s getting enough, if today is the day we should give him a bottle of formula and so on.
And to be honest, I don't know how long I'll breastfeed for. It could be for one more month or it could be for two years. I'm slowly beginning to feel comfortable with it and it's become much easier for the both of us. I write this and want to share my experience because I think so many women go into it just like I did - thinking it's easy, it's natural and will be this beautiful experience. So many of my tears and stress came from breastfeeding because I felt bad for not enjoying it and struggling with it. I hated that I didn't take classes before birth that focused on nursing, learning about the best practices and tips to help. But mostly, I write this because breastfeeding is difficult and other women just starting to go through it should know they aren't alone, they aren't failing and aren't abnormal for not taking to it "naturally".
Here’s to, hopefully, at least another three months.