I didn’t prepare for breastfeeding. I was one of those people who assumed that it would be this natural thing that came to mothers easily. I was able to hold my baby Selah to my chest seconds after she was born, and she instinctively latched onto me like it was nothing soon after.
I remember when Selah was three days old, I was starting to feel my breasts become hard and heavy. My milk was ready to drop anytime. When it started pooling in, tada! Breastfeeding!
It was more of “Hello, engorgement!” and thus began the most painful weeks of my whole life. I’m not exaggerating, and this is coming from someone who had an unmedicated water birth. Selah is six weeks old and I’m at a point where I survived enough to tell this tale.
For the moms who feel or felt like failures and idiots, welcome! You’re safe here. I offer hugs and not a single mention of your latching skills.
I’m one of those people who want to do away with the notion that “if breastfeeding hurts, then you’re doing something wrong.” To a sensitive, hormonal woman, that’s the worst thing you can hear from anyone, simply because it implies that YOU FAILED SOMEWHERE. That kind of language is not encouraging or supportive.
I got in touch with two lactation consultants and a bunch of breastfeeding moms. After all the advice, the pain wasn’t going away. I was dreading every single feed with Selah. I felt like a bad mommy, and my every wince and sob reminded me of that.
Even after the sessions with the lactation consultants, I watched a ton of tutorials on YouTube, read everything on Kellymom.com, and practiced every single way to latch properly. It still hurt. I suspect now that the damage I incurred before asking for help (cracked nipple, bruises, blisters) played a big factor in getting better, but my baby also has a tiny mouth and she kept blissfully ignoring my pleas to open wider.
I just felt so rotten during those first weeks. I felt incompetent and stupid. A big part of picking myself up is emptying all the judgmental thoughts in my head and replacing them with undeniable facts.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill similar to learning how to swing a baseball bat or how to ballroom dance. (I suck magnificently at those two.) Breastfeeding is a relationship; mommy and baby are both learning. Since Selah chomps and clamps hard like there’s no tomorrow, it felt like I was the one lagging behind, skillwise.
When a huge blister erupted on the boob with the cracked nipple, I found myself on my last nerve. I was already on the road to healing with that one (attained through using the football hold on that side) and it frustrated me that I had another injury to replace it.
I needed to give that boob a break and I finally caved and bought a breast pump and defied the purist advice of waiting until six weeks before I started pumping. Pumping on the bad boob finally allowed it to heal completely because Selah didn’t have a chance to mangle it with her mouth anymore.
I also started doing 100-percent natural breastfeeding at home. This means always reclining on my back and having Selah use her instincts to feed off me instead of me shoving my breasts down her throat. I didn’t ask for any advice on this matter, I finally went with my intuition and this is the move that finally ended the reign of terror.
Things started feeling better by week five. My breasts are still perpetually sore, but it’s a discomfort I can handle. I’m friends now with breastfeeding. I won’t be doing any celebratory shimmies just yet, but it’s good to know that my stubbornness and intuition gets me places.
It’s breastfeeding that finally made me understand the idea of a village, and that every mom shouldn’t have to go through motherhood alone. And if you find yourself ending your breastfeeding journey for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up over it. We’re all trying our best.
The unabridged version of this article appears in Marla Darwin’s personal blog Darwin Dispatch. To read more, visit her website.
Art by Dorothy Guya