After having a few crazy run-ins with vertigo (not the preferable kind, the one performed by Bono and The Edge), I went to the doctor.
I was pleased to discover that I wasn’t having mini-strokes, but rather, just had vertigo as a byproduct of a sinus infection. While a sinus infection is no picnic, it definitely beats mini-strokes. Now I don’t have to waste my spare time writing my husband’s new JDate profile, or making sure the house has enough hangers for my shiva.
“You’re going to have to stop nursing on this medication,” the ENT doctor told me as he wrote out the prescription for my sinus infection.
Dear reader, I’m always honest with you. And I’d be lying if, when the doctor said that, I didn’t tell you that there was a small part of me that did a little Gangnam Style-ish dance while pumping its little fist.
For me, that prescription meant a socially palatable exit ramp from the breastfeeding endeavor I’d undertaken. I know that for some mothers, being told to stop nursing would be seen as something to mourn. For others, it would mean that they’d be pumping and dumping over 10 times a day until they got off the medication in question.
Like it or not, it seems that I’m not one of those women.
Yes, I know “breast is best,” as they say on the containers of powdered formula. I’m aware of the immunological advantages, plus bonding, that breastfeeding conveys to my child. I breastfed all four of my children, though for different lengths of time. And it’s because I felt guilty–guilty that I would be depriving my child of something if I didn’t.
But with each child, I found it more and more difficult to work breastfeeding into my family’s increasingly complex interlocking schedules. The choreography of having two elementary school age children and one toddler who all need their mom in different capacities at different times is a trickier dance than that Gangnam Style one I reference above–and that’s before the baby even comes into the picture. The daily logistics of transportation for the boys alone–plus the weekly 1.5 hour round trip drives to bring them to my ex-husband–has made me an amateur air traffic controller and chauffeur.
Between this and attempting to write for a living, perhaps it was obvious that I’d get dehydrated, tired, and a little stressed out. Okay, more than a little stressed out. I had no time to drink. I wrote long to-do lists and lost them. My milk production dropped. I found myself wishing I had “full” and “empty” gauges on my breasts. I pumped and got little. I became anxious about producing little and became snappy with my kids and husband. I fed my baby, and ran out for an errand, only to return to find that the baby was crying, wanting more milk. I found this somewhat stressful as well (understatement).
“Be in a calm place while breastfeeding,” nursing websites counseled me, as I scrolled down them with one finger on my phone with babe at breast, simultaneously imploring my toddler to stop pounding on her dad’s computer from across the room. Can we appreciate the irony, people?
“Take breastfeeding as an oasis of time with just you and your child,” I remembered reading, as I attempted to check math homework for one boy while carrying on a conversation about an intricate third grade social dynamic with the other. This, all accompanied by the baby sucking at my breast, the timer going off on the oven, the doorbell ringing, and the toddler happily pulling every book off the bookshelf next to the staircase. Again, an irony that would put Alanis Morrisette to shame.
One day when I was driving someone somewhere, I thought, “You know, it would be awesome if I could just leave my breasts at home and let someone else pump them while I did something else.” And then I thought, “You know, that doesn’t sound like the thought of someone who is relishing breastfeeding. ”
So when the bell tolled as that prescription was written, I thought, you know something? It’s okay to not breastfeed your kid.
And ever since, I’ve been a little happier and a little less stressed out. Okay, a lot less stressed out–except, of course, by other parents.
Mothers who are so kind and doting to their kids turn vicious in internet comments. They tell other mothers that by not breastfeeding, they are selfishly dooming their children to a lifetime of ear infections and sickliness. Mothers who love their children are quick to demonstrate their own self-love: “I would NEVER deprive my child of breastmilk–it’s the best thing I can possibly do for her.”
As it turns out, that’s where we disagree. Yes, obviously, breastmilk is wonderful for your child. But I think the best thing you can possibly do for your child is being the best possible YOU you can be. And sometimes that just doesn’t include breastfeeding. And it’s all right.
For more on the challenges of breastfeeding, read about one mother’s inability to breastfeed, one mother’s guilt about mixing breastfeeding with formula, and how one mother tackled extended breastfeeding after a rough start.