I was just shy of 23 years old when my first son was born. That meant that the sole people I viewed as role models were my mother, who had my sister when I was 13, and a handful of friends, who had children practically right after high school.
When it came to the issue of breastfeeding, they are the ones I turned to as examples. My birth class teacher was somewhat of a hippy, who informed all of us new mothers-to-be that a year of nursing is the absolute minimum. I had stared at her in shock as I heard these words, certain that I would only last six months or so as the mothers I knew had done. It was only when I held my little boy in my arms for the first time and tried to get him to latch on that I truly began to discover what breastfeeding was all about and what it entailed.
Getting my son to take my breast was not an easy task. I had imagined it would be, since, after all, wasn’t breastfeeding supposed to be the most natural thing in the world? I put my little baby on my chest and tried to get him to suckle, but to no avail. He just wouldn’t take to it. Everyone told me not to worry, that it takes time for a new mother to get the hang of it and so on and so forth. He was new to it and so was I, was what I was told repeatedly.
And so, nurse after nurse came in to help me, until they finally brought in the big guns: the lactation specialists. That’s when I knew I had a problem. They tried every which way to get my baby to nurse until the point where I was just about ready to give up. It was then that I was introduced to the wonderful invention called the silicone nipple. It’s basically a synthetic nipple that suctions on to your own nipple and provides the baby with an easier substance to grab hold of.
Sure enough the nipple worked like a charm and I watched happily as my beautiful little boy sucked and drank happily. Turns out that thanks to the silicone, I didn’t suffer from any of the normal sore nipples that many women experience, especially the first time around. The downside was that I was 100% dependent on that nipple. When I was discharged from the hospital I made sure to grab a bunch of extras just in case, and it’s a good thing I did because I lost those things left and right. I hated being dependent on a little plastic piece for my son’s nourishment. He depended on me, which was enough of a load to carry. I waited for the day when he would no longer need that nipple I began to despise, and one day it finally came. The nipple fell off of me as I was nursing and he latched back onto me instantly. I think I cried; I was so happy.
From then on nursing and parenting came hand in hand. I had never given thought to what kind of parenting approach I would take but I naturally adopted co-sleeping, baby wearing, and of course, exclusive breastfeeding. I breastfed my son until I was nearly five months pregnant with my second son. He was already 18 months old. I decided I wanted him to be weaned before the new addition came along and as hard as it was to stop, it was the right decision for both of us.
I slipped right back into breastfeeding my second son without any problems at all, as I did with my daughter who came after him. I did what I knew best and it seemed to work, though it definitely had its challenges. Sleepless nights, a sore back, and yes, sore nipples (I finally found out what the silicon nipple was protecting me from). It came to the point where I was somewhat of a breastfeeding snob. I was proud that I exclusively breastfed my children and that I had never given them formula, ever. It was challenging, but it was beautiful, and breast is best, right? I just didn’t get mothers who chose to introduce the bottle. Why would you give your child chemicals when you could give them the real natural thing? I understood that some women couldn’t nurse–heck, I was almost one of them. But those women who had breasts full of milk who chose not to breastfeed? That I could not comprehend. That all changed when my twins were born.
Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated that I would have twins. I would have believed practically anything else happening to me other than that. Hearing that I was carrying twins came as quite a shock to put it mildly, mostly because it felt like everything would be different. I based my opinions on what I had heard and knew from parents of twins, and I was convinced that I would have a C-section, would be on bed rest, and would not be able to nurse. Though I only knew at the time of the birth that I would actually be going through a natural birth with both of the twins, I found out for certain early on in my pregnancy from mothers of twins that they were able to exclusively breastfeed their twins. Knowing that it was possible put the guilt on me; if it were possible then obviously I would have to do it! I just couldn’t imagine how one person could breastfeed exclusively, not one, but two babies.
As I held my tiny twins in my arms (they weren’t so tiny for twins but for my kids they were little peanuts) I realized that I was in for something new after all. They were so small, and tired all of the time. I had not even seen their eyes yet since they were always sleeping. I tried and I tried to nurse them, together, separately, but nothing worked. The nurses, unlike with my first son, were insistent that I give them a bottle. They were born at 37 weeks and I was told that they needed to gain weight. I reluctantly agreed, but I cried, a lot. Every time feeding time came around I demanded that I get a chance to nurse them, only for them to finally give them a bottle. I was devastated. I felt so crushed, but I wasn’t ready to give up.
Thankfully, as I sat in the nursing chair one morning, I felt Baby A begin to suckle. I couldn’t have been happier. When I tried to feed Baby B the same thing happened though it took a bit more time with him. But it wasn’t all daisies and roses from there on. We had a longer stay at the hospital than I was accustomed to because of their weight and their jaundice. During that time they made sure I gave them bottles as well, and highly recommended I continue at home.
My top priority was getting these babies to the right weight so I wasn’t going to argue. When we got back into our daily lives, I began to breastfeed like crazy all day and all night and supplemented with formula as well. When the twins were almost a month old, they were weighed and I was delighted to hear that they were finally at their ideal weight. I was ecstatic that my hard work was paying off and decided to slowly drop the formula from their diet. I was pretty much bottle-free when something happened. My husband and I needed to attend an event without the babies. I had no time to pump, so I had no choice but to give them bottles with formula. But the babies wouldn’t take the bottle! I couldn’t believe it had happened so fast, and at a time when I needed it the most! However, after many attempts, they finally took the bottles and we were free to go. Though I had never left my infants at such a young age before, and I was a nervous wreck the entire night, I was able to breathe freely for the first time since they were born. Raising newborn twins was not like raising a singleton; it was literally double the work and I was feeling the burden. So I continued to give them a bottle a day and breastfed the rest. My husband and I started going out once a week for a “date night” when I would leave the twins with my sister and some bottles. That date night saved me and kept me sane, and we have kept that tradition going till this day.
The experience of breastfeeding my twins began to make me feel so guilty for having judged people in the past. Breastfeeding is hard, it may be best, but it’s not for everyone. Suddenly the tables were turned and I heard mothers of twins telling me how a drop of formula never touched their children’s lips and how they nursed like crazy for a year, a year and half, and even longer. I was so proud that I nursed both my babies, co-slept with them for four months, and that I wore them in a sling whenever I could. One is not two, and no two situations are exactly alike. I felt like slapping those judgmental moms and shouting at them that I’m a great mom too, even though I gave my twins formula. I felt like saying that I think I was a better mom to them because I gave myself some freedom. I would never have survived those months if I had been a complete milk slave to my twins.
My twins have since blossomed tremendously. They are walking, talking, and are just as terrible as all my kids during their terrible twos. I don’t think they love me any less because I didn’t exclusively breastfeed them. If I were to ever have another child, I would never look at breastfeeding as a given, and I no longer give mothers that look when I’m told they supplement. Breastfeeding is not a club, it does not make you superior, and you should not feel like a lesser person because you cannot or do not want to exclusively breastfeed, if at all. Being a mother is difficult enough without all of this unwanted guilt. So, no more judging, and no more criticizing. Thank you Baby A and Baby B for opening my eyes. What a lesson you two have taught me.