As we near the end of World Breastfeeding Week, Kveller blogger Tamara Reese shares her thoughts, hopes, and fears about nursing for the second time around:
This is not a post about breast being best or better or a judgment upon mothers who can, can’t, will or won’t nurse their babies. Readers and people who know me, know that I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding both from a personal and public health perspective. But I know what it feels like to be scrutinized for your parenting decisions and above all else I believe that each family has to do what works best for their unique child. I have participated in dozens of La Leche League meetings and often after hearing a mother’s story for a number of reasons thought to myself, “maybe breastfeeding isn’t what’s best for her and her baby.” I’ve supported friends who have nursed for three days and three years, and I believe that giving even one drop of breastmilk makes you a breastfeeding mother.
I’ve written about how difficult nursing was with my firstborn and how those challenges gave way to some really dark moments for me as a new mother. The memories of the early weeks with my son bring about feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, and failure. I was so frustrated to struggle with the most primitive thing a woman’s body can do. Knowing that my tiny baby was (unbeknownst to me) hungry for even a second still brings about a lump in the back of my throat.
All this, and I successfully breastfed my son for over two years. I breastfed through teething, nursing strikes, a miscarriage, toddlerhood, and 16 weeks of my current pregnancy. I can honestly say it was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life and I believe it built the foundation for the unwavering attachment I have with my sweet boy today.
And yet as I am about to give birth to my second son, I am terrified to nurse again.
When I confess this to people close to me, they quickly dismiss it, reminding me that I nursed successfully for two years and have so much more knowledge going into it this time. Both are true, but nothing can erase the scars on my heart from those early days. When I lay in bed at night rubbing my belly, I don’t fear contractions or childbirth; rather, I whisper to my unborn son, “Please latch baby, please latch for Mama.” I succeeded at teaching a near-term baby to nurse and I’d do it all over again if I had to. My husband reminds me that our next baby is bound to come with a new set of challenges, which we will meet with experience and the inevitable truth that each child is different and what worked for one might not work for the next. I cannot wait to look down and see another child at my breast. It is the most amazing closeness and the reason I will absolutely nurse again.
But what if I didn’t know that closeness? What if he doesn’t latch and I suffer through a love/hate relationship with a breast pump for a year? What if my nipples crack and bleed and in the end I choose to be the best Mama I could be by bottle feeding? If someone who disliked every moment of the six weeks she nursed and felt a rush of relief the day she switched to formula–would she try again? After you’ve raised a healthy child on formula or perhaps your little one struggled with illness regardless of your breastmilk, would you try again?
If I joyfully succeeded at nursing but am still fearful, it makes me wonder if someone who feels that they “failed” would ever attempt it again. I don’t know what the answer is and I’m not writing to encourage you to nurse if that’s not what is best for you. More so, I wonder how society could be more supportive if a mother wanted to push aside those fears and try again. Touting that “breast is best” is not the answer but listening to the reasons, fears, and trepidations–no matter how big or small they are–might help to support someone in trying again or attempting in the first place.
I think that is why I have chosen to share so much of our nursing journey. Perhaps I wish someone would have shared their story with me. I want to know it was wonderful, but I also want to know that I’m not the only mother who struggled. I wasn’t and you aren’t and if the thought has even crossed your mind to try again, I hope you find the peace, connection, and joy in nursing your baby that I did with mine. Because if you do, all of the hard stuff will have been worth it and the joy and connection will stay with you forever.
Tell me, would you try again?