I am sharing my personal journey with breastfeeding because I know how it feels when breastfeeding doesn’t live up to what you’d hoped it would be. When I first became a mother, I was given a double blessing: twins. Thrilled as I was, I was not prepared for anything that was to come, both in being a new mother to not one, but two on my first try, and adjusting to the realities that come with that territory.
I was always one of the earliest girls in my age group to develop. I had breasts and needed to wear a bra by the time I was almost 11. I also started my period only a month after I turned 11. I had regular periods throughout my adolescence. There was no family history of difficulties with fertility. For all these reasons, I thought breast feeding would be a cinch. Boy, was I wrong.
When I gave birth, the nurses and a lactation consultant tried to show me how to get my babies to latch on to my nipple. My cup size is large, but I have very small nipples and they inverted—in addition, my babies were not interested in latching on. I decided to try and pump my breast milk so that the babies would only be drinking my milk. The problem was, I was only making a small amount of milk, and it was barely enough for one, much less two!
For four brave months, I pumped my breast milk day and night. I started supplementing with formula because the babies cried so much and I knew they were probably starving. I never made more than 8 ounces (enough for one bottle) in one pump cycle. I tried eating foods that would be conducive to fattier, healthier milk, but it did not help increase the volume of my milk production.
After almost three months of trying, I finally got the babies to latch on, but it wasn’t consistent. They would latch on for one or two feedings, and then refuse to take my breast for several feedings afterward. When they would latch on, it was painful and felt like they were biting my nipples, even though they had no teeth! The leaking milk was constant and embarrassing. My life revolved around the pump, babies’ feeding times, and mealtimes for myself to ensure I was getting enough nutrition.
Then, the breast infections came. The doctor put me on antibiotics for a week at a time, during which I couldn’t feed because the antibiotics were not safe for the babies. I had to pump and dump my milk, which any woman who has breastfed knows is extremely painful and aggravating. I had to though, if I wanted my body to continue being capable of producing milk.
A week after the infection went away and I started breastfeeding again, I got my second infection. To make a long story short, by the third breast infection, the doctor asked me if it was absolutely necessary to keep breastfeeding my babies. They were four months old, and the four months had been like hell for me. I decided it was time to give up and throw in the towel, for my sanity’s sake.
I put in a good fight, and I tried my best. I felt sad and disappointed for a long while, but over time I realized it wasn’t a failure: it was a learning experience. When my third child was born three and a half years later, he didn’t want to latch on either. My first thought was “here we go again.” My husband though, relieved me from what could have easily become a vicious cycle of mother’s guilt. He told me not to struggle—to just let it go. I tried for a few more days, but the baby did not want to latch on. I gave up after a week and let my body stop producing milk.
I tell my story because I know a lot of women who struggle with breastfeeding tend to feel incredibly guilty, and may even berate themselves. I felt that way too, but my kids are 9 and 6 now and we have a very close, strong relationship. They are active, energetic, and happy children—and I feel blessed.
Breastfeeding didn’t make or break our relationship. I realize now that it isn’t my fault that my body has difficulty producing milk, that I am prone to breast infections, that my nipples are small and slightly inverted.
It did not take away from my ability to be a loving, nurturing mother, whose children are turning out okay, thank God. If my experience helps even one woman feel less ashamed, then it was worth sharing. We should not feel like failures because we either choose not to breastfeed or nature chooses it for us, like it did for me. It is time for the shaming to stop.
If you are able to nurse without difficulty, a huge mazel tov to you. But if you are not able to, like I wasn’t, then… a huge mazel tov to you as well. You will be a great mom either way.