In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I am inspired to publicly declare that I breastfeed and support other mothers who nurse their children.
My twin girls were born just over 12 weeks ago. They arrived five weeks early and were so small and fragile that I had to learn how to hold a baby all over again. As preemies, they were automatically placed in the NICU and carried no body fat that would have regulated their temperature., Therefore, until my milk started to flow, I agreed to supplement my colostrum with formula. Thankfully, by the time my milk arrived two and half days later, they were latching and suckling easily. The girls lost some weight those first few days in the hospital and when they came home, Elora weighed 3 lbs, 15 oz and Pepper clocked in at 4 lbs, 9 oz.
I knew the task ahead would be daunting. I remembered how my older son’s voracious appetite kept him on my breast most of the day, for weeks and weeks on end. The responsibility of breastfeeding two preemies frightened me. What if I couldn’t produce enough milk? How would I ever get to sleep? How could I ensure that I was eating right and that the girls would receive all of the nutrients they needed? The questions and self-doubt didn’t end there; I fretted over every logistical minutiae: What time did they last eat? Who should I feed first? Should I pump or nurse, pump then nurse, or nurse then pump? These thoughts took root firmly in my head leaving little room for anything else.
I wanted more than anything to give my girls the best start in life I could, and to me, that meant breast milk. Breastfeeding is often described as a commitment, a challenge, a struggle, or a sacrifice. Regardless of how you see it, almost no one claims it is easy. Nursing exhausts me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am constantly keeping track in my head when I will have time to nurse, when I will have time to pump, when the twins will need milk, and how to fit everything else into my schedule: eating, showering, me-time, and family time. Oh, and work. Did I mention I was exhausted?
My hormones have leveled out (I think) but those first few weeks took me on a roller coaster of emotions, moodiness, and new physical sensations like nursing two babies at once and my first cracked and bloody nipple. But most prominently, I experienced three excruciating days during which I seemed to produce almost no milk and feared I was starving my girls. I called two lactation consultants in my area to provide me with some answers and general support. I needed someone to tell me my girls were eating enough and that I was doing a good job. Neither returned my messages, so I reached out to an lactation educator I knew in another state. She texted me her phone number almost immediately and said “call me.” A couple conversations and emails later and Momma got her groove back. I refocused to mentally “let go” of the constant scheduling and began to listen to the rhythms of my girls. I cut back on pumping and began to nurse more. I started to relax.
And yet, this woman had been a lone voice of support competing to be heard amidst the din of disapproving chatter. I have had caregivers stare me down when the girls were crying and I insisted they were not hungry: “Trust me. They just ate. They want to be held.” And sure enough, once they were held, they settled. Even my husband attempted to give them formula when I wasn’t looking because he saw how hard it was for my body to be on call around the clock. I have also experienced women looking at me like an alien when I said I was exclusively breastfeeding. I don’t have two heads, people, but I do have two magical breasts.
I celebrated every hard-earned roll of fat that appeared on the girls’ scrawny little legs, and every piece of clothing that started to fit instead of hang off of their tiny bodies. I knew, I knew, that they were growing and thriving and eating more than enough. But I felt alone. I felt that no one truly supported me or understood my anxieties, frustration, and stubborn commitment. I tuned everyone out that I needed to and I found support online and far away.
So when I went to the pediatrician yesterday for the girls’ 3-month check up, I presumed they would reach seven or eight pounds. Well, Elora weighed in at 9 lbs, 7.5 oz and Pepper at an even 10! I wanted to cry from the joy and relief. I wanted to tell everyone who doubted my judgement, who doubted my body, and who doubted me about my triumph.
Lisa Belkin’s article begins with the words, “I support you.” I love those words. They are simple, positive, and actionable. They are words we can all live by, even when we disagree with one another. Support means that, through words and deeds, we offer encouragement to help others overcome their challenges. I support all mothers’ choices because I acknowledge and appreciate the fundamental challenges we all share to care for our families and for ourselves. To manage households, juggle work, educate and discipline children, be intimate and loving with our partners, handle extended families, find fulfillment in our lives, and more… it’s a balancing act that we could all use support for. In fact, I don’t think you can ever have too much support.
That’s why it’s especially meaningful that during World Breastfeeding Week, regardless of how you feed your children, we all cheer for breastfeeding mothers.