I need to confess, sister. I have judged you.
When I saw you with your bottles at the park, when I spotted cans of formula at your house, some small, mean part of me judged you. Honestly, I hated that part of myself. After all, I love you. I listened to you tell me of the reasons why you were here, sterilizing bottles, and even cried with you when you cried over guilt and helplessness and pain, sympathetically reassuring you, I understand.
But I lied. I didn’t understand.
I was angry on your behalf because you had no support or education, no one fighting for what you wanted for your babe and so you gave up little by little to pressure from parents and friends and marketers. Or because you were a victim of a hard birth and then I blamed your epidural and the medicalization of birth. And then society as a whole and its lip service to ‘family values’.
But some part of me thought you hadn’t tried hard enough. That you gave up too easily. I was blaming you.
You know that I write and talk a lot about breastfeeding and that I am passionate about the experience – for babies and for mothers. True, there are 101 reasons to breastfeed but I sing more of the fact is that it was a transformative experience for me in every way.
I breastfed my two older tinies for 18 months each, only weaning as they lead. We easily nursed right from the start to the end. They were exclusively breastfed and we have never owned a bottle, never given a supplement of formula, never stored milk in bags or needed to pump. I had enough milk for a Russian orphanage. I easily nursed in public all over the Lower Mainland and beyond – malls, restaurants, church and so on. I became a peer breastfeeding coach through our health unit, correcting bad latches and repeatedly saying to sobbing mothers that breastfeeding does not hurt if you are doing it right and talked of supply-and-demand and commitment from my lofty perch.
I must have been a fearsome creature for the formula-feeding mama to behold.
Then, just 9 days ago, I gave birth to my third baby. And when she was two days old, I made a simple mistake. I nursed her all night with a bad latch. I was sleepy (and probably a bit arrogant) so I didn’t pay attention.
By morning, my breasts were in so much pain, I held them and cried for hours. My milk came in full force and then I was engorged. This new baby’s mouth was so much smaller than my other two tinies’ and she wouldn’t or couldn’t latch now. She screamed and I cried and my nipples cracked down the middle. I peeled breast pads back to find them crusted with blood. Every feeding was agonizing, leaving me whimpering. She hit her day 5 growth spurt and I nursed her, back to back, side to side, for twenty four excruciating hours, determined.
I had to go back to the basics of what I knew, latching her on and off 9 or 10 times until we got it right. I gritted my teeth and curled my toes, carefully applying Lansinoh and googling correct positioning and latch videos on YouTube at 3:12 a.m. and praying, praying, praying for us to get it. She nursed constantly, only stopping to sleep fitfully, hungry. My mother came over for two days to watch my other two, allowing me to devote my full attention to nursing. My midwives came over to help and offer counsel, correcting techniques that I thought I had mastered.
I was exhausted. I was in pain. I wanted relief. I admitted to myself – and now to you – that I wanted to give up.
After that week, the engorgement eased. Scabs developed. We figured out our latch. It’s still not easy yet, requiring my full attention to positioning and latch every feeding which is new – and humbling – for me. But the pain is gone and she is eating well and fully. Which means that she is sleeping better which means that I am sleeping better now which means that everything is more bearable. She is a happy, peaceful tiny girl at last. We made it.
I know it was only a week of my life and you, my sister, endured months and months and it was a much worse story with so many factors. This seems so small when I write it down but it felt big and impossible and exhausting and too painful.
I am very thankful I didn’t give up. (And I won’t ever give up.) I’ll still be me, I’m sure. I’ll still seek to educate and support, to tell my own beautiful story of the breastfeeding journey, to encourage and affirm.
But now, it’s coming from a humble, supportive heart instead of a know-it-all with no challenges. Instead, I now understand just a small bit – a very small bit – of how it feels when it hurts and it’s the middle of the night and you’re just so tired and you feel so inadequate for everything.
I respect you and your story, sister. This is mine. And we are both mums that do our best and sometimes that has to be enough.
I have no blame, no judgment left. It’s finally gone.
Will you forgive me?