Monday, March 8, 2010
4:50 PM | Edit Post
We hear it so often. "I just couldn't breastfeed". If you're a lactivist like me, you may find yourself wondering what their definition of "couldn't" is. There are a small percentage of women that are literally incapable of breastfeeding, but if one were to look at online forums, stories, Yahoo Answers, or even the women in their real-world circle, it could easily be concluded that the vast majority of women are born with defective breasts. The excuses given are vast, and I'm sure you've seen/heard them all too.
Something is indeed defective in this world, but it is not the breasts of all womankind!
I don't bring this up to hurt those who truly could not breastfeed, or those who failed due to overwhelming circumstances and a lack of support. I say this to point out that lack of support in this world, and encourage others to speak up, reach out, and help in any way that you can. I say this to beg others to be HONEST about their reasons for not breastfeeding. When someone really didn't put their heart into breastfeeding, it does everyone a disservice to say "I could not breastfeed".
If a woman hears other women in her life repeating this over and over, she could believe that all breastfeeding is difficult, and only a lucky few are able to do it. She could feel doomed to fail before she's even had a chance to try. Then when she runs in to even the smallest problem, she may think "I guess I'm just like everyone else, and I can't do it". She may even have this view reinforced by a doctor who knows squat about breastfeeding and hands out free formula samples as a "fix-all". Instead of persevering through what may just be a normal part of breastfeeding, or a resolvable problem, she gives up and then starts telling everyone "I could not breastfeed". The cycle continues.
I would like other mothers to have more faith in themselves and their babies. We may live in a society that expects us to fail, but we do not have to prove them right! I'd like to share some stories with you, of women who have overcome various breastfeeding difficulties. Keep in mind that these stories are the exception, not the rule when it comes to what is "normal" with breastfeeding. My desire is to show you that even in extreme circumstances, victories can be won. We don't all have to lay down and accept "I couldn't breastfeed" as our mantra. We don't have to harm other women and babies by perpetuating the myth that breastfeeding is hard and agonizing for everyone. If you chose not to breastfeed, please be honest. If you had some trouble, and gave up without trying everything, please be honest. If you truly could not breastfeed, please feel free to be honest about that, but make sure the impressionable women around you are aware that your situation was not "the norm". We must encourage others to succeed, even if we couldn't/didn't. We must build our fellow mothers up, instead of tearing them down and dooming them to fail just so we don't feel alone in our own failures. We must offer the encouragement and support that our society and medical industry fail to provide. Breastfeeding is undermined at every turn, and we don't have to go along for the ride.
I hope that when you read this blog series, you don't think "That sounds awful", but rather realize "Hey, if she can do it, I can do it!" Jennifer's story below is the first of several, and I hope you enjoy and stay tuned for more in the future!
"I slept restlessly throughout the night. The pain kicked in around 4 am, and I lay awake obsessing over how things had not gone the way I had imagined they would. I was angry at my body for not cooperating, I was angry at my husband for not helping as much as I wished he had, and I angry that the last time I had felt in control of anything was in the car on the way to the hospital. I stewed silently, and vowed that today would be different.
Morning came. The lactation consultant came. Once again, our attempt at nursing ended in failure. Jacob had no interest in even latching on, let alone sucking. The LC was gruff, pulling me in all different directions, pushing Jacob’s head all around, yelling at him more than encouraging him, as she was saying, “C’mon, you can do it…latch on! Latch on!” I was tense. Why wouldn’t he latch on? What was wrong with me? The LC sighed a heavy sigh. “Oh well,” she said. “Let’s just give him a bottle for now, and we’ll try again later.” She seemed to think that was the right thing to do, and was, after all, the expert. I had proved to be nothing more than a failure over the past 24 hours. I watched sadly as Jacob lazily slurped at a bottle of formula, sickened with myself. I still did not have any of the control I vowed would overcome me.
By the time we were sent home, Jacob still hadn’t successfully nursed. I left with one small bag of breastfeeding items, one large bag of formula products, and still, zero control.
When we got home, I started pumping my milk. Jacob was taking bottles alright but still would not latch on me. I pumped my heart out for a week.
On the advice of his pediatrician, I stopped giving Jacob bottles. “Babies won’t starve themselves,” he said. “He will figure out what he needs to do.” He wanted me to return in 3 days to check our progress.
For 3 days Jacob and I cried and screamed, out of exhaustion, frustration, and hunger. I was trying desperately to gain some control. Everyone I knew, my husband included, tried to help and urged me to just give up. I still tried.
At our check up, the pediatrician looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Your baby is on his way to leaving this earth. I don’t care what you give him; you need to feed this child!” I started bawling. What happened to “babies won’t starve themselves”? Throughout those rough 3 days I had a sickening feeling that I was not doing the right thing, but I trusted the pediatrician’s original words. Now I was being told I was killing my child.
I went home and prepared a bottle of pumped milk. It was obvious Jacob was starving. For the next week I continued pumping and bottle feeding, and still trying to get him to latch on to me.
Once things were relatively back to normal, I decided to look further into the small bag I received from the hospital. It included a nipple shield. I decided to give it a try. It took a couple of feedings, but Jacob finally got the hang of it. Slowly, I was regaining my control. I would not “give in”. I had lacked control in every situation up until this point, and was bound and determined to reclaim it, with or without support.
Jacob was properly breastfeeding, without the shield, somewhere between 5 and 6 weeks of age. I cried tears of joy the first time he nursed entirely without it. I hugged him tightly to me. I let him nurse as long as he wanted, as often as he wanted. I decided there and then that we would continue our nursing relationship as long as he wanted, no matter what. We had worked too hard to get to this point and we were not going to turn back. Nothing could come between us now. No one could take that away. I had finally gotten the control I so desperately wanted, and in turn, gladly relinquished it to my son."
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- ▼ March (15)