Breastfeeding is a lot of things.
The first time I did it, it was excruciating for two months and then it kind of clicked and was easier and just a thing I did several times a day. I had to stop earlier than I’d planned, due to needing a mammogram and breast MRI, and the shock of having to make that decision was unsettling. It took about three months to fully dry up my milk supply– from when baby Giles was 9 months to 12 months. The two weeks following my last nursing session were a hormonal roller coaster which felt similar to my immediate postpartum experience. Once I found out that “post-weaning depression” is a real thing I felt better, just to have a name for what I was experiencing.
Eventually things evened out in my brain and I felt like a person again. I started to feel a lot better physically– my vitamin D levels got better, my blood sugar went back to normal, and I started losing weight (I hadn’t lost a single pound other than the initial loss after giving birth). Some women lose a lot of weight while breastfeeding, others do not.
The second time was a whole different monster. Felix was born six weeks early due to preeclampsia. As soon as I pushed him out of my body he was whisked away and I didn’t see him for almost 24 hours. Before I had even seen him I was handed pumping equipment and told to get moving, the tiny preemie needed my liquid gold.
I stared at photos and videos my husband sent me from the NICU, willing my milk to come in. And it did. During those two weeks in the NICU and for three months following I pumped 8 times a day. Every three hours I would try to nurse, sometimes succeed and sometimes not, pass the baby to my husband to be fed a bottle, and then pump for ten to twenty minutes. It was awful and hard and I wept. Nursing hurt. Pumping hurt, though a little bit less then nursing. I also felt sad every time my milk let down (which is a real thing that just happens to some women). The thought “I don’t want to do this anymore” repeated itself in my mind every time I fed my baby. I wanted to stop breastfeeding, but felt guilty for wanting that, since he was so small and still so young. I wanted to make it to six months.
Finally, I started weaning. After just a few days my supply had decreased dramatically. We used up my very prolific freezer stash within a couple weeks. We bought formula. And in about a month I was done.
The hormone crash hit me hard, with intense mood swings and a lot of guilt. I know that my baby is fed and healthy and fine, but there’s this physical feeling of guilt, of shame for not being The Best Mom. Formula is JUST AS GOOD as breastmilk. It was invented for a reason. But there is societal pressure about breastfeeding, and also this innate feeling, which is about everything not just breastfeeding, that I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH feeling. If I don’t sacrifice every single thing about myself for my children, it feels like I’m not doing enough.
Really, truly, our children are better off if we are kind and gentle to ourselves. They are happier if we are happy. Which means giving ourselves what we need, putting on our own oxygen masks first.
I know this, but I still have the bad feelings. The hormone ups and downs and doubts and that terrible shaking knowledge that bad things things can happen and I can’t protect my kids from the world. The aftershocks of birth that came the next night, keeping me awake and terrified at what I had done in becoming a mother. Why had I destroyed my body, my mind, brought out this tiny helpless thing that will be harmed in some way by the cruel world?
But then that tiny, helpless thing smiles. Laughs. Holds his bottle on his own. Says, “dada” (of course dada and not mama). And then he gets up on all fours, rocks back and forth, and moves just the smallest bit forward by his own damn self and suddenly he is a PERSON. He will be okay. I will be okay.
I’m so glad to be done breastfeeding.