Saturday, March 27, 2010

Modern Mothering : Part Three : The Breastfeeding Stigma

Part Three : The Breastfeeding Stigma

At the beginning of each part in this series you will see this little note. I want to remind you that I am not trying to come from a negative space, or a judgmental - holier than thou - kind of place. I’m coming from the place of a mother who knows she has a lot to learn, that she knows she has a long way to go… and that she loves being a mother. I hope that you don’t take anything I say as anything more than my own experience and a heartfelt message. I pass no judgment, and appreciate all mothers and the styles they embrace. I hope to learn something on this journey and hear your stories as well.

The most important thing I can say to start this post is that I have no opinion on which is best, bottle or breast… that what matters is that you are feeding your child, that you are loving your child and making the right decisions for your own family and circumstances.

From the first time I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. So natural, beautiful, perfect, I thought. The way God intended it and it could save us money, foster a bond between myself and my child. It could be an beautiful experience.

I went to the classes that the hospital offered, I read the books. I talked to my Mom and felt really good about the whole thing.

Lydia was born. I tried… and it hurt. That’s normal I thought. I told the nurse and the lactation consultant. They showed me the right way to do it, helped me. And reinforced that I needed to do it, that it was the best decision. I kept trying, it kept hurting.

By the time we left the hospital I was nothing if not discouraged. I had spent my time trying and not succeeding at breastfeeding. Lydia cried so much and I was covered in these horrible blisters. I felt like I was letting Lydia down, that something was wrong with me… All the while the nurses saying “She’s doing it right, just get through it, this is what is best”. I remember crying, thinking I was a terrible mother.

I struggled. The first couple days I dreaded nursing time. I would use damp clothes and creams to ease the pain, but I was swollen and passing blood and clots every time Lydia tried to nurse. We would both cry… and I would beg God to help me. I was so ashamed. I told the nurses at the hospital the trouble I was having, that I couldn’t get Lydia full and that I kept bleeding and bleeding. They told me again, “Stick with it, this is what is best”.

After a week with no sleep, literally, and non stop crying from Lydia … I sat there, in the bedroom trying, to no avail to nurse her. Singing to her, breathing through the pain and watching her refuse to latch on. There was blood on me, blood in her mouth… I couldn’t do it.

Shaking, I pulled some formula from the cabinet, mixed it as shown… said a prayer and gave it to her. Her feet went straight out… her eyes popped open and I watched her eat like there was no tomorrow. I cried. And for the first time , she didn’t cry, as she ate. I held her close to me and thanked God for the moment. But I was still ashamed.

It took me years to get over the shame. I felt like I had done wrong by her. That I had missed out on the beautiful experience. Then I realized, that I had made the best choice I could. That any decision I made was based on love and effort, that I may not have made the decision that other mothers had, but that Lydia and I were, in fact, very close. That we had bonded and that she was healthy. I didn’t need to be ashamed. We are all different… and what mattered was that I loved her.

I tried with the other two, and had no luck, I even tried pumping. I made peace with it, and found myself a much happier mommy for it.

To this day, I would try again, I think it’s a beautiful gift, but I know that letting that define me, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, is wrong. That I should define myself by the efforts I made and the ability to embrace life as it comes. I should be defined by the love in my heart and more importantly the love that my children feel.

I know that I have been judged, for not breastfeeding. And maybe there is more I could have done… I won’t deny that there may have been things I just simply didn’t know that would have made it easier or more successful, but the point is, I understand both sides, and I hope that hearing my story, you will see this side of the debate… and that if you are a new mother and you feel these things, you will know you are not alone.

Check Back For “Stay at Home Moms”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and hear your advice and insight… Us mothers need to come together and embrace our similarities and our differences so that we can be united and more supportive. I’ll encourage you to share here, in the comments or blog about it and share the link. Thanks for taking the time to read. It means so much


Amber Rosie on March 27, 2010 at 7:37 AM said...

I am so glad you shared your experience. I think so many people fall prey to this stigma. I don't know what I would want to do if I had kids. I mean I know that breastfeeding provides some passive immunity and is totally cheaper, but then with having to go back to work after kids, I am not sure pumping would work out. It is a choice, and I think that both are right. I am really discouraged by what the nurses told you. They should have listened better to you.

barbara on March 27, 2010 at 7:39 AM said...

i'm so sorry you had such a hard time trying to nurse your babies. :( i had the hardest time with maria and it seemed as though everything imaginable had happened... infection, cracked bleeding nipples, not latching properly. but i persevered and it took about six weeks until we found our groove. i had a lot of support from my family as well as le leche league and realized that breastfeeding is an art. i do hope you try again if you ever decide to have more children... you can do it! beautiful post johnna :))

Kris's Kaptured Moments on March 27, 2010 at 7:45 AM said...

I bottle fed my first four and breastfed my last two and both ways were a complete blessing.I know my hubby felt such a connection being able to feed the babies also. I know that breastfed babies are supposed to get more from breast milk, but I think the bonding with the baby through a bottle or breast is what is really important.
I am sorry you struggled so, and felt shame or guilt.No need, but society is what makes this a stugma as women we need to support each other in any decision a new mom makes..thanks for your blog, I enjoy reading this so much.

Misty Wallace on March 27, 2010 at 8:07 AM said...

Very emotional, you brought tears to my eyes. I agree that it is totally what works for you and your family. I have never judges anyone for not breast feeding or for it. God made us all different. I feel very blessed having been able to nurse all my babies, I thank God because I hear more and more women who just can't. I think most of them feel the emotions you have expressed and my heart goes out to all. I remember the pain with my first, I quit early with him because i couldn't handle the bleeding..My mid wife assured me it was ok "normal " and to stick with it, but after 9 months of sticking with it. I was done. I turned to a bottle and I remember still 9 months later feeling like I was letting him down and missing out on something, still Thankful for the time I did nurse. Thanks for sharing your story. You are so correct about the important thing is love and you still bond with your babies. You seem like such an amazing mother. I love the glimpse into your life. I think since "knowing" you You have inspired me and made me realize even more so, how wonderful and special Motherhood is. Thank you!

Maegan Beishline on March 27, 2010 at 12:53 PM said...

Dear sweet Johnna, you are such a wonderful mama! No doubt, you could have fed your babies through a plastic bag and I would still consider you one of the best moms I know! I think we put so much pressure on ourselves to do the best thing...whatever we think that is. And the best thing is that we make our kids happy! I have done different things with all three kids: with Rayne we did both, with Layla just bottle, and with Maya all breast. We did what worked at each particular time and they are all beautiul, healthy, happy kids who love their mama! xoxo

janine on March 27, 2010 at 1:36 PM said...

I was completely unprepared for the emotional battle that breast feeding can be. I did manage to do it for both my boys, one longer than the other, but it wasn't without its stresses. This is such a heartfelt post - I think more mums need to hear just this sort of thing to remind them they only have to do what's best for their family.

Tasha on March 28, 2010 at 3:16 PM said...

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. I went through exactly the same thing when I had Emily and was trying to bf. I only managed to try for a couple of days and she was screaming and screaming and I was sore and crying. And finally I said to Josh to go get some formula because I couldn't take it anymore. My mil walked in when I was about to give Emily a bottle and she said something that showed her disapproval and I totally snapped at her. I have never been ashamed of the fact that I bf, I know I gave it best and it wasn't for me. I never even bothered on Laura for that very reason. I applaud any mom that is able to do it successfully but I also applaud those moms that tried their best and just couldn't. You are an awesome momma!! xo

alana bourque on March 31, 2010 at 11:19 AM said...

My daughter had the same problem with her first little baby. She was born 8 weeks early, spent the first month in the hospital. I watched my daughter try for three months to nurse her little one. She pumped and took it to the hospital. She tried nursing and pumping for three months. Her little one wound not latch on proper and both spent a lot of time crying. At one point, in a mall , my daughter pulled out a bottle filled with pumped breast milk and a woman said to her " you should be breast feeding her". At the end of three stressful months, I said to her "enough already, put her on formula". Next baby, a preemie also, nursed perfect and she no problems. Moral of this story...both little girls are well adjusted, love their mommy the same amount and are equally as healthy. One does not get sick more often than the other, both are bright shining examples of well loved what works for you and try to shut out people who have no business making comments in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I had similar experiences. I am sure I will always remember the expression in my first born's eyes when I decided to try the bottle. He looked at me with wide eyes as if to say "Yes Mama, this is exactly right!" We know them - they know us.

Post a Comment